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The Best of the Realms

Posted by travizzt on November 4, 2009

An anthology compiling the best short stories written in the Forgotten Realms. What’s not to like?


The Best of the Realms: Volume 1
edited by Philip Athans, J. Robert King, James Lowder, Brian M. Thomsen, and Lizz Baldwin
This “Best Of” anthology was released in November of 2003 and takes the “best” of the short stories found within various Forgotten Realms anthologies. These anthologies include: Realms of Valor, Realms of Infamy, Realms of Magic, Realms of the Underdark, Realms of the Arcane, Realms of Mystery, Realms of the Deep, and Realms of Shadow. There are 14 stories by Elaine Cunningham, Ed Greenwood, Troy Denning, Christie Golden, William W. Connors, Monte Cook, Douglas Niles, J. Robert King, Jeff Grubb, Jean Rabe, Kate Novak-Grubb, Jess Lebow, Keith Francis Strohm, and R. A. Salvatore. The short story written by R. A. Salvatore is a new story that was not featured in any previous anthology book. Before each story, the author of the story gives a “background” insights to the upcoming story.

Most of these stories I have previously reviewed and I’m not going to re-review them, so instead I will just post my previous thoughts I have written about these stories in place of another review. Because of this, there will be a slight change in styles of my reviewing. So keep this in mind!

“Rite of Blood” by Elaine Cunningham
The story is about Liriel Baenre, the daughter of Gromph Baenre, who is the archmage of Menzoberranzan. Liriel is an up and coming mage, under the tutelage of Xandra Shobalar, the Mistress of Magic. During this time, Liriel is coming of age and is to undertake a ritual called “The Blooding” in which she would make her first kill and become a true drow. However, things don’t go as Liriel thought they would.
This short story appeared in Realms of the Underdark.
Negatives:
I can’t think of anything wrong about this story.
Positives:
1) Liriel. She’s a very interesting character and it’s nice to see a little more into her background than what we read in Starlight and Shadows trilogy. You can see how innocent, yet at the same time, not she is. And I liked that we get to see how bright and cunning she really is.
2) Story. The whole story was wonderful. From the start to the finish, everything was well done and it really made you want to read and finish the story.
3) Look into a drow’s mind. This really did offer a good look into how cunning and devious drow’s are. You can get a great sense of how cold and calculating they are. Also, you get a sense that not all drow’s are born evil, but become more and more twisted into being that way.
Overall: 5/5
Final Thoughts:
Great look into a drow’s mind and a great story revolving around Liriel Baenre.

“Elminster at the Magefair” by Ed Greenwood
The story is about Elminster and Storm Silverhand going to a magefair to pick up a key. The key invites trouble from younger mages and an old friend.
This short story appeared in Realms of Valor.
Negatives:
1) Boring story. It’s not a bad story by any means, it just wasn’t all that exciting.
2) Confusing towards the end. There just was too much going on to really follow. Then of course, you have to sit and think about what happened and what was so important.
Positives:
1) The magefair. That was really the only interesting and fun thing in the story. The fireball toss contest was pretty funny and amusing.
2) Not overburdened with names. I’ve been told that Ed Greenwood likes to use a lot of names. This story was an exception and it worked pretty well.
Overall: 3/5
Final Thoughts:
If things were not as slow at times and sped up at others, this could have been a better story.

“Darksword” by Troy Denning
The story is about Melegaunt Tanthul, a shadow weave user (which is the “hidden magical force” of the Forgotten Realms) and how he tricked a group of Vaasan people to use his shadow tainted weapons. But using these weapons brings a great cost to the wielder.
This short story appears in Realms of Shadow.
Negatives:
1) Missing Background. I haven’t read the trilogy in which this goes with (the trilogy is Return of the Archwizards) so I am in the dark about what these darkswords are. Which begs the question, why include a short story with no real background information? It would be nice to have a little more information on these things.
2) Felt Confusing. There were parts in which the story felt very confusing and hard to follow. I think it was because of word choice. Things just didn’t make a lot of sense.
Positives:
1) Melegaunt. I am not sure if he is a good guy or a bad guy, and this is what makes him very memorable. I read this story a few years ago and I still remember him for his conniving, yet helpful personality. This is what really makes this story good.
2) Darkswords. Even though I said I would like to have some background on what these are, I’m impressed by them. The description about them is what really makes me think that they have to look really good and impressive.
Overall: 3/5
Final Thoughts:
While the main character is very memorable and unique, I felt the story was a tad bit confusing at times. It could have been the word choice or how I felt there was some important information missing.

“Blood Sport” by Christie Golden
A vampire hunter by the name Shark is looking for Jander Sunstar, an elven vampire. The Shark finds out the truth of Jander and goes to great lengths to stop from being in his debt.
This short story appears in Realms of Infamy.
Negatives:
None. Though not as good as “One Last Drink”, it still is a great story.
Positives:
1) The Shark. I can’t help but absolutely loathe the Shark and her blindness. Which is what this whole collection is truly about, making you hate the “hero” of the story.
2) Adds to Jander. Now, I’ve said this before, Jander is one of my favorite characters. This story really shows the lengths in which he doesn’t want people to know he is a vampire. His carvings and his home really do show that.
3) The End. So far, the endings of each story were good, but this one really does take the cake. The Shark remains the evil intended person she always was.
Overall: 5/5
Final Thoughts:
More pieces of Jander’s life are such a good thing.

“Six of Swords” by William W. Conners
The story starts up as a thief named Jaybel getting murdered. It turns out that him and his wife, Gwynn, were members of an adventuring group called Six of Swords and were the first two that were found murdered. Two other members of the group, Orlando and Lelanda, go off to Waterdeep to uncover clues about their former friends deaths and along the way they stop by another members tower named Jolind to warn her. However, they find something they never expected waiting for them.
This short story appeared in Realms of Magic.
Negatives:
1) The ending. The lack of action and what happens really bothered me. It just sorta ends.
Positives:
1) The beginning. It really drew me in and made me want to know what was happening to the group.
2) Six of Swords. They were an interesting group and had a lot of back story adventures glanced over and I would have liked to read about some of them.
Overall: 4/5
Final Thoughts:
Good story that left me wanting to read more about this groups adventures, however, the main problem was the sudden ending.

“The Rose Window” by Monte Cook
The story is about an unnamed Loremaster of Oghma (The Lord of Knowledge and the Wise God) and how he goes to his old abbey, which is to be torn down, to play his respects. When he arrives there, he sees that many of the abbey’s furnishing being sold off to the locals, and notices a rose window that he remembers from his acolyte days there an decides to buy it. When he returns to his parish, he has the window put up. Soon after strange and disturbing things start to occur.
This short stories appears in Realms of Mystery.
Negatives:
1) The Ending. While it’s not a terrible ending, it’s just been overused to death. The whole “if you’re reading this something bad happened” thing is just very common in many things.
Positives:
1) Unnamed Character. The main character isn’t named. I think the character should have been, but at the same time, you wouldn’t have gotten this sense of dread and a personal connection with him. He really does pull you into the story.
2) Strange Occurrences. I liken these things to a really good horror movie. The less you see, the more potent the scare. You really don’t have much information, but that is what makes the story really work. The lack of knowledge to a follower of Oghma (who I mentioned is the Lord of Knowledge) is just unsettling and all the little noises and other things that occur really work well with the atmosphere.
Overall: 5/5
Final Thoughts:
It’s a really good story. I didn’t find anything wrong with it and all the lack of knowledge really makes the story so much better.

“The First Moonwell” by Douglas Niles
The story is about creating the Moonshae Islands on Toril, the planet in which the Forgotten Realms setting takes place.
This short story is included in Realms of Magic.
Negatives:
1) Creation Story. I don’t really enjoy creation stories. They are generally confusing and just bothersome with things that I wouldn’t know.
2) Second half. The second half of the story didn’t really mix well with the first part. It really seemed like two different stories with only the ending that connected the both.
Positives:
1) Creative. I do admit that the story was very original and creative. The descriptions of what “the goddess” was feeling and “seeing” were very interesting.
Overall: 3/5
Final Thoughts:
Like I said, I don’t like creation stories. However, this is my second time reading this one and I understand what was going on more this time than the first time.

“The Greatest Hero Who Ever Died” by J. Robert King
This is a tale within a story. A cloaked man walks into a tavern and begins telling a story of a Knight named Sir Paramore and how he rescued the kingdoms children. But the teller has ideas of his own.
This short story is found in Realms of Infamy.
Negatives:
1) The deaths. There were much to many pointless deaths that didn’t really make sense. For instance, getting hit in the face with a fist killed someone, when the hitter was falling down. It just didn’t make sense.
Positives:
1) Gruesome. The deaths in the story were just awful, in a good way. Plus using someone’s face as a puppet is just sick.
2) The tale. It was good. It really made you focus more on the story within and it made you feel like one of the patrons in the tavern listening.
Overall: 4/5
Final Thoughts:
Good story, just the outrageous deaths were the big problem.

Tertius and the Artifact by Jeff Grubb
The story is about a man named Tertius Wands and his search to recover an artifact. Tertius’ family are powerful mages, except he lacks the magical touch. Because of this, his grand-uncle, Maskar, needs him to recover the Tripartite Orb. The orb causes an anti-magic field, so to speak, and seeing as Tertius lacks magic, he was the logical choice. Tertius finds out who the thief was and goes about looking for him, at least he thinks he is.
This short story is in Realms of the Arcane.
Negatives:
1) Twist. The “twist” is to obvious and it really is easy to tell right away that the story is going to have an obvious twist. It was lame and honestly kind of dumb.
Positives:
1) Tertius. For being a drunken whatever he is, he sure does act like it. Yes, you read that right. I think that Jeff Grubb really did pick a good main character in someone who is so inept in doing things and amazingly, he doesn’t do them right. It was different.
2) Ampratines. Tertius’ djinni. He was the sole voice of reason and smarts in the story. In stead of coming off like most “all-knowing” characters, Ampi really does seem to serve his master in such a way to not really mock him. I just really enjoyed this character.
Overall: 4/5
Final Thoughts:
Although the twist is obvious, the characters and the way the story was told really seems new and fresh. It really was a fun read.

“Red Ambition” by Jean Rabe
The story is about Szass Tam, a lich red wizard zulkir (a ruler) of Thay. Szass Tam’s apprentice, Frodyne, tells Tam about a crown that she overheard a person talking about. Szass Tam sends a skeletal army to go recover the artifact but quickly loses touch with them. He goes there to see what the problem is and finds out not everything is what it seems and that goddesses are more cunning than he is.
This short story is found in Realms of Magic.
Negatives:
None.
Positives:
1) Szass Tam. I like his character. He is interesting and wonderfully evil.
2) End. I like the ending. Everything that happens is clever and unique.
Overall: 5/5
Final thoughts:
Fun, interesting story with a very memorable villain.

“The Common Spell” by Kate Novak-Grubb
This is a story within a story with a story. Kith Lais, a teacher that teaches reading and writing, is trying to get her class to learn this. The class doesn’t seem to want to, so she starts telling a story about Alias and Dragonbait and how they were searching for a vampiric creature called a penanggalan. While Alias and Dragonbait are searching they tell a story of an adventuring group that stayed in Westgate with a weaver and her young apprentice. The youngest of the group, a mageling befriends the apprentice and teaches her to read and write. However, Alias’ story isn’t the right one and the stories all become connected in a way.
The short story here is found in Realms of Magic.
Negatives:
1) Predictable. The only thing that I felt was wrong with the story is that it was really predictable. You can, after a few pages into the story within the story, know who someone really is.
Positives:
1) Length. Being about ten pages, there is a lot of story “crammed” in and it was well written and done wonderfully.
2) Stories. The ones within the main story, were very interesting. Seeing Kith’s class asking questions about this and that about the story made it really easy to follow.
Overall: 4/5
Final Thoughts:
It was just a little to predictable, but all in all, a good story.

“Assassin’s Shadow” by Jess Lebow
The story is about a young raider named Cy on a mission to kill an archwizard called Shadow. Shadow is using the shadow weave and Cy’s superiors want Shadow dead. When Cy arrives at Shadow’s home, he foiled and confronted by Shadow. He manages to barely escape and returns to his superior, Lume. Furious at Cy’s failure, he orders Cy to take a group to face the archwizard with himself leading it. But little does Lume know the powers of the shadow weave.
This short story appears in Realms of Shadow.
Negatives:
None. I liked this story.
Positives:
1) Cy. For a would be assassin, he is terrible at it and this is what makes him a good character. What makes it even better is when he realizes who the real “bad guy” is.
2) Shadow. I really enjoyed this character as well. While he doesn’t have a huge part, his nonchalant attitude towards Cy’s assassination attempt and his overall carelessness at times is really amusing.
Overall: 5/5
Final Thoughts:
It was a fun story with pretty interesting characters and an interesting back story.

“And The Dark Tide Rises” by Keith Francis Strohm
The story is about a young fisherman named Morgan Kevlynson and his part in spreading the news of the sahuagin attacks. While fishing with his grandfather, Morgan notices, or daydreams, seeing a sea elf next to the boat. Morgan is constantly teased with being called “Sea-touched” because he as a certain fixation on the sea. During the night, he hears his name in the wind and goes out to investigate. He finds that the source of the voice is, in fact, coming from a sea elf, the same one he thought he saw earlier. She tells Morgan about the sahuagin invasion and to go warn a wizard named Dhavrim. Morgan sets off to warn him and comes across the horrors of the deep.
This story is found in Realms of the Deep.
Negatives:
1) Slow. There were parts in which I thought were unbearably slow-moving. They didn’t really impact the story but I just felt that they were a little annoying.
2) The “Love” Story. The whole Morgan and Avadriel love interested seem lack luster. It wasn’t done very well to make it believe able and at times I thought it was the point. What I mean is, it seems from Morgan’s view that they loved each other but it just didn’t seem to work.
Positives:
1) Morgan. He was a good character. Not all that great and powerful but good nonetheless. I think that’s what I liked about him… He seemed average. It really did work for the story.
2) Mood. The mood of the story was pretty unique. The middle section really had a sense of desperation. The only thing that didn’t work was the romantic feeling. But you could really feel the desperation.
Overall: 3/5
Final Thoughts:
It’s really just an average story. The average character of Morgan worked well because of this.

“Empty Joys” by R. A. Salvatore
The story is about Artemis Entreri and Jarlaxle and an adventure with a group of highwaymen. During this adventure, Jarlaxle saves a baker. Yeah, that’s the best way to summarize this.
This is a new short story.
Negatives:
1) Pointless? I’m really not sure how to put this… It was just basically a nice little story, no greater impact or new views on the main characters. While it’s not really pointless it was entertaining.
Positives:
1) Witty. The dialogue between Jarlaxle and Entreri, as always, is very entertaining. The sarcasm between the characters were really humorous.
2) Come on. Really, whats not to love a story about the famous Entreri and Jarlaxle? Do I really have to spell it out?
Overall: 5/5
Final Thoughts:
Funny story with plenty of action. While it doesn’t seem to have a huge significance, it really doesn’t need one at all.

OVERALL ANTHOLOGY: 4/5
Final Thoughts on Total Anthology:
Overall, it really was a good collection of great stories. Even the stories I didn’t really care for were a good choice. It’s just a good “Best of.”

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