Friday, July 25, 2008

The Sellsword by Cam Banks

The Sellsword by Cam Banks
Mass Market Paperback
Wizards of the Coast
Excerpt (zipfile)

I am an unapologetic Dragonlance fan, so when a "publicist/consort" (read: his wife. It took me a while to get that) got in touch with me about reviewing a new Dragonlance series, I said "sure." The name of the series is Tracy Hickman Presents The Anvil of Time. This is Volume One.

Dragonlance is the object of derision by some people, and that's ok. I understand what they have to criticize. However, I also believe that the Weis and Hickman team came up with some wonderful characters. In my opinion, that was (is?) their strength, along with their knack for both comic and touching scenes. (Who could ever forget the wicker dragon? And the two death scenes?). I could go on at length, but I won't. (Translation: I deleted a bunch of pointless ramblings at this point.)

The Sellsword has many recognizable themes for the seasoned Dragonlance reader. The gods are present, albeit for the most part unnamed, as are the dragons and evil dragon highlords. There are three major characters: the sellsword named Vanderjack, a gnome fighter named Theodenes, and a decidedly ugly young woman named Gredchen. There is also a dragon highmaster named Rivven and a wizard named Cazuvel. Of course, he's a Black Robe wizard, and even if you've never read Dragonlance, you can probably guess what that means. And as is typical with Dragonlance novels, the point of view wanders from character to character.

The novel got off to a rocky start for me. Every time things got moving with Vanderjack, the plot came to a screeching halt to dwell on either Rivven or Cazuvel. I would have been happier with more Vanderjack scenes and far fewer Rivven scenes. I suppose this turns out to be a good thing, because I enjoyed reading about Vanderjack, but whenever I came to a Rivven scene, I found the novel all too easy to set aside. Which, I believe, is why it took me so long to read it. And one very drawn-out battle scene reminded me too much of random encounters in D&D.

However, the book hinted at depth in the form of Gredchen, whom Vanderjack was beginning to find somewhat attractive despite her twisted features. I wanted to see how things turned out with Vanderjack and Gredchen, so that's what saw me through to the end. I enjoyed Theo as well, and I was glad that the author saw fit to omit the usual mode of gnome speech, whichwouldgosomethinglikethis. (Perhaps Theo had adapted to humanity's slower pace.) Theo is not your usual gnome; he has a lifequest to invent the perfect weapon. And although the weapon seems unwieldly for a gnome to carry, it has enough gadgets and features that he may have succeeded in his quest.

I enjoyed the ending and Vanderjack's resourcefulness in taking on two deadly enemies simultaenously. Vanderjack has a magic sword readily identifiable to any D&D player, but I really enjoyed the slant that the author put on this sword, and how he tied it seamlessly to the mythology of Dragonlance. There is a certain scene in the very end where the sword met its final destiny, and I thought it was very well done.

I do have one major criticism, and it has nothing to do with the author. Vanderjack is black. So why does the cover feature a man with pasty white skin? I thought the cover was well-done otherwise.

All in all, I found The Sellsword a satisfying and fun romp. If you enjoyed the Dragonlance world, or a sword-and-sorcery fantasy that in general aims toward a young adult crowd, you probably will enjoy it as well.


Kimber An said...

Awesome review, Tia!

Tia Nevitt said...

Thank you!!

Cam_Banks said...

Hi Tia!

Thank you so much for the review. My wife and I talked for a while last night about the jarring character-switching comment you made, I can definitely see your point. I appreciate the fair appraisal; I'd be happy to answer any questions your readers might have, too.

As to the cover... yeah, not exactly what I had expected. I asked for Vin Diesel, but I suppose he's a little ambiguous to some people.

Tia Nevitt said...

Thanks, Cam! I'm assuming you meant the switches between Rivven and Vanderjack? I hope I didn't come across as harsh.

And I loved that you didn't transform Gredchen. I was afraid there was going to be some sort of transformation scene, and that she'd end up a supernaturally beautiful dragon or elf or something like that. Whew!

Vin Diesel would have been PERFECT as Vanderjack!

Cam_Banks said...

Yes, Gredchen got to stay who she was, which I honestly like a lot better than a sort of 'take off the glasses and now she looks stunning' trick.

I rarely read a fantasy novel where the female protagonists aren't gorgeous. I think George RR Martin tried it, with Brienne of Tarth, but there's certainly a shortage of capable fantasy women who're ugly by most fantasy world standards.

Kenny said...

So which God do each of the ghosts correspond to?

Cam_Banks said...

Hi Kenny,

Shoot me an email at boymonster AT gmail DOT com and I will let you know. :)