Review: Avenger

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on March 31, 2010

(Blades of the Moonsea, Book III)
Richard Baker

A Forgotten Realms novel

Avenger is the third adventure featuring Garen Hulmaster. The Blades of Moonsea trilogy comes to a thrilling conclusion in Avenger. The Hulmasters were usurped from their family stronghold and forced to flee Hulberg at the end of Corsair, the second novel. Avenger picks up a few months later as the Hulmasters are struggling to devise a plan to retake their home. But before any plans can be enacted, the family is struck upon by assassins.

Hulmasters’ foes attempt to wipe out all who have a legitimate blood claim to the lands and title of Harmach. The assassins are defeated, but not before the family suffers serious losses. Garen immediately takes revenge upon those who have harmed him and his family by returning to Hulberg and destroying the evil forces who sent the assassins.

While in Hulberg, Garen realizes that any plan to retake Hulberg is going to be more difficult than anticipated. The Wizard, Rhovann has created dozens of runehelm guardians, giant constructs linked to one shared consciousness. The brutes are strong and nearly unstoppable. Their links minds allow them to act in unison and hunt like a wolf pack. The longer Garen and his kin delay their attack, the more time Rhovann has to continue building his runehelms.

When Garen returns to his family and reports his findings they realize that the only way they have any chance of retaking their homeland is to eliminate the runehelm threat. They seek the advice the lich, King Aesperus. The King In Copper agrees to provide Garen with a weapon capable of destroying the all the runehelms simultaneously with a single stroke. In exchange for the weapon and the knowledge of how to use it effectively, Garen must recover pages from a lost spell book and return them to King Aesperus. The pages are in Myth Drannor.

Garen, Hammil and Sarth head to Myth Drannor despite Garen’s permanent exile. We learn more of Garen’s time spent among the elves as he and his companions recover the pages they seek. The task is not as straight forward as they hoped, but they are eventually successful. They return the pages to King Aesperus and he gives Garen Umbrach Nyth, and enchanted blade that is especially powerful against creatures from the Shadowfell. Rhovann has used essence from the Shadowfell to power his runehelms. By travelling into the shadow realm, Garen can use the sword to destroy the shadow magic acting as the runehelms power source.

As the Hulmasters march their army back to Hulberg, Garen and his companions sneak back into Hulberg. If they can destroy the runehelms then the army waiting outside the city has a good chance of retaking Hulberg. The thrilling climax has Garen battling his nemesis Rhovann while his kin battle an army bolstered by the runehelms.

I really enjoyed this book and this series. It was the first I’ve read that takes place after the Spellplague. The characters have everything I’ve come to expect from the Forgotten Realms. They’re fully integrated into 4e, representing the new races and classes and using powers and items specific to the new rules. Garen’s cousin, Kara possess a spellscar which is seamlessly integrated into the story without drawing a lot of unnecessary attention to it.

The story in Avenger is very linear, which works. One of the things that really frustrates me about some of the other Forgotten Realms authors is that they have a lot of different characters doing different things all the time. The story keeps jumping around and it seems disjointed. This book features Garen about 90% of the time. The only cut-aways are a couple of chapters back in Hulberg featuring the villains or the sympathisers. It’s just enough so that the reader knows what’s going on, but the scenes are so short you don’t forget about what’s going on with the main characters. The back and forth near the end really adds something to the story-telling. Since Garen actions are so important to the battle raging outside the city we want to know how they’re faring.

One thing that really struck me about Avenger is that it deals with more mature themes and imagery than other Forgotten Realms books I’ve read (and I’ve read almost all of them). Wizards of the Coast boasts that the novels are generally written for a PG-13 audience, but this book had a pretty saucy sex scene and a very graphic torcher scene that were both appropriate in the context of the story, but not typical for this kind of book. I didn’t have any issue with this departure, if anything I probability enjoyed the book a bit more when I realized that it wasn’t going to pull punches.

If you’ve already read the other books in the Blades of the Moonsea trilogy, Swordmage and Corsair, then you have to read Avenger. The trilogy was great and the conclusions was fantastic. Each book can stand alone, but the real payoff comes from reading all three books. Because there are months between the events in each novel, you don’t have to read them back to back.

As a fan of Richard Baker’s work I can say that the Blades of the Moonsea trilogy, and Avenger in particular, are among his best yet. Although he ties up all the loose ends by the end of the book, he’s created many rich and three dimensional characters with plenty of options for future adventures. I hope we see more of Garen, Hammil and Sarth in upcoming books.

For those readers who have a Dungeons & Dragons Insider (DDI) subscription, Garen’s statistics are available in Character Builder. Look in the SampleHeroes folder and you’ll find Garen’s character sheet. If you’re curious, he’s a level 12 Swordmage, and yes, he’s Houseruled (big time).

If you’ve finished reading the Moonsea Trilogy and want more, Richard Baker has already written one other story featuring characters from this series. The short story “The King In Copper” found in the anthology Realms of the Dead: The Haunted Lands (edited by Susan J. Morrisng) sheds some light on the relationship between Garen’s ancestors in the House of Hulmaster and the lich, King Aesperus. This anthology also contains plenty of other great stories about the undead written by some of today’s most well known Forgotten Realms authors, including R.A Salvatore and Richard Lee Byres.

Avenger: 8 on a d10

Blades of the Moonsea Trilogy: 8 on a d10

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