Review: Taint of the Black Brigade

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on October 6, 2010

Taint of the Black Brigade
The Chronicles of Abraxis Wren
Paul Crilley

An Eberron Novel

If you like a little bit more than the typical hack and slash in your fantasy fiction then you’re in for a treat. At its heart, Taint of the Black Brigade is a detective story. Even though it takes place in Eberron and the characters use magic it’s not your typical D&D novel. The focus of this story is a mystery and the lengths that a detective will go to solve it.

Taint of the Black Brigade is Crilley’s second novel featuring Abraxis Wren. The first, Night of the Long Shadows, was part of the Inquisitives series and although it took place before Taint of the Black Brigade it’s not necessary for you to read it first. I know that I read it when it was first released but all I remember about it besides that it was set in Eberron and featured an Inquisitive was that I really enjoyed it. So when I began reading Taint of the Black Brigade I was coming to it without any detail from the first book.

Plot Summary

The story begins in Wroat where Lyra, a House Medani agent, takes a job as a bodyguard. She’s ambushed and forced to watch the murder of the man she was supposed to be protecting. She realizes that she’s been framed for his murder so she flees to Sharn seeking help from Abraxis Wren, her ex-husband.

Wren meanwhile has become a social joke. Since the events from the Night of the Long Shadows he’s been unable to find work as an inquisitive. However, his fame and notoriety have made him popular in certain social circles. We get a first-hand example of his exceptional deductive reasoning as well as his obliviousness to social etiquette as he makes a spectacle of himself during a dinner party.

When Lyra shows up on Wren’s doorstep he reluctantly agrees to help her after some prodding from Torin. The three of them travel back to Wroat where they investigate the murder and uncover details of the victim’s past.

The man Lyra was hired to protect was part of an elite, black-ops team called the Black Brigade. They worked for Breland during the last war. The 10-member squad reported directly to the king. No one else knew of their existence. They were sent to do the jobs that regular troops weren’t equipped to handle or that might result in political backlash. Towards the end of the war the Black Brigade realized that they could easily be hung out to dry after the war. They’d have nothing to fall back on. No recognition for a job well done and no military pension to live off of. So they decided to do something about it.

When the Black Brigade found a priceless treasure during one of their final ops, they decided to keep it. They realized that if they cashed it in immediately there would be questions. So they decided to bury the treasure, and dig it up years later, after the war was over. However, some of the members of the Black Brigade disagreed on this course of action and they turned on each other. With only four members remaining they agreed to a truce.

One of the remaining members swore an oath to the Silver Flame that he’d forever denounce his share of the treasure. The others agreed to let him hide the treasure on their behalf. He would then create a treasure map, divide it into three pieces and give each of the remaining members a section. He did as agreed and handed each man a sealed envelope. Before he could explain what was in the envelope they killed him. Opening their envelopes they realized that they’d been double-crossed. Inside the envelopes wasn’t three pieces of a map, but rather three riddles. The riddles, when deciphered, would lead each man to his piece of the map. For years each man struggled to solve his riddle.

In order to absolve Lyra of a murder she didn’t commit, Wren must solve the riddles and find the treasure before the other surviving members of the Black Brigade.

Review

I really enjoyed this book. I find that the Eberron novels are a step above most other D&D novels. The setting is so rich and the authors find the perfect balance between just showing us the setting and using it as a part of their story.

Crilley did a wonderful job of introducing (or in my case re-introducing) the readers to his main characters: Wren and Torin. Abraxis Wren is a confident detective (called an Inquisitive in Eberron). Because he’s almost always right, he comes off as arrogant. He lacks social graces but doesn’t seem to notice or be bothered about it. He’s highly observant and uses logic to deduce the most likely conclusions. Torin provides Wren with someone to talk to and bounce ideas off of. He’s also is the first to point out when Wren’s plan will ruffle feathers, alienate his peers, cause future headaches or is outright dangerous.

Wren and Torin are clearly reflections of the popular Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson archetypes (or Dr. Gregory House and Dr. James Wilson if you’d prefer a more modern example). The banter between these two seems real and natural. You believe that these guys are friends even though they often disagree. Beneath the frustration of these arguments is sense that both men enjoy the debate a great deal.

Wren, Torin and Lyra are all such believable characters. It’s their weaknesses and vulnerabilities that really made them feel real to me. Throughout the course of the story we learn more about what Lyra and Wren’s relationship was like when they were together and we learn the painful reasons for their divorce. Knowing that someone as aloof as Wren was capable of feeling this kind of passion and pain helped me overlook and forgive his abruptness.

There is also a great deal of humour in this story. The back and forth between Wren and Troin, and Wren and Lyra, make for great comedy. You really believe that these characters are long-time friends and have a tremendous amount of shared history.

I’m always fascinated when we get see a part of Eberron that hasn’t previously been explored in great detail. In this case Crilley describes the inner workings of the secretive House Medani and how they keep records they’re not supposed to have. We also learn that Wren, once a member of the house, dissolved his relationship under less-than-favourable conditions.

We’re given a look inside a House Lyrandar luxury air liner, a ship that can hold hundreds of passengers and caters to the very rich. A battle between Wren and a murderer on the deck of the moving airship was very exciting.

The real treat for me was to get an idea of how the Dwarves of House Kundarak keep treasures safe within their magic vaults. When Wren and his companions need to break into the impenetrable bank we are shown how an observant and intelligent Inquisitive can apply logic to defeat even the most impressive defenses.

If you’re looking for a good read then I highly recommend Taint of the Black Brigade. Read it as a stand-alone, Eberron adventure or, if you can find Night of Long Shadows, you read that one first. Either way you’ll be happy you did.

Taint of the Black Brigade: 8 on a d10

Listen to Paul Crilley read a chapter from his book, Taint of the Black Brigade by downloading the podcast from the Wizard of the Coast website.

Download sample chapters of Taint of the Black Brigade and Night of the Long Shadows courtesy of Wizards of the Coast.

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