Saturday, February 16, 2013

Review: Against the Giants

Caution: Spoilers (both of the novel and the modules it's based on).

I thought I'd take a tour through some of the lesser-known works of Greyhawkiana, starting with some of the Greyhawk Classics novels of the late 1990's and early 2000's. The first I'm going to cover is Against the Giants by Ru Emerson, published in 1999. The novel was originally released in conjunction with the compilation module Against the Giants, which itself was a compilation of modules Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, and Hall of the Fire Giant King, with additional material.

The novel itself cleaves very closely to the plot of the original Giants modules. Hill giants are ravaging villages in western Keoland and southern Sterich, and a band of brave adventurers is sent off to stop them and discover what is behind the raids. It takes place in CY 585.

There are several problems with the novel, both from a Greyhawkian perspective and a literary one. First and foremost, the characters are completely forgettable. There's a paladin, a barbarian, a fighter, a magic-user, and a pair of half-elven rangers, but at times it was very difficult to figure out which character was talking, because there was almost nothing to distinguish them. The only halfway-interesting character in the party is killed almost right off the bat, but his death has no discernible impact on the others. The stock "awed farm boy who was trained by his warrior father and survived the massacre of his home village" seems unchanged by his adventures.

The plot lingers on the first of the three giant strongholds, where various prisoners are released, some of whom join the party. However, the attention given to the Steading seems to come at the expense of the other two, as almost no time is spent on the frost giant stronghold, and the foray into the fire giant hall is rushed to the point of feeling almost perfunctory. In fact, the characters even go out of their way to say that the glacial rift of the frost giants is only a means to get to the real destination; the fire giants' hall.

One big reason for the unseemly haste is the fact that the party's mage conveniently was a slave of Eclavdra (the drow ultimately behind the raids) and knows the layout of both the rift and the fire giants' hall. If he had been selected for the mission because of his knowledge, it might not be so bad (although still way too convenient), but the fact that it seems to come as much of a surprise to him to see Eclavdra's signature on a scroll strains one's credulity. He knows of the teleporting devices that allow quick movement between the strongholds, and becomes the deus ex machina for any knowledge the party needs to hasten along to the end of the book.

A bigger problem structurally lies with the fact that the novel ends with the destruction of the drow priestess Eclavdra (in a very blasé presentation that compares poorly with the ones we will see in other places) and a couple of her henchmen. There is no final confrontation in the drow city, just a quick and easy death for the villain and voila! Mission accomplished. This obviously raises some canon problems; not her death, which is actually dealt with as a possibility in the adventure modules, but the fact that there isn't anything beyond the single drow priestess pulling King Snurre's strings.

On the whole this is a very forgettable book. Other than adding a few place-names and possible NPCs (none of whom seem particularly compelling), it reads like an account of a game run through the modules that featured a player who had already read them and knew exactly where to go.

I rate it two wizards out of five.

6 comments:

grodog said...

Thanks for the review, Joe: to date, I've not picked these books up, and clearly there's not need to do so! :D

Q: 2 wizards out of 10, or 5, or 8, etc.?

Allan.

Joseph Bloch said...

Some of them are actually quite good-- I'll be getting to all of them eventually.

Oops! Should be two out of five. I would have given it a "1", but I had to leave something for my reviews of the Rose Estes books. ;-)

Jason Carney said...

Thanks for reviewing this book! I have it on my shelf next to the other Greyhawk Module novels from that era. I was really hoping they were reminiscent of Gygax's Gord the Rogue novels, which I think are great reads. I really loved *Artifact of Evil.* Have you read Andre Norton's *Quag Keep*? I've wanted to review that but have yet to get around to it.

Joseph Bloch said...

Hi Jason; yes, I've read Quag Keep and intend to do a review of that (as well as the Gygax books) eventually. Glad you like this one-- more on the way.

The Badger King said...

I have a few of these novels. Giving AGAINST THE GIANTS 2 wizards is pretty generous. Of the ones I've read, only THE KEEP ON THE BORDERLANDS was any good.

Graham Isles said...

I bought this years ago, likely when it came out, but gave up reading it about halfway through the Steading - it was just awful, and entirely as you described. Agreed on the scoring, and for keeping something back for Rose Estes! ;)

I do have the WPM novel, and have never looked at it, but might do so now, after reading your review.