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Realms of the Dead edited by Susan J. Morris

Posted by travizzt on January 29, 2010

The dead rise! Zombies, vampires, skeletons, liches, and more are to be found in this anthology of all things best left rotting and six feet under!


Realms of the Dead edited by Susan J. Morris was released in 2010. This is an anthology based in the Forgotten Realms setting. This anthology is composed of twelve short stories written by Richard Lee Byers, Lisa Smedman, Erin M. Evans, Bruce R. Cordell, Jaleigh Johnson, Christopher Rowe, Philip Athans, Richard Baker, Rosemary Jones, Ed Greenwood, Erik Scott de Bie, and R. A. Salvatore. This anthology is included with Richard Lee Byer’s The Haunted Lands trilogy, and deals with all things undead.

“Pieces” by Richard Lee Byers
The story follows the events after the second book in The Haunted Lands trilogy entitled Undead. Bareris Anskuld was a bard in life, and still is in death. Along with the specter of a paladin named Mirror, Bareris seeks revenge for the ‘re-death’ of his love. In this story, Mirror and Bareris go to join a resistance group against the undead horde that the lich Szass Tam rose to take over the land of Thay. But it’s hard for undead to join a group opposing the undead.
Negatives:
1) Undead. I didn’t really care for how a few of these undead were explained. It didn’t really paint a vivid picture in my mind and kind of was a bit of a bummer.
Positives:
1) Bareris. Now I liked Bareris in the trilogy, a lot. His thirst for revenge is something that you can really feel. That and he is one of the coolest bards in any story.
2) The Ending. It’s was dark and it really worked considering the premise of the anthology and trilogy itself is about death. The ‘twist’ it takes I really enjoyed.
Overall: 5/5
*Even though I didn’t really like the undead description’s, it was an interesting story with a great ending and with a character I really enjoyed.

“Soul Steel” by Lisa Smedman
This short story is about revenge. A green elf by the name of Trelwyn wants to avenge the death of her brother, who saw their queen having an affair with a lover. The queen had him sentenced to death, and when Trelwyn finds out the truth, she goes to a dark elf lich to make a sword that will steal the soul of the queen. However, during her revenge things don’t go according to plan.
Negatives:
1) Terms. There were a few words that I had never heard of that pop up in the story. For example, I never really heard of a green elf till this story, and upon some research, they are wild elves. Why not just call them that? Also, the word Trunadar was brought up a few times and, at first I thought it was yet another name for the green elves, when in fact it’s their village name. Which was never mentioned as being such and barely hinted at.
2) Ending. I didn’t really care for it, but it was bad. I just don’t understand how these two characters would seem to trust one another, it just seemed like a stretch.
Positives:
1) Revenge Story. I really enjoyed the revenge story. I thought it was really interesting and had a really good premise. It was enjoyable and exciting at the same time. Also, I liked the added ironic touch of using a drow weapon to kill the queen.
2) Twist. I really enjoyed the twist the story takes. I’m not going to give it away, but while it was a little simple and convenient, I thought it made sense and was kind of unexpected.
Overall: 4/5
*This was a pretty solid story. There were a few things that were to simple-minded and unbelievable, but all in all it was a nice story about revenge.

“The Resurrection Agent” by Erin M. Evans
The story is about a spy named the Harlot, consoling her spymaster, Viridi, on her deathbed. We learn that the Harlot is a resurrection agent, which is a spy who is caught and killed, then resurrected to condemn her target. When Harlot’s spymaster dies, she was to take Viridi’s body to a safe place where her spymaster’s secrets can remain hidden. With the help of the priest who resurrects her, named the Shepard, they being their journey. But little does the Harlot know, not all her targets remained dead and they would love to pry the secrets out of the spymaster.
Negatives:
1) Big Story. The story really is to big of one to really be a short story. There is a lot of background information that was given and at times, it seemed to rushed. Because of this, a lot of the scenes were a little hard to follow at times.
Positives:
1) Dark. The story really gets into the feel of horror. It’s dark and twisted. Reading what Harlot goes through when she “dies” is a little demented in a way. That and a creature she meets is really a shock, not to mention, really twisted.
2) The Harlot. I really liked this character for some reason. At first I really didn’t care for her at all and thought that she was some sort of run of the mill female character. But as the story progressed she became more and more interesting. Mostly do to her back story and her past.
Overall: 5/5
*While I really enjoyed reading this, I just strongly think that this shouldn’t have been a short story. It just had too much missing and shortened that it causes the story to suffer slightly. This really captures what a story included in an anthology should be about.

“Wandering Stones” by Bruce R. Cordell
This story follows a woman named Jada, who is being chased by a brown dragon. Jada is looking for a place in which dragons can not enter called Wandering Stones, which is a village were former slaves of dragons go for protection. We learn that Jada claims a heritage to a thought extinct group of people who can control dragons called Dragonmasters. The problem is, she can’t control it.
Negatives:
1) Dragons. This is anthology for the dead, so why is there a story based mostly on dragons? Yes, there are some spirits, but they aren’t the focus of the story. They only appear towards the end and it was only mentioned in a few sentences before hand. This is much more suited for Realms of the Dragons than for Realms of the Dead. This just feels wrong in here.
Positives:
1) History. I like the history of the story. Upon a little research, I found that this story gives some background information on Returned Abeir, which returned to the world of Toril during the Spellplague. I didn’t know anything like this happened and it is really interesting to see that the continents that came over are ruled by dragons.
Overall: 2/5
*Why such a low-grade? This story DOES NOT belong in Realms of the Dead! DOES NOT BELONG. This story should be in something like Realms of the Dragons part three (does not exist, by the way). However, it is a fairly interesting story and it does give some back ground and it did perk my interest up in learning about “Returned Abeir.” Honestly, if this was in a dragon anthology, I’d give it a solid 4. But alas, it’s not.

“The Bone Bird” by Jaleigh Johnson
This story is about two clerics of Chauntea on a mission to aid the village of Lendris, who is having a problem with a hooded figure that comes at night. We are then introduced to Bromar and his mentor as his mentor is dying on his trip. While burying him, Bromar passes out and awakes to find the body outside of the grave he dug. Later, he travels to the village and comes across a woman, named Milra, who has his mentors’ holy symbol. After a brief struggle, the townsfolk, Milra, and Bromar decide to help each other conquer this hooded figure. Things don’t go according to plan and a secret is revealed.
Negatives:
1) Structure. The story’s structure wasn’t that good. At times the paragraphs didn’t make much sense and it felt rushed. For example, the first page, when we learn what is going on with his mentor, I had a really rough time figuring out who was talking and what exactly was going on. It didn’t read to well.
2) Secret. The “secret” really seemed “phoned in.” It was rushed and quite honestly, unimpressive. It really didn’t make sense other than why the tavern was named The Bone Bird.
Positives:
1) Milra. I really liked this character a lot. I felt the tension between Bromar and her when he sees the holy symbol, and then seeing her be condescending, in a way, towards him throughout the struggle. I honestly hoped there would have been more that took place throughout the story between these two. I am a little disappointed in how Milra was treated after the first confrontation, but it did feel right what happens. I just wish that there was a little more before what happens.
2) Entomber. I really liked how the creature was described. It brought a really brought sense of disgust and vileness that you would feel if you would see such a creature. Just disgusting.
Overall: 3/5
*The story really did feel a tad bit rushed at times and confusing. All in all, it’s just an average story. It does have it’s faults, but it was a good read.

“Feast of the Moon” by Christopher Rowe
The story is about a Huntmaster named Jaeg on a quest-like mission from his god Malar, to find and kill the whatever killed the former Huntmaster. Jaeg, processing the ability to turn into a tiger, finds the undead creature that undoubtedly kill the former Huntmaster. However, two female halfling are also trying to kill the creature. But to avenge the death of the former Huntmaster, Jaeg is the one that needs to kill the creature.
Negatives:
1) First Half. The first half of the story wasn’t really interesting or coherent. You understand what is going on, but at the same time you don’t. It’s feels awkward to read.
Positives:
1) Little to No Dialogue. The lack of dialogue is wonderful. It makes the story much more atmospheric and the subtle actions are much more potent. Even with the amount of dialogue that there is, what is said really is simple but hits hard.
2) Creature. The creature is just wonderful. Unlike the undead creature in “The Bone Bird”, this creature just radiates evil and corruption. The description is just wonderful and the story really picks up when we meet the creature. This basically makes the story.
Overall: 4/5
*Really good story, however the beginning just felt awkward. The undead creature is just wonderful and really makes the story great.

“A Prayer for Brother Robert” by Philip Athans
An acolyte named Brother Robert goes to help out a woman whose house is being haunted.
Negatives:
1) Length. This story is long. It’s probably the longest story within the anthology and it really feels long. There could have been so many things shorten or scrapped all together.
Positives:
1) Brother Robert. He isn’t your normal hero of a story. He’s nervous, scared, and continues to have “strange feels” toward the woman who owns the haunted house.
2) Funny. There are a few times I really laughed at during the story. For example when Sister Kalia turns up at random times. It was amusing.
Overall: 4/5
*This was a pretty good story. Brother Robert was wonderful in his insecurities.

“The King in Copper” by Richard Baker
The story is about the lord, if only in title, of Hulburg named Angar who is having trouble with some mercenary bands. The mercenaries are taking over Hulburg, and Angar can do nothing but do as the leaders say. The mercenaries raid is stores, take his food, and even rob graves. Angar, knowing that the mercenaries will kill him because of the poorness of the town and himself, tell the mercenaries of the treasures they would find held in the King in Coppers fortress. Little do they know that the King in Copper is “alive” and “well.” The story does tie into Richard Bakers Blades of the Moonsea trilogy.
Negatives:
1) Slow. The story wasn’t very exciting until the last three pages. It’s a little hard to read because it is a little dull and unexciting.
2) Angar. I never really felt to sorry for the character. He is a pathetic ruler and I just didn’t care for him.
Positives:
1) Last Four Pages. They were a little disturbing and frightening. Seeing what the King in Copper can do is just amazing. 2) The villains. The mercenaries were wonderfully done. I really loathed both of their vile attitudes and disregard of kindness.
Overall: 3/5
*The story is just to dull and even though the last four pages were exciting and frightening, the slowness really hurt. Even the main character was pathetic to read about.

“Dusty Bones” by Rosemary Jones
The story follows the family that tend to the City of the Dead, the graveyard, in the great city of Waterdeep. Leaplow Carver enjoys his job of polishing the various monuments within the City of the Dead, mostly because he likes to whistle at the young women as they pass by. One day, his long-lost cousin named Fitnor comes to help Leaplow, mostly because Fitnor has no wish to work with anything else about the graveyard. During Leaplow’s “tour,” Fitnor becomes fascinated with one particular mausoleum, and unleashes a terrible undead force.
Negatives:
1) Character Names. They are so unbearably stupid. Leaplow? Really? There seems to be really no sense of originality with everyone mentioned, mostly within the Craver family.
2) Childish. A lot of things that happen, be it the character names or some actions really seem to be more cartoonish and immature.
Positives:
1) Story. I did like how the story went. It was exciting and very interesting, to say the least.
2) Humor. There was some pretty funny parts. Mostly because of how much of a “ladies man” Leaplow is.
Overall: 4/5
*I thought a lot of the action was cartoonish and immature even when I thought most of it was funny. It was an interesting story, just with really terrible character names. It really doesn’t “fit” into the previous entries darker tones, with this story being a little lighter.

“The Many Murders of Manshoon” by Ed Greenwood
The story is really hard to summarize. In fact, I have no idea what was going on. But from what I do understand, or at least am attempting to understand, is that the founder of Zhentarim, a mercenary company, Manshoon is hunting down those who killed him. Manshoon, before his death, made clones of himself so that if something like this would happen to him, he could still live. That’s really all I could understand because…
Negatives:
1) Confusing. The whole story is just confusing and don’t make any sense at all in what is happening. The scenes are short paragraphs, for the most part, that really have Manshoon attacking someone and failing. This seems like an easy thing to do, but apparently it isn’t. The reason for it being so confusing is because:
– Names. There are way to many names thrown at you. Most of the people I’ve never read about or heard of.
– Logical Flow. There so no logic behind any of the scenes. It seems like the story is lost within the story. It’s just confusing to the extreme.
– Epic. The whole story seems to be more epic than it should be. What I mean is, the story should be longer. It seems like a lot of stuff was trimmed down for “simplicity” but it just makes it even harder to follow. And quite honestly, I don’t think I could read a longer story, if it’s just going to be like this one.
Overall: 0/5
*Really, do I need to explain it? I hated reading this story. Sure, it started out decently, but it just ends in a confusing, what the “f” did I just read a cluster@%$ of nonsense? I normally wouldn’t curse in any review, but this was just horrible. It was honestly painful to read.

“A Body in a Bag” by Erik Scott de Bie
The story is about two friends crypt delving and accidentally killing one friends betrothed’s brother from a ghoul attack. Korvo, a tiefling, is deeply in love with his friend, Ande, who is a budding necromancer. In order to “make his move,” Korvo decides to help revive the dead brother to save their heads from being executed. But the resurrection doesn’t go according to plan, causing a ghoul to be created. With inspiration, or bad luck some would say, striking Korvo, he decides to lie to Ande and say that the ghoul and him are bound, just so he could find someway to win her love and affection. Hilarity ensues.
Negatives:
1) First Few Pages. The first few pages were kind of confusing. Seeing as this story is right after one of the worst stories I’ve read, it was hard for me to follow. Without the previous story, it still would be a little hard to understand what is going on. This is due because of how unique the dialogue is. It takes a few pages to get used to.
Positives:
1) Korvo and Ande. What wonderful characters. They were funny and just brilliantly written. Korvo was just hilarious, with his insecurities about doing what they were doing and how much he wanted Ande to love him. It doesn’t help him when his fiendish blood starts to talk with him. Ande, with her unhealthy obsession with death, seemed more focused on solving their problem with the ghoul being “bound” to Korvo. Her obvious obliviousness to the love struck Korvo is just wonderful.
2) Hilarity. The story was just a riot. It was funny, clever, and just an all around good time. The awkwardness that Korvo feels being down in the crypts and his “fantasies” about Ande are just great. Then the scene with Korvo’s mother and the crowd outside his home is just plain funny.
3) Pacing. The story really was fun to read and really hard to put down. It was fast and quick-witted. It just ends making you want more.
Overall: 5/5
*Wow, just wow. One of the best, if not the best, short stories I’ve read in a long time. It was clever, fun, and had great characters. It’s no small wonder why Erik Scott de Bie is really becoming one of my favorite authors.

“Iruladoon” by R. A. Salvatore
The story is about a group of fishermen on Lac Dinneshere in Icewind Dale who are taking on water. They set make it to a hidden dock which has a cabin and a good-sized forest surrounding the area. As they make their repairs to the ship, they decide to stay for the night and the ship’s captain, Ashelia, has the two younger members of the ship, Spragan and Lathan, go out to find firewood. While the two are searching, they somehow get separated and find out that the forest isn’t what it seems to be. When the two make it back to camp, the other two members, a wizard named Addadearber and a ranger named Roundabout, go into investigate. But come out changed.
Negatives:
1) Ashelia and Lathan. She never really seemed to be all that interesting. Granted, she was more like a minor character, but it would have been nice to see if she sees anything unusual. While Lathan seems more there and not really all that engaging. He had the most boring encounter out of the others.
Positives:
1) Characters. The other three characters were really interesting and fun to read about. Spragan, being the youngest runs into some sort of “ghost” who goes from being a little girl, to his own age, to an older woman every time he turns around. His fear really starts to feel real after a while. Addadearber’s unique encounter with a fishing halfling was pretty funny, if a bit twisted. You can really feel how anger he gets from being unable to frighten the halfling. Roundabout is perhaps the most interesting of all the characters. I don’t even know why, but he just was interesting. With saying this, I would really like to read more about Addabearber and Roundabout.
2) “Fan Service.” I’m really calling this story a fan service story. It is a really good, fun story though and I’m glad to have read it just to learn more about the two “creatures” in the woods of Iruladoon. It makes the ending of The Ghost King (R. A. Salvatore’s latest book to be released) seem much happier than when we left that book.
Overall: 5/5
*Even though I had a problem with Ashelia and Lathan, they still were decent characters that didn’t really hurt the overall story. While the other characters were wonderfully done and that I’d be more than happy to read more about Roundabout and Addadearber. But all this becomes overshadowed by the appearances of the “dead” (SPOILER!!!) Catti-brie and Regis (END OF SPOILER!!!). Like I said, it makes the ending of The Ghost King feel much happier than it felt.


OVERALL ANTHOLOGY: 4/5
* Now, really the grade is more like 3.5 but I round-up on these cases. Overall, the anthology did have some really entertaining and interesting stories. There were some stories that I honestly didn’t like, but for the most part, they were good reads. There is one major problem that I have with the anthology. This may sound a little trivial and I know the reason this author wasn’t included, but I would have loved to see a story from her. Of course, I’m talking about Christie Golden, the author of one of my favorite fantasy horror novel, Vampire of the Mists, and creator of the amazing sun elf vampire Jander Sunstar. I just really would have enjoyed another story with him in it, but that’s just my honest opinion. But this anthology was a good one to say the least.
Stories The You Should Read:
1) “Pieces” by Richard Lee Byers
2) “The Resurrection Agent” by Erin M. Evans
3) “A Body in a Bag” by Erik Scott de Bie
4) “Iruladoon” by R. A. Salvatore
Stories That You Should Avoid:
1) “The Many Murders of Manshoon” by Ed Greenwood

One Response to “Realms of the Dead edited by Susan J. Morris”

  1. […] some of my other anthologies I’ve reviewed: let’s just  pick my most recent review Realms of the Dead edited by Susan J. Morris. This took six pages to write, as with most of the others. Six pages isn’t a lot, and I […]

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