Thursday, December 27, 2012

Honor Among Thieves: Book Three of the Ancient Blades Triology

David Chandler wraps up the Ancient Blade trilogy with Honor Among Thieves. I have to say, I'm no art critic but this is a terrible cover. The whole angle of the main character is way off for some reason. Colors aren't doing it any favors either. The dark nature of the previous covers were solid in contrast to the colors. This to me, is muted and awkward.

Writing wise, the book continues to follow the previous established pattern. If you enjoyed the first two books, this one follows through in that manner. The material continues to expand the setting, has large scale conflicts, and some 'fantasy revolutions' in technology and portents for future material set in this series.

Again, perhaps because I read it prior to this one, I find myself doing some contrast to Riyria Revelations by Michael J. Sullivan. In the third book of that series, the elves have their time and quickly wipe out most of the resistance. In Honor Amongst Thieves, the barbarians have free access to the lands and quickly decimate most of the opposition leaving only one city, the Free City of Ness, left to resist.

One of the problems with some campaigns is that they become like glass. You want to look at them and admire them. To insure that they're is a continuous flow of one thing to another. Authors know better. Smash the setting. Unleash the hounds of war. If you don't like the way it goes down, next campaign do another variation of the campaign. Mind you, that's easier to do with a new group as the old group, at least in my experience, is often interested in seeing how things 'went down'.

Another interesting aspect is the rise and fall of characters. Malden, who started off as a simple free lance rogue, gained membership, and in this volume, not only becomes the guild master, but then the 'mayor' of the free city. Mind you, at the end of the volume, he's back to being a freelance rogue but the shifting nature of power, especially social power, is made clear here.

Sir Croy, whose been fairly boring in some instances, by design I suspect, has his chance to shine through. He rises from being an exiled knight to becoming the regent of the kingdom. It's not what he wants mind you and his interest in it is slim compared to the longings of his heart, but he is a duty bound man who does not run from his responsibilities. At the end of the novel, while he has indeed lost his heart's goal, his political position and social status are higher than they were at the first novel save for one important thing that I'll mention later.

Cythera on the other hand, whose initial role was a ward against poisons and curses, comes into her own as much more than the rival love of the main male characters. Her mother, who laid the protections against curses on her, now trains her to be a witch. However, as her father was the most powerful of sorcerers, she's inherited that talent as well and winds us using a bit of that. Now in this setting, sorcerers are demon bound and their use of such magics mark them. In this instance, she gains some gray hair.

Open Ended. While the bulk of the story is resolved, there are many parts that are not. This is a good thing as it evolves organically from the story. The barbarian invasion force splits due to differences between brother and sister. This leaves the main invading force of barbarians defeated, but a goodly sized portion still in control of several fallen cities. This leaves the series open for future investigation as to what will happen with the mingling of different cultures there. This doesn't count the pass open from the destroyed mountain either. More barbarians could wander forth. More trade could be established.

More interestingly to me at least, is the fate of the ancient blades. The barbarian war chief, Morget, found some very potent dwarven weapons last volume. One of these, an axe, is apparently able to smash through the ancient blades themselves. This is fascinating. I'm always advocating that new methods and new techniques should be able to overcome things of the past. If the modern world ran like most fantasy stories, someone would unearth a copy of MS-DOS and destroy the modern Internet with it's ancient and archaic powers. On the other hand, those ancient blades were craft with magic for a specific purpose. With only one left at the end of the series, wielded by a rogue who doesn't know how to fight even, the author sets up a return of demons and sorcery for future volumes and the creation of new blades even.

Mind you, not all the loose ends are so interesting. Elves were introduced to the setting, or reintroduced to the setting, and not a peep out of them. Some of the elements, like the introduction of a canon by the dwarf Slag, may seem awesome at first and indeed, worthy of a player character doing, but with the nature of the setting showcasing so much that appears to take place in several different eras in terms of how it might be first introduced, still feels somewhat forced. Minor things for me but others might be more irate about it.

Honor Among Thieves is a good source of inspiration for role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons or Rolemaster where the character is the star of the story and not necessarily just the mechanics of the character.