It’s been over two years since I reviewed Darkwalker on Moonshae, the fabulously titled first book ever set in Dungeons & Dragons’ venerable Forgotten Realms campaign setting. It’s been less than a week since I read the sequel, Black Wizards, but when I tell you I’ve forgotten nearly everything about the book since then, let me assure you: I forgot most of what happened later that same afternoon.
Black Wizards is practically a spell of forgetfulness unto itself. Somehow, the two-dimensional characters of Darkwalker on Moonshae have become one-dimensional dots; the many, many things that lead up to the final battle are almost entirely meaningless; and while there are indeed Black Wizards in the book, they’re no more important than the Evil Cleric, the Robin Hood-type guy, the Fish People, the Lady in the Lake Except It’s a Sea, the Murder God, etc., etc. Perhaps the most telling thing I can say is this: there are seven Black Wizards, and I don’t think three of them have any dialogue whatsoever. They just sit in a wagon until a rogue Black Wizard sets it on fire and kills them.
If you recall (and you absolutely don’t), Darkwalker on Moonshae ended with Prince Tristan Kendrick and his pals saving the Moonshae islands from a shapeshifting beast who assembled a massive army of monsters and barbarians on behalf of Bhaal, the god of violence and murder. Bhaal wants a rematch, and thus sends the titular Black Wizards to corrupt/bamboozle the High King of the Moonshae Isles, and an evil druid to kill a bunch of non-evil druids, and a zombie army, and a bunch of evil fish-people called Sahuagin, and a bunch of ogres to… kill everybody, I guess. He’s a god of murder, after all.
Despite saving the realm from an army of evil marauders in the first book, Tristan’s dad still thinks his son is a lazy piece of shit because he isn’t interested in learning about the administrative duties of being a king. This is a problem when the dad is murdered by a half-orc assassin named Razmatazz—er, Razfallow—as part of the Black Wizards’ plot to destroy all the various kings of the islands who could potentially become the High King, although no one explains why this would be the case.
Apparently, non-High King-ship is nonhereditary, so Tristan and his thief pal/dog master Daryth have to travel to the capital with an asshole named Pontswain, who feels that he would be a better king because he has administrative experience. Meanwhile, Tristan’s adoptive sister and love interest Robyn is hanging out with druids. The halfling Pawldo and the uber-annoying, Orko-esque faerie dragon Flit also show up.
I could go beat by beat of what happens in Black Wizards, but like those three Black Wizards who do nothing but die, almost nothing of consequence happens in the book. Or rather, nothing with any consequences happens. Tristan’s boat sinks on the way to the capital—but a giant castle erupts out of the sea and saves him. Tristan gets captured over and over again by the High King’s forces—but luckily Pawldo shows up out of nowhere and later Daryth finds magical thief gloves that allow him to escape any bonds. Robyn loses her magic staff—but a couple of pages earlier, someone had already given her a magic wand. Similarly, it seems like Tristan loses the mythical sword of the legendary king Cymrych Hugh several hundred times over the course of the novel, only to find it in the same chapter. Even when the evil cleric Hobarth conquers a bevy of noble druids, he just… stops there, almost completely disappearing from the book.
Honestly, even though Tristan and Robyn eventually destroy a massive joint army of ogres, wizards, zombies, evil dwarves, and Saguahin, nothing anyone does in Black Wizards feels like an achievement. Author Douglas Niles spends a lot of the novel talking about how huge and insurmountable the forces of Bhaal are—just like he spent much of Darkwalker talking about how huge and insurmountable the forces of the Beast were—and they murder a zillion people and defeat all the forces of good and also there’s a Robin Hood-type king who turns out to be an idiot and gets a lot more people killed until Tristan takes charge and everything just ends up… fine? Tristan and his pals don’t really do much here either; instead, there’s an earthquake ex machina out of nowhere that kills most of the bad guys, apparently sent by the good goddess Chauntea, who apparently couldn’t be bothered beforehand.
I could go over all the characters and plot elements and conflicts that are introduced and then disappear almost immediately, but why would I do that to you (or to me)? Suffice it to say, at the end of the book Tristan Kendrick is the king of the Moonshae isles (not that we’ve met anyone from any of the other islands) and the Saguahin have a different zombie army than the zombie army they had prior to the earthquake. Hell, Tristan can’t even be trusted to claim the throne himself; instead, the goddess tosses a legendary crown out of the water at his feet.
Like Darkwalker on Moonshae, Black Wizards is better written than some of the Dungeons & Dragons novels I’ve revisited on a technical level, but it doesn’t have the focus of the first novel. As a result, it made me simultaneously angry and sleepy, which is sort of an impressive feat, but not one I feel interested in rewarding. So Black Wizards rolls a 4 on its 1d20, a point less than Darkwalker on Moonshae, but it should feel lucky I didn’t make it roll with disadvantage. Seriously, this book made me very, very grumpy.
As a result, I’m going to treat myself—the next installment of Dungeons & Dragons & Novels will be Homeland, the first book in R.A. Salvatore’s Dark Elf Trilogy, about the early life of Drizzt Do’Urden in the unapologetically evil Drow city of Menzoberranzan. I remember outright loving this book as a young teen to a degree far more than any of the other D&D books I read back then (including the other two volumes of the same trilogy), so I’m genuinely excited to reread it. Am I setting myself up for disappointment? Could be! But I’m reasonably confident I won’t have to make a pot of coffee to get through it.
- I have no musings about this book.
- Okay, one musing: One of the Black Wizards is female, and all she wants to do is have sex with another of the Black Wizards. When that particular wizard decides he wants to fuck Robyn instead, she decides to kill Robyn. Robyn kills her. It’s very bad.
- As a gift for enduring this crap with me, I will share with you this wonderful sentence from the D&D fan wiki summary of the novel without any context whatsoever: “He appears in the guise of a helpless amnesiac feral druid.”
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