It’s not often than one gets to witness the birth of a new series. Wizards of the Coast, publisher of Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms novels, just released a new novel line set in their new RPG setting, Eberron. Marked for Death is the first taste we’ll have of the series, and it’s pivotal whether this will be a new Dragonlance Chronicles, or merely another piece of crap set in a generic setting.
Forbeck gives little exposition and enters into the fray. Despite Eberron being a new world, Forbeck gives little background on it. Which is just as well since the important parts are explained in the narrative, and there’s a small glossary at the back (which is actually helpful since it has a comprehensive list of the people, places, and terms used in the novel). Don’t fret about the glossary though: it’s short and quick. This isn’t an epic fantasy and more often than not, you won’t really need to check the glossary often.
There’s also an attempt at describing things but it’s standard at best: it’s not as flowery as some writers, but it’s not like the description is sparse either. The language is just plain and nothing striking.
The plot is mediocre. It’s your typical party going solving one dilemma only to enter another. In fact, the whole novel is basically just that: action and adventure from one place to another. There’s an over-aching story but for the most part, the book could have been several short stories featuring the same cast of characters. As an RPG novel though, it’s great since readers get to see the new creatures of the setting (i.e. the Warforged, sentient constructs, the Shifters, which are descended from lycanthropes, and Changelings, a feebler race of doppelgangers), and we get to see famous places and personalities.
Having said that, was does the typical reader end up with, aside from the links to the RPG? Perhaps Marked for Death is a breakthrough when it comes to D&D novels simply because of the angst and the three-dimensional characters. I mean good guys and bad guys both have redeeming as well as dislikable traits, and there always seems to be conflict, even among allies. I mean Dungeons & Dragons has been known for is alignment system, namely that of good and evil, law and chaos. That’s not so present in this book, or at least it’s not that apparent. Good and evil, law and chaos are still pervasive, but the lines aren’t as clear-cut. Each character has their own agenda in the book, and employ various logic to justify their actions.
While the book ain’t no Dragonlance Chronicles (and it can’t be since the Eberron novels shouldn’t have world-changing effects), it’s a decent enough novel. As a fantasy novel, it’s okay: nothing really outstanding, and nothing really horrifying. As an RPG novel, it fares better than most of its ilk simply because it gives life to the setting in which it was based on, and doesn’t interfere too much with the game (unlike Dragonlance wherein we endure one cataclysm after another). Again, this isn’t intellectual material. But if you like a fantasy atmosphere where morality is grey, and where your heroes aren’t overpowered, this is probably the book for you. If you’re a fan of the Eberron game, it might score some additional points for you. But aside from that, if you really want bang for your buck, there are probably other fantasy novels out there for you.