Book Review: Adrian Cole’s The Crimson Talisman
A good book? I can devour one of those in a matter of days. Or just one day, if it’s good enough and I have enough free time.
With this in mind … well, there’s a reason it’s been two weeks since my last book review.
I should’ve known better. I mean, it’s a Dungeons and Dragons tie-in novel. It’s pretty much guaranteed to be bad. Of course, there’s bad, and there’s entertainingly bad- I was kind of hoping that that The Crimson Talisman would fall into the latter category.
But…somewhere between ‘entertainingly bad’ and ‘actually bad’ is…well, just ‘bland.’ And that’s where The Crimson Talisman falls.
Ostensibly, The Crimson Talisman isn’t your everyday ‘elves and dwarves and ripping off Tolkien’ D&D novel. See, this novel is set in Eberron. For the less-nerdy amongst my reading audience, Eberron is a setting for Dungeons and Dragons. The gimmick to Eberron, however, is that it’s a little more magitech than the ‘standard’ D&D setting. It’s a setting with airships, magitech robots, and hobbits (sorry, halflings) that ride dinosaurs, all in a vaguely post-WWI analogue setting. It draws from a lot of sources; Final Fantasy games, old pulps, maybe even a little bit of Lovecraft for flavor. So, based on that, I figured I’d give the book a read.
It would’ve been nice if all that pulpy stuff was reflected in the book. I mean, sure, Cole uses a bunch of nonsense place names (Shae Thoridor, Karrnath, Voorkesh, etc) that I presume are part of the Eberron setting, but I didn’t get the rollicking sense of adventure that makes Eberron unique. I mean, heck, when the setting has a race of magitech robots, why would you not include magitech robots? Everything is better with robots.
Anyway, The Crimson Talisman is about Vaddi, a Generic Fantasy Protagonist. For reasons that aren’t really explained very well, Vaddi is heir to the titular Crimson Talisman, a MacGuffin of great magical power. The book starts with a typical ‘the protagonist’s family is killed by the bad guys’ scene, and then Vaddi is running away from the bad guys. The plot that follows is honestly pretty directionless, as Vaddi blunders from one random encounter to another. Raymond Chandler once said, “When in doubt, have a man come in through the door with a gun in his hand.” I get the feeling Cole took this to heart, only he had to replace ‘gun’ with ‘sword,’ because D&D.
There are a couple of Ye Olde Dark Lords chasing after Vaddi, and an elvish sorceress that he falls in love with (and who is like the only female character in the book, now that I think of it), and…well, really, most of the tropes you’d expect to find in a D&D tie-in book. You probably don’t care about the exact ins and outs of the plot; I certainly didn’t, and I was reading the damn book.
D&D pastiche has kind of become a mini-genre of its own, one with potential for not-horrible storytelling. One need only read the comic series Rat Queens, for an example of this (you should totally be reading Rat Queens, by the way). Of course, just a D&D game depends on its players to make it an enjoyable experience, a D&D novel depends on having interesting characters to make it worth reading. And, uh…Cole kind of fails in this. Hell, I couldn’t even tell the class of half the characters, which is like half of the point when you’re playing D&D. Vaddi is boring and passive, mostly getting whisked from one adventure to another. The most interesting character is a wandering hobo-spy dude named Nyam, who would be a little more compelling if his name didn’t make me think of Nyan Cat.
And again, The Crimson Talisman never really reaches the heights of WTF-inducing badness that, say, A Sword for a Dragon did. It’s just sort of … there. I suppose I can’t fault Cole for this, as I’m sure his agent just called him up and said “hey, they’re going to cut you a check to write this D&D novel,” and he said “sure, why not?” And so he ground out a rather workmanlike novel that used the right funny-place names. I can’t get too mad at Cole, based solely on the fact that his author’s blurb on the back cover states he lives in North Devon, which he describes as “Solomon Kane country.” Anybody who name-drops Solomon Kane is okay in my book, dangit. I’m just glad the dude got paid.
But yeah. I’m gonna make it a point to read something not-shitty for my next entry, honest. And after that, I’m gonna make August a THEME MONTH. Stay tuned!