I have finished the highly entertaining CRYPT OF THE MOANING DIAMOND by Rosemary Jones. This novel is the first Forgotten Realms novel I've read in many years. The last trilogy I read in that fantasy world was the Dark Elf Trilogy about the drow ranger Drizzt Do'Urden, by R. A. Salvatore. (Incidently, Tor sent me another Salvatore novel just last week, The Ancient.) Nothing in particular drove me away from reading the novels. I simply had started reading other things.
It is my belief that many fantasy readers have spent at least some time playing role-playing games. And if you've played role-playing games, you've probably at least tried Dungeons and Dragons. This novel is like reading a fictionalization of someone's role-playing game. Fights. Traps. Magic items. Undead. Puzzles. And of course, monsters. Weird ones along with the standard-issue ones.
But that's not all. The reality is like D&D rules as well. In D&D (or at least in the AD&D version, which is the last version that we purchased), a fighter who is fifth level or so doesn't have much to fear from a fall of less then, oh, about twenty feet. In real life, you could seriously break your ankle if you fall even ten feet. But in D&D, you can leap off ledges and suffer a small amount damage that might make you wince and groan with pain, but not much more than that. You'd still be in good shape to fight after said leap. Is this a critique? Not really. The author has made it consistent with the gaming world, even if that gaming world isn't quite consistent with reality. Just a head's up.
I just had a few minor quibbles. One character turns out to have an unexpected connection with someone they meet in the dungeon. I think it should have been foreshadowed earlier in the story. I wasn't particularly thinking of this character as mysterious until I got to this point. Also, the opening chapter was seriously bogged down by a bunch of information fed to the reader in a very short timespan. The lively voice of the author kept me going through this point. Once you get to the part where the characters are in the dungeon, things move along at a good, pageturning clip.
The plot of the novel is rather straightforward, at least at first. A group of siegebreakers falls into a dungeon when their digging weakens the floor. They must find their way out.
I'd say these characters are about third to fifth level, in gaming terms. Orcs give them a decent fight, but don't seriously threaten them. They are hesitant to attack a powerful mage, especially since their own mage did get badly damaged in the fall, and her spells are not functioning as well as they usually do. (Mages are physically weaker than fighters in D&D.)
(I suppose I am revealing myself to be a major geek with this review. But you probably knew that already.)
Complicating their attempts to find their way out are the undead guardians of the crypt and the fact that they aren't alone down there. They meet up with the other wanderers of the dungeon, and things go from bad to worse. And all the while, the water is rising.
Jones's strength by far as a storyteller is her use of humor. What is the last thing you would expect to discuss with a pair of bugbears while wandering through a dungeon? I ain't saying, but it was funny and unexpected. So are a lot of other situations. Jones does not try to get too serious in this novel; it's just pure entertainment.
Jones also takes stereotypes and turns them on their ear. The power-hungry mage? Well, she's actually more concerned by her looks than about power. Her magic helps her look well-turned out. And she doesn't really come across as vain.
The money-grabbing mercenary? Well, all she really wants is enough money to repair the roof of her barn. And her grubby appearance? It's all for show, to tweak the sensibilities of a certain straitlaced warrior. At least until she falls into the dungeon, that is. Then, they all get grubby.
The super-strong half-orc? Well, she's a woman for one, and a rather soft-spoken one, except when she must bellow. She is gentle and protective, but can put up a good fight when necessary.
The cantankerous dwarf? Well, he's not really all that cranky, and he doesn't come across as a very effective fighter. He IS good at figuring out traps along with . . .
The sneaky thief? He's the most interesting of all. He's some sort of pan-like creature, a sort of a faun out of The Chronicles of Narnia. He's polite and calls everyone "my dear." He's never fully explained, but I expect Jones to flesh these characters out in future books.
The honor-bound lawful-good fighter? Well, he pretty much looks and behaves as advertised. Except he has an attraction for a certain grubby mercenary and he manages to find friends in the strangest places.
I enjoyed this novel and if you are looking for a fun, quick read, you probably will as well. And if you are a former gamer, it may bring back some fond memories. I know I'll never look at a bugbear the same way again.
Original Debut Annoucement (with Amazon links)
Rosemary Jones's Website and Myspace