Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Review: Descent into the Depths of the Earth

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

Today's foray into somewhat obscure Greyhawkiana is a direct sequel to the last post in the series. Paul Kidd's Descent into the Depths of the Earth is the second in his trilogy of novels set in Greyhawk featuring the Justicar and his companions. Published in 2000, the novel picks up only a few weeks or so after the previous novel, White Plume Mountain, ends.

In this novel, Kidd takes the same approach with the original source material (the adventure modules D1-D3; Descent into the Depths of the Earth, Shrine of the Kuo-Toa, and Vault of the Drow) and uses them as the backdrop against which he tells an original story. I find this a terrific way to showcase the versatility of the adventure modules themselves, demonstrating that they don't only have to be used as the follow-up to the Giants novels, and that adventurers can have all sorts of motives for hitting the tunnels and caverns of Oerth's underdark.

In this case, the Justicar, his sentient hell hound pelt Cinders, faerie Escalla and Polk the drover have a double mission. First, to clear the name of Escalla, who is suspected of murdering a faerie prince she was to marry (against her will) and also to track down and rescue a village full of innocents who have been captured in a raid and taken underground. The two plots interweave nicely, and the mystery of who is behind the murder/frame-up is handled well.

The novel has more depth to it (pardon the pun). Where the first in the series was more light-hearted and sacrificed some complexity in the name of introducing the characters and establishing their relationships, this novel is definitely more layered in its narrative. There's a lot going on, between the politics of the Seelie Court, the various plots that involve the drow and their demon queen, and the budding romantic relationship between the Justicar and Escalla, and Kidd handles it all adroitly.

That's not to say there's not humor, which is one of the things I like most about his books in this series. For fans of the Greyhawk setting itself, there's a lot of new material that can be directly adapted for one's own campaign with the Seelie Court and its various clans and factions, and the description of the party's movements through the underdark is a model of how a group of player characters should approach the place.

This is quite an enjoyable read and I'd recommend it to anyone, especially if they enjoyed White Plume Mountain. I find myself very much looking forward to the final book in the Justicar trilogy.

I give it four wizards out of five.

3 comments:

Welleran said...

Thanks for these reviews. I picked these up years ago but never read them, figuring they were probably pretty schlocky. I'll probably read the better ones now.

alzrius said...

I once heard or read somewhere that the middle part of a trilogy is usually the weakest - I can't recall the reasoning, but it's something that does usually seem to be true (confirmation bias notwithstanding).

In this case, I think it's true. While I did like this book, there were certain things that really rubbed me the wrong way, mostly the grossly-inflated sense of just how important the faeries were presented as being.

While there's a legitimate argument to be made that the Seelie Court, in D&D, has gods and entities of god-like power in it, that doesn't seem to be how they're presented here. Rather, they're all like Escalla: pixies that have taken wizard levels. Despite this, they're also said to be the ones who sealed away the Queen of Air and Darkness (oh, excuse me, the Queen of Wind and Woe), who is described as "having taken on entire pantheons."

Yeah, she takes on pantheons of gods all by herself...but a few houses of spellcasting pixies is enough to seal her away forever.

I admit, it's a relatively small plot point, but it is one that forms the backdrop for much of the questing in this novel, and it just rankles me.

Anthony Emmel said...

I just wanted to point out that I've never thought of these as Greyhawk/AD&D novels. Theya re really Hackmaster novels! There's a flipping pixie-faerie in the party, for crying out loud!!!

I think there's dislike over these novels because of teh humor. I love them myself. :)