I’ve been reading a lot of tie-in novels to Wizards of the Coast’s Eberron world, largely because it’s an enjoyable way to gather source material for the Dungeons and Dragons games I run in Eberron — especially compared to the alternative of reading encyclopedic source books. For a long time, I had a prejudice against these kinds of novels, expecting them to be lower quality than straight genre fantasy novels. I have to say I’ve been pleasantly surprised. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read, and was very impressed with the writing in some of them.
Though it’s been out for a while now, I wanted to give a special mention to Marsheila Rockwell’s Legacy of Wolves. Rockwell clearly paid a lot of attention to characters, and I noticed that her female characters in particular were much better developed than the female characters in many fantasy novels I’ve read. Distraught mothers have some depth to them beyond their grief, the main female character has a broad range of motivations, and the romantic tension in the story is fueled by more than two hot people sleeping in nearby bedrolls. That said, Rockwell doesn’t sacrifice action at all. One of the big pleasures of these gaming novels is that they’re littered with awesome fight scenes, and she certainly doesn’t stint there.
For those unfamiliar with Eberron, it’s an interesting world. It’s extremely magical, but the magic often powers devices that bear similarities to modern technology, such as airships and a lightning rail. It’s also meant to have a noir feeling, and Legacy of Wolves is essentially a mystery novel. It was by far the most satisfying Eberron novel of that type that I have read. Rockwell sets up an interesting scenario: serial murders that seem to be getting blamed on the wrong people. Then, she throws out lead after lead, all of them plausible. It was a lot of fun to work on untangling these leads along with the characters, and to discover in the end that she played fair — the true clues were there all along the way.
I did think there was a bit of a stumble at the end [SPOILER — since I’m talking about the end, I may give something away now]. One of the main characters is gravely wounded in the last fight scene, to the point that I thought the character might be dead. The epilogue made it clear that the character lived, but that character doesn’t appear again onscreen, so to speak. I’ve come to feel that it’s necessary to actually bring a nearly-dead character before the audience in the end to give a satisfying feel to the fact that he or she survived.
I’ve seen Rockwell’s work before — I read a short story she published in Space and Time about a year ago, called “Lab Rats” (print only, as far as I can tell). After being impressed by this novel, I decided to look her up, and was very impressed by her blog [linked to her name above]. She tracks submissions, rejections, acceptances, and a variety of stats, out in public, in a disciplined and focused way. I admire the guts involved with making all that public, and I admire what it says about how she approaches writing and publishing. I’m personally rooting for her to publish another novel. I look forward to reading it when she does.