Review: The Outcast (A Dark Sun Novel)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on June 4, 2010

The Outcast
(Tribe of One, book I)
Simon Hawke

A Dark Sun novel

I’ve read over a hundred Forgotten Realms novels, a dozen Ravenloft novels and all of the Eberron novels, but this was my first Dark Sun novel. Having never played in the Dark Sun camping setting when it was originally released back in the early 90s I never had any desire to read about a world I was unfamiliar with. However, in light of the upcoming re-launch of Dark Sun for 4e D&D I felt it was time to give the Dark Sun books a chance. I had no idea what I was in for.

Part of the reason I read and enjoy the books form Wizards of the Coast (and TSR before them) is the familiarity that comes with a shared world. Regardless of who the characters are and how the story unfolds, the setting is constant. The rules of D&D apply in these worlds so I know what’s reasonable to expect in any given situation. I quickly learned that Dark Sun is unlike any of the D&D shared worlds I’d read about before.

The Outcast is one of the best D&D books I’ve ever read. Not only is it a great D&D novel, but it’s a great novel in general. The writing is among the best I’ve read in any D&D novel. The characters are extremely well developed, the setting is described in the perfect amount of detail and the plot mixes just the right amount of action and intrigue.

As a newbie to Dark Sun this novel is a fantastic introduction. It follows the character Sorak from adolescence into adulthood. He is raised in a remote part of the world and when he ventures out we experience Dark Sun as he does. We see the setting unfold through his eyes, knowing as much (or more accurately as little) as he does. Hawke does a great job of providing just enough detail but not going on and on about every little thing. He uses broad strokes to paint the scene providing only the details necessary for understanding what’s going on.

Sorak is certainly one of the most unique and interesting character I’ve ever read about in any of the D&D novels. The offspring of an Elf and a Halfling, he is abandoned and left to die in the desert when he is about 5-years-old. Hearing his psychic cries for help, a Pyreen – a Druid-like elder – hears his wails and helps him. She finds Sorak abandoned by all by a tigone, a psychic tiger cub that has bonded with him. Sensing his unusually powerful psychic powers, she bring him to a monastery run by the benevolent villichi, a sect generally reserved for women, and asks that they raise him. Sorak is taught to use his body and mind to their fullest potential.

Besides being an extremely powerful psychic and gifted weapons fighter, Sorak is a Tribe of One. Because of the trauma he faced as an infant, his mind has shattered into multiple personas. Each persona represents different aspects of Soark’s personality. One wields powerful psychic powers, one is a tracker and hunter, one is his curiosity, one loves animals, and one is his five senses. By the end of this book we’re introduced to at least ten distinct personalities sharing Sorak’s mind and body. Same have names and some are only identified by their purpose.

I’ve read about flawed characters before but this was the first time I’ve read about a character with a mental disorder. Sorak understands that his situation is extremely rare. He struggles to understand why he is a Tribe of One and how to cope with multiple personalities sharing his body. He learns to communicate with most of them, although when others take control, Sorak’s main persona cannot detect what’s going on. The author describes subtle difference in how each personality carrier themselves when in control and adds that those who know Sorak really well might observe the slight differences, but most others would not.

With such a complicated hero I was glad that the plot was somewhat straight forward. When Sorak reaches maturity, he leaves the monastery and ventures out into the world. Before he leaves he is given a magical sword made from metal, a rare thing on Athas. He makes his way to Tyr where he learns more about the way the world works. By reading the minds of those he encounters he can immediately determine their thoughts and motives and can act in the most suitable way.

We learn about Tyr, the only free-city, and that the sorcerer-king who previously ruled has recently died. The city is run by a council of freemen and the city is in a state of change. We get to know some of the important personalities in the city including the council members, some of the important templars, the captain of the guard and the employees of the Crystal Spider gaming house. I suspect that many of these characters are familiar faces in the Dark Sun work and probability appear in many of the other stories set in Tyr.

Sorak’s unusual heritage, magical sword, psychic ability, tigone companion and general naivety lead him into the thick of a political power struggle within the city. There is a thrilling climax towards the end of the book, and the foundation is set for the next volume in the Tribe of One trilogy.

As great as this novel was I was extremely reluctant to post this review. The book was originally released in 1993 and is currently out of print. I’ve been scouring the used bookstores throughout my home town and have only been able to find six Dark Sun novels. This one may be difficult to find, but if you’re a fan of Dark Sun or, like me, you’re looking for a good place to jump in with both feet, then this book is for you.

I don’t know if Wizards has any plans to re-release this trilogy, but they’d be crazy not to. From the reviews I found online, this trilogy is considered the best of all the Dark Sun novels. If I can’t find the rest of the Tribe of One trilogy I know that I can move on to Troy Denning’s Prism Pentad. All five parts are being re-released, the fifth book coming out in July.

After reading The Outcast I’m even more pumped for the release of Dark Sun. Between these novels and D&D Encounters season two, I’ll be a Dark Sun expert by the time the new campaign setting is released in August.

The Outcast: 10 on a d10.

Have you read any of the Dark Sun novels? Which ones would you recommend people read or avoid? How do you think the Dark Sun novels compare to Forgotten Realms or Eberron novels?

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1 The Last Rogue June 4, 2010 at 10:30 am

One of my faves! Prism Pentad is good too, but it seriously alters the landscape (political) of Dark Sun

2 mc_masterchef June 4, 2010 at 2:32 pm

It’s been years since I read these or played Dark Sun, but as a long-time fan of the world, I always felt the Tribe of One series was an outlier — the author didn’t seem to have a great deal of understanding of the world and as I recall the trilogy was much more focused on the character Sorak than anything that happening around him. The Prism Pentad series and Lynne Abbey’s Urik trilogy always felt much more in tune with the flavor of the campaign and I would definitely recommend them before Tribe of One.

3 Grant Marthinsen June 4, 2010 at 7:33 pm

The Prism pentad books are excellent, or at least the first three are. i too was looking through used book shops for Dark Sun, and found books One, two, and Three. It is a shaker for the setting (Kalak) but that seems to be the immediate precursor to the Time frame the new Dark Sun will start in.

4 Matthew Arcilla June 6, 2010 at 8:46 am

Wow, that book sounds really neat.

I’m really interested in almost all of the settings in D&D’s history, and if your review is any indication I’m definitely going to try to pick that up as my start with Dark Sun. I’m going to have to find a way to order that one if the shipping doesn’t kill me here in the Philippines.

If only the local bookstores would carry D&D novels OTHER than Forgotten Realms. Some shops are so bad they only have the R.A. Salvatore stuff. I can’t even find the latest Eberron novels.

5 Stormcaller3801 June 7, 2010 at 11:22 am

So, outcast loner from an exotic land proves to have both an angst-filled past and exceptional abilities, then proceeds to explore an unfamiliar (to him) world accompanied only by his large feline companion.

Has anyone told Salvatore that Drizzt’s been sleeping around other game worlds?

6 Ameron June 15, 2010 at 9:14 am

@The Last Rogue
I’m reading The Darkness Before Dawn, Chronicles of Athas Book 2 now (It’s nowhere near as good as The Outcast) but I’ll be moving on to Prism Pendant next.

I’ve been reading that many of the authors who contributed to Dark Sun were not given much guidance or direction about the fledgling world. As a result many of the stories seem disjointed. Having no basis for comparison I can’t say one way or another. I’ll see if I can find the Urik trilogy. Thanks for the heads up.

@Grant Marthinsen
Since Wizards is re-releasing the Prism Pendant and none of the other books (that we know of) I guess they felt they were the strongest stories in their canon (which I’ve been hearing from a lot of people who read them back in the 90s).

@Matthew Arcilla
If you’re looking for great D&D novels, then I’d STRONGLY recommend the Legacy of Dhakaan trilogy by Don Bassingthwaite set in Eberron. The final chapter, Tyranny of Ghosts, just came out on June 1.

When you put Sorak into those terms he does sound like Drizzt or half a dozen other familiar fantasy characters. If the stereotype didn’t work there wouldn’t be so many great characters that fit this mold.

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