Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Not quite Riverdance.

I knew when I started reading Gene DeWeese's Lord of the Necropolis, this picture was going to show up in the review.

Mainly because it covers, in the timeline of Ravenloft, the Grand Conjunction as well as the rise of the Necropolis from within the kingdom of Darkon during the Requiem, all from the point of view of Azalin, the lich lord of Darkon.

A quick bit of history for those not versed in Dungeons & Dragons who stumbled in to this. Ravenloft was a campaign setting for Dungeons & Dragons that made it possible to have adventures in cheap rip offs/homages of Gothic horror. The realm got its start (and name) from an adventure centered on a vampire named Strahd, and his rather tragic fall from grace. It proved popular enough that Strahd, his castle, and quite a bit of his domain got sucked into the Ethereal Plane and became the linchpin of a new campaign world of tortured Darklords.

A few problems though. Evidently, this one, unlike its predecessor (King of the Dead, also by DeWeese), is considered non-canonical. Second, the very things that made the adventures so much fun to play through are kind of missing in the prose.

See, the first half of the book deals with Azalin going back to Strahd's Barovia prior to its entrance to the mist. (Using a proxy phylactery embedded in a Vistani ally.) Instead of what happened in the modules, we instead get some silliness about Azalin taking the body of the Lieutenant Strahd killed at the time of the cursing.

Then we get into the Requiem. Wherein Azalin finds a machine made of both science and magic, makes a lesser version, which creates the being that would later rule the Domain of Necropolis as Death, as well as managing to disintegrate Azalin when he enters the bigger version.

Honestly, it wasn't as good as I was hoping, but that's long been an issue with the Ravenloft novels... If the Darklord(s) is the focus, it generally isn't a good read. If they aren't in it at all, or left as a minor character, they usually become quite fun to read, in a cheesy pulpy kind of way. (Although what usually makes the Darklords so boring to read is that they're often rehashing a better source material, like Frankenstein or The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Not always true, as Lord Soth's Entrance and Exit to the mists were actually fun to read, even if legions of Dragonlance fans screamed in protest that their favorite scene stealing Death Knight got yanked out of Krynn.[And let's be honest. Soth's creators weren't happy about it, and Soth's curse in the myths really didn't capture the horror of the curse he had on Krynn. /nerd off] I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention that Laurell K. Hamilton wrote a Ravenloft novel at one point. I actually have it on the shelf, but...)

It's a readable book. Azalin is a tragic character in many ways. But it made me long for what White Wolf managed to do long after the heyday of D&D novels... make a book that captures both the spirit and the sense of adventure of the game itself.