Venom in Her Veins by Tim Pratt
Posted by travizzt on August 1, 2012
Venom in Her Veins is a stand-alone novel set in the Forgotten Realms universe of Dungeons and Dragons tie-in novel line. Other books by Tim Pratt are The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl, The Nex, Briarpatch, and City of the Fallen Sky. He’s written an ongoing series Marla Mason which includes; Blood Engines, Bone Sleep, Dead Reign, Spell Games, Broken Mirrors, Grim Tides, and a prequel Bone Shop. He has edited an anthology titled Sympathy for the Devil, as well as having a few collected works; Little Gods, If There Were Wolves, and Hart & Boot & Other Stories. Venom in Her Veins was released March 2012 and was published by Wizards of the Coast LLC.
Zaltys Serrat is the adoptive daughter of the powerful Serrat family of merchants and traders. Found as a young baby by a team of Serrat harvesters, she was soon brought up as a princess of the Serrat family’s Travelers, the harvesters of the family’s prize crop, terazul flowers. While the flower may have some undesired side-effects, it is what made the Serrat family rich and influential. After years of braving the jungle, Zaltys quickly became a talented ranger and bow-woman. But as the truth of her past is revealed, she sets off to find the family she believes to be captured and taken deep into the horrid Underdark. What Zaltys finds may not be what she expected.
1) Julen. While Julen isn’t necessarily a bad character, he just felt too mundane. The mundane, average personality he has, makes him come off as uninteresting through most of the story. While it can be argued that Julen is the one character the reader is supposed to identify with, he never came off as that kind of person. He was the story’s “every-man”, the character you would see in every novel to help the reader feel as though they were apart of the story. But that is also Julen’s problem. It felt like every other character that fits that mold. He was so generic and mundane that there wasn’t anything to really latch on to early on in the story. In fact, it felt as though Zaltys filled the role slightly better, even though she was supposed to come across as this unidentifiable character who you want to learn more about. She wasn’t supposed to feel like the reader’s link to the story, that is what Julen was meant to be. Julen does slowly develop into this role late in the story, but he severely lacked that connection when it was needed early in the story. He is just a blank slate that makes it hard to connect with him.
2) Derro. For a society built on madness and insanity, the Derro are surprisingly efficient to the point of disbelief. The Derro society seemed relatively ‘sane’ for this insane race of creatures. They even seemed to be relatively sane in this regard, which doesn’t feel quite right knowing that this race is full of lunatics. What makes it worse is that this problem of efficiency is noticeable. There is attention drawn to it which brings light to this problem. It wouldn’t have been so distracting if the characters didn’t point these things out or their insanity was highlighted. Those highlighted scenes felt forced in and made it seem like the Derro’s madness is being forced unto the reader and not given a natural feel to it, or how natural insanity can get. There is a scene where a Derro is murdered and if the attention of the book didn’t shift to this Derro being murdered by other Derro, it wouldn’t have felt so awkward and forced in. Writing a whole society of insane, mad beings takes a lot of tact and effort. While there were times where Tim Pratt made them feel legitimately crazy, he seemed to want to enforce this madness a little too much, leading to that question of how did the Derro society last this long?
1) Zaltys. There is something familiar with Zaltys Serrat, and in that familiarity, you find an interesting character. On the surface, Zaltys is your typical main character. She shares most of the basic qualities that a lot of fantasy heroines and heroes share. This helps her feel like the reader knows her, before really knowing her. As the story progresses, your knowledge about her grows, as it should. However, Zaltys still has one thing that a lot of fantasy heroes seem to lack by story end, mystery. You don’t know where Zaltys is going to go after Venom in Her Veins ends, and that’s part of her strength. There seems to be so much more to uncover about this character. Basically, Tim Pratt whets the readers appetite to know more about her. However, that isn’t all Zaltys brings to the table. She also has a set focus and morals that a lot of main characters talk about but is rarely seen. Family is important, beyond important, to her and that’s not often seen, let alone a sole reason, for what Zaltys does. It’s almost a breath of fresh air.
2) Yuan-ti. On a personal level, I have not read any Forgotten Realms novels, that has a strong influence of Yuan-ti in them. They may have appeared as ‘villains of the week’ here and there, but nothing definitive about them. Aside from Lisa Smedman’s House of Serpents trilogy, which I haven’t read as of yet, Yuan-ti seem to be mostly regaled to monster status from a novel standpoint. Venom in Her Veins spins Yuan-ti culture in a light that hasn’t really been seen, as far as I know.
3) Story. Venom in Her Veins is a very basic story. Hero or heroine goes off to rescue someone or ‘someones’ in peril, it’s very basic. However, what lies under the surface is what makes this basic, mundane story stand out. For one thing, it deals with something rarely seen in Forgotten Realms novels; drugs and the morals and reasoning behind those selling them. For another thing, the story has a strong sense of family and what family means. Then you have discovering oneself and how they see themselves fitting into the world. Granted, the latter is seen in almost all Forgotten Realms novels, but it’s one of those small things that helps make Venom in Her Veins‘ story so great. It’s your typical fantasy scenario, but with things that are not typically seen.
1) Comparisons. While reading Venom in Her Veins I couldn’t help but notice some slight similarities between Zaltys and the Forgotten Realms most famous character Drizzt Do’Urden. Now these similarities just feel circumstantial, but I do feel like they are noticeable. Both characters are outcasts of their races, both are rangers, and both have some sort of connection with an evil deity without any knowledge of it. Other comparisons between the two can be made, but these do stand out the most. These comparisons seem to be legitimately circumstantial, but it is rather interesting.
2) Far Realm. Is anyone else feeling a little tired of having to hear about the Far Realm over and over? Yes, it is a problem, but there are other things that can be focused on. It’s starting to feel like the whole Far Realm problem is getting a little played out, and honestly I’m hoping this gets taken out soon.
3) Cover Art. Venom in Her Veins has basic, but good cover art. It’s simple, just Zaltys on the front cover, looking both intimidating, yet sexy. The serpentine like pose really works in both looking good and giving you an idea of who and what she is. Honestly, this is how I pictured Zaltys. Also the green coloring may be a bit simple, but it really drives home the “Venom” in the title along with the whole jungle/snake-like feeling of the cover. It’s a good, simple cover that really works.
Venom in Her Veins is both a typical Forgotten Realms novel and a breath of fresh air. With a basic story filled with relatively unseen concepts, it’s both comforting in its familiarity but refreshing in its ‘newer’ ideas. The characters, for the most part are memorable. Zaltys and the tiefling Glory were the stand out characters. Saying anything about Glory, however will ruin the surprise. While Julen felt like he failed as an ‘everyman’, he still was interesting, towards the end. An odd issue with Venom in Her Veins is how a society based on insanity can function for so long. It felt almost surreal and quite a bit forced. Thankfully, there are plenty of things to like about Venom in Her Veins. Zaltys is a fantastic character. She has familiarity about her but at the same time she feels like something different. Also it was nice to see Yuan-ti being the main focus. There’s not many novels that paint them as anything more than monsters, and here you see they are something entirely different. The story elements is something that stands out from normal Forgotten Realms, and even Dungeons and Dragons based novels. Some of these elements you’d never expect to find in this genre. Venom in Her Veins is really an enjoyable and fun novel that you may find it hard to put down. It should make new readers to the Realms feel welcome and entertain older readers. Venom in Her Veins is definitely worth checking out.