Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Crimson Sword by Eldon Thompson

I continue to read through my dollar spinner rack from Half Priced Books. This time around, the length of the book kept me from posting for a few days. The Crimson Sword, written by Eldon Thompson, website here, clocks in at over seven hundred pages. What's worse is that this is merely book one of the Legend of Asahie meanings that there are more books in the series.

The cover piece is a nice scene taken from the book itself. I have the 'widescreen' edition where the top and bottom are in blue borders but we see more of the art itself. Shame though as the art is smaller and while the design is highly workable, this is a nice piece that I'm sure would look fantastic as a poster.

The Crimson Sword follows more along the paths of the old Terry Brooks series like the Sword of Shanara in that despite the length of the book, things are done. The story is told in one shot. Do not mistake me in saying that every single thing is wrapped up and finished, but at the end of the story, characters have moved from point A to point B and the world is not the same as it was at its start. It does not take twelve books each of 700+ pages to get us to that point. 

For which I'm grateful.

Eldon Thompson isn't the best writer I've read. I wouldn't put this in my top ten list or anything but the writing is smooth enough and the characters enough of an archetype, that despite its page length, it's an easy read. 

If you're looking to get your money's worth out of a book, The Crimson Sword has you cleared. I'll be discussing some spoilers specific to the novel below so if you'd rather avoid spoilers, read no further. 

1. Hidden Kings: A common enough theme in fantasy is the peasant hero who turns out to be related to, or is a king. It's been a while since I've read a story that actually went with this theme, so ingrained is it in fantasy fiction. For a while, especially when reading the Wheel of Time and other series, I worried that readers would drown in peasant heroes saving the world in their newly found kingly guises.

But it can work when its not used in every story. When its not the hook of every tale. And for a role playing game? If you want to elevate the characters from fighting giant rats and goblins to fighting against things that endanger the whole of the land while working their way up? It works well.

2. Magic Items: Another nice nod to older stories, is the powerful magic item. A very distinctive blade with red fire burning inside it that protects the user from hostile magic and is capable of cutting through the strongest enemy, the Crimson Sword itself makes a nice addition to the field. It's in many ways a Advanced Dungeons and Dragons artifact in that it does things that magic items normally can't do and that's okay for a weapon of that caliber.

For example, when Jarom is fighting in combat with it, he feels no fatigue, no fear, no pain. Those who fight with him, have a touch of that as well. Such an ability could be something like +2 to allies within 50' saves vs fear effects and endurance tests. It lets the GM throw new revelations into the setting later on as things can change or move around what the sword can and cannot do. Much as the unique spear in The Desert Spear by Peter V Brett, the Crimson Sword also functions as a rallying point for those who follow the character.

3. Archetypes Modified: While I could easily see several of the characters falling into place as standard archetypes, the shadowy assassin with a heart of gold, the country ranger whose bow skill is second only to his loyalty, etc..., one of the characters is an elf from what I could only describe as one of Robert E. Howard's 'Pict' backgrounds in taht they are savage and feral and broken into different tribes, some of which are man eaters. Having an elf be that true to nature goes well beyond even the 'wood' elves that many fantasy settings strive to bring in terms of the naturalist to play.

4. Multiple Quests: Initially it seems enough to retrieve the Crimson Sword but that's only the start. The forces, which Jarom initially thinks are lead by his brother, a wizard who conquered the land and killed the king, is actually only the tip of the iceberg. That wizard lacks the power of the Demon Queen who rises, and she has other more powerful allies like a dragon that can create dragonspawn which in turn act as an army for that Demon Queen to conquer the land.  The nice thing about the variance in enemies though is it allows more than just the Crimson Sword to shine through as the one who needs to kill the dragon isn't the wielder of the Crimson Sword, but another altogether whose had his own unique weapons when introduce whose origins prove the ideal method of killing the dragon.

5. Multiple Eras: One of the things that tends to be a downer in some fantasy setting is that while they usually have multiple eras and ages to them, that everything that comes about to the 'now' is of that one era. Here the Demon Queen is from one era while the Crimson Sword from an older, more ancient and legendary time. It makes for an interesting clash of times and eras.

6. Temptation: One of the things I'd mention to GMs who are inspired by their readings, is that the Demon Queen is part tempress. While Eldon Thompson doesn't go into great detail about her seductive looks and mannerisms, he does so enough that when he offers the wielder of the Crimson Sword anything he wants, that it could make a good moment in a role playing game. Have a plan for when the players yield to that temptation. To be the mate of a demon queen, at the head of a dragonspawn army, and to ask for your hated brother's life in the bargain? What gamer wouldn't want to do that? I'm not saying don't put such opportunities in the game, but I am saying have a plan for whatever the characters decide to do.

The Crimson Sword is available from Amazon for $8.09 in paperback, prime eligible, or $6.99 in kindle format.

Chances are I'll probably pick up the second book in kindle format. It's running like $4.99 right now so that's not a bad price at at the page count, I'm sure it'll earn it's ratio of page/price.

For those who've read further in the Legend of Asahiel, does Eldon's writing pick up? Are the stories relatively self contained? More of the same?