The Spectral Blaze by Richard Lee Byers
Posted by travizzt on July 6, 2011
The Spectral Blaze is the third book in The Brotherhood of the Griffon series. The first book is titled The Captive Flame and the second book is titled Whisper of Venom. The fourth book is titled Rival Blades or The Masked Witches (depending on the source) is scheduled to be released in February of 2012. The Spectral Blaze is set in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting of Dungeons and Dragons. Richard Lee Byers has written a number of books, mostly focused on the horror genre; Deathward, Fright Line, The Vampire’s Apprentice, Dark Fortune, Dead Time, a novel based of Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid of the Dark? series titled The Tale of Terrible Toys, and a co-wrote Werewolf: The Apocalypse: Tribe novel titled Children of Gaia and Uktena with Stefan Petrucha. He has two collections titled Dark Kingdoms and The Q Word: And Other Stories. He has also contributed a number of stories to other series including; a few novels in Nightmare Club (Joyride, Warlock Games, and Party Til You Drop), a few World of Darkness novels (Caravan of Shadows, Netherworld: Vampire, On a Darkling Plane, and Wraith: The Ebon Mask), a X-Men novel titled Soul Killer, and a Warhammer novel titled The Enemy Within. He’s also written a trilogy for the Scarred Lands called Dead God trilogy (Forsaken, Forsworn, and Forbidden). He has written a number of Forgotten Realms novels as well; he wrote The Shattered Mask which is a part of the Sembia: Gateway to the Realms series as well as a short story in The Halls of Stormweather, he wrote the first book in R. A. Salvatore’s War of the Spider Queen series titled Dissolution, a stand-alone novel in The Rogues series titled The Black Bouquet, The Year of the Rogue Dragons trilogy (The Rage, The Rite, and The Ruin), a stand-alone novel in The Priest series titled Queen of the Depths, and The Haunted Lands trilogy (Unclean, Undead, and Unholy). He’s also contributed a vast amount of short stories to various anthologies. The Spectral Blaze was released in June 2011 and published by Wizards of the Coast LLC.
After successfully aiding Chessenta to conquer their neighbor, Threskal, the Brotherhood of the Griffon mercenary company has discovered a secret. After destroying the Great Bone Wyrm, Alasklerbanbastos, Aoth Fezim and some of his lieutenants summon the former dragon lich back, to get some answers out of him, mostly concerning the returned ruler of Chessenta, the Red Dragon Tchazzar. However, what they learn was never to be heard outside of dragonkind. Alasklerbanbastos tells them of the Great Game, xorvintaal, that was lost until the rage that afflicted dragonkind was lifted. They learn that Tchazzar wants to eradicate the dragonborn, along with their homeland of Tymanther, giving him the lead in the game and rulership of the eastern lands. Aoth knows that they must put a stop to their former employer along with the game. In order to accomplish this, Aoth takes Gaedynn and the sunpriestess Cera to Akanûl, in hopes of persuading the genasi out of helping Tchazzar in his war. Elsewhere, the dwarf Khouryn returns to Chessenta, after aiding the dragonborn in a war with dragon controlled ash giants, in hopes of returning to the Brotherhood of the Griffon. However, he is welcomed back to Chessenta by being thrown into the dungeon on the orders of the so-called prophetess of Tchazzar, Halonya, on the grounds of being a traitor for aiding the dragonborn. Jhesrhi, who now is a close member of Tchazzar’s inner circle thanks to saving the Red Dragon, learns of what Aoth discovered and tries to put a stop to Tchazzar, in more subtle ways. She knows that she has the power and ability to stall the Red Dragon in Chessenta’s war with the dragonborn, along with continuing to try to mend the Red Dragon’s damaged sanity. But after seeing Khouryn imprisoned, she attempts a risky rescue. With an insane dragon manipulating the war against the dragonborn and insurmountable odds against the Brotherhood, it isn’t looking good for anyone.
1) Minor Characters. There was only one very, very small issue with The Spectral Blaze and it had to do with a few of the minor characters. In fact, it’s so minor of an issue that it almost isn’t noticeable, unless you start to like a few of these characters. The problem doesn’t stem from a lack of distinguishing qualities, development, or having a forgettable role, instead the problem is that I wanted more. I wanted to know more about these minor characters who are introduced to us in this story. I wanted to learn more about Praxasalandos and Son-liin, or continue to learn more about returning characters like Shala and Biri. The minor characters are given enough screen time, but I wanted more. There was just something about all these characters that really made the story feel deeper and more impactful than it should. They added a lot of layers and insight into what was going on, than what was needed of them. They never felt like wastes of space or useless. They all had a role, and they played it well. Almost too well. I can’t call this issue a true criticism, in the sense that it doesn’t hurt the story. But it is bothersome that after finishing it, I want more and probably won’t get much more of them. Even with the excellent minor characters, you end up wanting to read more about them than you’d expect.
1) Characters. The Spectral Blaze has a lot of memorable and fun characters that help make the story a great read. Each character was distinctive and felt incredibly different. There wasn’t a character that was underdeveloped and each one had a lot of layers that made them deeper. If you have been following the adventures of the Brotherhood of the Griffon, you’ll most likely be happy to see these character grow in a natural way. Nothing really felt forced or come off as lazy about them. While all of the characters were well-developed, there were a few that weren’t in the limelight long enough to seem as important, even though they were. These characters are Khouryn and the dragonborn, Medrash and Balasar. They are wonderful characters, but felt like secondary main characters. Khouryn was interesting, but felt the same, which isn’t a bad thing and really worked in his advantage. He was unassuming and played the soldier role, which is who he is. The two main dragonborn, the paladin of Torm Medrash and his friend Balasar, also felt the same. But there wasn’t any real need for them to change that much. Looking at the real main characters; Aoth, Gaedynn, and Cera, you see a lot of complexity. You know that Aoth has a mercenary mindset, but the things he does isn’t something a normal mercenary would do. But instead of it feeling out of character, it fits him. He has a subtle way of doing the right thing, and you almost believe that he doesn’t know he’s doing it. It’s interesting. Then if you add-on Cera you have another aspect of Aoth that you won’t expect. Look at their relationship. You instantly see that it’s surprisingly realistic. You can tell that these two love one another, really love one another. It’s nice to see a fictional relationship be that believable. Cera, herself, seems rather in over her head, and she was. You can tell that she was dealing with the situations that are way over her head the best way that she could, but there was some growing yet to be done with her. By the end of the novel, you see that she does change, but it’s very small. Gaedynn is the same way, but he had a lot of charisma. He couldn’t stop talking or saying something smart. He just was a jerk that you liked. But if you were to look deeper, you’d notice that he’s extremely complex. You see that he hides behind his attitude, and it’s an interesting perspective. If you look at the other storyline involving Tchazzar and Jhesrhi, you can really see a lot of character in these two and how they act. In fact, these two were my favorite characters in the story. You can see Tchazzar slowly spiral into insanity and insecurity. His fears and weaknesses make him likable, even when he does detestable things. He has that charisma that really transfers from the page to the reader. You can’t help but like him, but deep down you know he is crazy as crazy can be. Jhesrhi is another matter entirely. She’s extremely complex. You see her struggle between what she believes is right; staying with her friends in the Brotherhood or helping mend Tchazzar’s broken psyche. It’s a fight that is pulled off very well. Then you have her ‘disability’ and when you consider what she has to do to get over her fear of being touched, you really sympathize and understand, even if you can’t really relate. It’s just pulled off fantastically and both characters have a wonderful pay-off in the end. There are a few other characters that I could mention, for example Oraxes and Meralaine, but they are better served if as a surprise. All in all, the characters of The Spectral Blaze really make this story that much more engaging.
2) Story. The story of The Spectral Blaze is as complex and engaging as its characters. If you look at the story on its surface, you see about four branching storylines connected to one main plotline. These four segments help advance the story, while keeping it interesting. They are very different, but feel the same in their goals which are to stop Chessenta from invading Tymanther and to control Tchazzar’s sanity. It’s simple, but the lengths they have to go through are incredibly enjoyable and fascinating. In one storyline we have Aoth, Gaedynn, and Cera actively trying to put a stop to Tchazzar’s schemes and end the game of xorvintaal. It’s pretty straightforward, but the journey is what really works. You see them take different approaches to their problem and some do work while others don’t. It makes their quest even more enjoyable. Another storyline involves Khouryn’s imprisonment, escape, and helping the dragonborn gain an ally in hopes of preventing a war. That storyline is straightforward. You can see how things are going to happen and that works. In another storyline you have the rest of the Brotherhood of the Griffon trying to delay joining Tchazzar’s army until Aoth returns. There is no way to explain this other than it’s just fun. Finally, we have the Jhesrhi and Tchazzar storyline. This one is deep and to go into it would ruin the experience. It is also my favorite part of the story. There really was nothing that compared to it, and because of that, I can not spoil it. To put it simply, story has something for everyone to enjoy.
3) Dragons. Dragons have never really felt like a dominate, deadly force that they are built up to be in the Forgotten Realms. Thankfully, The Spectral Blaze, and for that matter the whole Brotherhood of the Griffon series to this point, has really painted them to be the feared and respected creatures that they are. The dragons finally feel like powerful, deadly creatures. They are cunning, intelligent, and downright frightening. Not to mention, almost impossible to take down. Let’s face it, we all want dragons to be impossible and destructive. These dragons are, and the only way to kill them is to either carefully plan an attack or get insanely lucky. Only once in this novel did it feel like one of the character got insanely lucky, and even then, it felt deserving. Every other time that dragons were being fought, it was planning and experience that guiding the win. This is how you do dragon fights.
1) Jhesrhi. What happens to her at the end of the novel really has me wondering what is going to happen to her in the future.
2) Continuity. There are quite a few tie-in series that go hand in hand with this series. Both The Year of Rogue Dragons and The Haunted Lands have connections to this series. With the former, it’s just information about dragons and some brief references. With the latter, it’s the starting point of The Brotherhood of the Griffon and Aoth. It may be wise to read these series before starting Brotherhood of the Griffon.
3) Cover Art. The Spectral Blaze has a very eye-catching and action packed cover. On it, we see Aoth facing down a bony white dragon, while just behind him we see another person (most likely Jhesrhi) taking on a fiery red dragon. It’s just an awesome scene that really feels fast paced and exciting. What makes this cover even better is the use of blue and red. These two colors really draw your eye and makes you look. The blue surrounding Aoth looks wonderful and bright, while the red of the dragon behind him makes you focus more on that blue. It’s a nice contrast that does help add to the excitement and really makes you want to look closer.
The Spectral Blaze is a wonderful story that I couldn’t put down. It’s just great. Even my little issue about the minor characters is almost null and void. I still liked them, I just wanted to read more about them. The characters were great, the story was great, everything was great. Do I really need to say more than that? I guess I should. The characters were complex and developed. The relationships that each character had felt like it’s a real relationship. There were no bad characters, and if I had to pick a favorite it would have to be Jhesrhi. Why? Because I liked flaws in characters and she has an insanely interesting one. The story was great and while it had four storylines, they all were connected and fit perfectly. It really has something for everyone to enjoy. It’s also about time that dragons are the fearful and deadly creatures that I thought they were. There wasn’t a dragon that went down easily, and it seemed like cunning and planning made the victory, more so than luck or a single person. All in all, this is a fantastic book in a wonderful series. I still do recommend that new readers familiarize themselves with both The Year of Rogue Dragons trilogy and The Haunted Lands trilogy, but this series is definitely worth checking out.