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Circle of Skulls by James P. Davis

Posted by travizzt on May 13, 2010

A story of revenge against an angel. Is Circle of Skulls something you’d go on a holy war for or is it best to let the revenge simmer?

Circle of Skulls by James P. Davis- This is the sixth and final book released in the Ed Greenwood Presents Waterdeep series of stand-alone novels. This series contains five other entries, which are all written by different authors. With all stand-alone novel series, any of the other entries can be read out-of-order. The series is set in the Forgotten Realm universe. The other novels in the series includes; Blackstaff Tower by Steven E. Schend, Mistshore by Jaleigh Johnson, Downshadow by Erik Scott de Bie, City of the Dead by Rosemary Jones, and The God Catcher by Erin M. Evans. Circle of Skulls was released in May 2010. This is James P. Davis fourth novel and he has contributed a short story titled “Possessions” to the Realms of the Dragons II anthology. His other full length novels are all set in the Forgotten Realms. These include; Bloodwalk (The Wizards series), The Shield of Weeping Ghosts (The Citadels series), and The Restless Shore (The Wilds series). Circle of Skulls starts off with a brief introduction by Ed Greenwood.

Jinnaoth is looking for revenge. An angel of Asmodeus (a former arch-devil who became an evil god) took Jinn’s love, and he wants the angel, Sathariel, dead. The problem is, Jinn hasn’t be able to get close enough to the angel. However, when a string of horrendous murders start happening in the city, it seems that Sathariel is connected. Having the angel connected to the murders, Jinn might finally get his chance. Enlisting the help of a night hag, Maranyuss, and an eladrin wizard named Quessahn, Jinn starts to track down the source of the murders and may be able to stop them. But, it seems that the murders are not only connected to Sathariel and Asmodeus, but with a haunted area of Waterdeep referred to as the Circle of Skulls and the nine mysteriously floating skulls. Can the trio find the connection and stop the murders? Does Jinn get his revenge against Sathariel?

1) Jumping. The scenes seem to jump and it always seemed like some actions where missing. This is a problem that really plagued the book. By ‘jumping’ I mean when someone is doing a certain thing and in the next instance they are doing something completely different. Here’s general example; me sitting in a chair having a conversation and suddenly I appear behind the person I was talking to without having any action explaining that I was getting out of the chair. At first, I thought this may have to do with just the action scenes to add a sense of confusion and ‘realism’ to them, but it becomes apparent that it’s everywhere. The clearest example I have is towards the end of the book when Jinn is talking with Maranyuss about a ritual, and during the whole conversation I don’t recall Jinn moving toward the exit. Jinn is just talking with Mara and somehow, someway Jinn is suddenly out of the room and starts talking with Quessahn. This took place between two paragraphs. One paragraph was Jinn and Mara talking, the next he suddenly left the room and is getting ready to leave and starts a conversation with Quess. This wouldn’t have been a problem, if there was some description or action mentioning Jinn moving to leave the room where Mara was. It needed something to signify Jinn leaving, but there wasn’t anything. This isn’t a one time event either. It happens at least three or four times a chapter. It almost seems like these parts could have been lost in the editing process. It made things a little confusing and harder to follow. To top if off, it’s the reason behind the next criticism.
2) Slow. The pacing is slow and it made the book a little harder to read. The first reason is the above criticism about jumping. When the story takes a ‘jump’, it caused me re-read the previous page to see if I missed something. Nine times out of ten, I didn’t. It really just bogged the story down. The second reason for this slowness is that there wasn’t very many exciting scenes. Sure the fights were pretty good, and I can chalk this reason up to building atmosphere. While the atmosphere was creepy, it just didn’t make it an exciting read. The other reason is the next criticism.
3) Little Exposition. There’s an unwritten rule of exposition of “show, don’t tell”. Well, I’m bending the rule. As a casual Forgotten Realms fan and someone who does know quite a few things about the world, I was utterly lost in what most of these things are. Also, aren’t stand-alone novels aimed towards casual readers who might be unfamiliar with the world? So where are the explanations? Who is Asmodeus? What are these Orders? After finishing the book I still could not explain these things. I did figure out that Asmodeus is some sort of god, who was an arch-devil, but that’s pretty much all. As for the Vigilant Order, I honestly have no idea. Hence why I’m saying you need to bend the rule of “show, don’t tell”. You need some explanations for things, especially in a novel aimed towards new readers and casual ones.

1) Creepy. I do have to give some credit to how creepy the story was. The atmosphere that was developed was frightening. The prologue was disturbing. It really did build up the creepy factor. While the whole story doesn’t stay as creepy or disturbing, there were some parts that made my skin crawl. The best scene that sticks out in my mind I can’t really tell much about except that there is a lot, and I mean a lot of blood involved. That was disturbing and frightening. Overall, I really did think the story did have a creepy factor.
2) Protagonists. I’m going to start by saying they aren’t the best characters I’ve read. They aren’t really well-developed, and they don’t go through any major changes as the story goes on. However, something about them really stuck to me. Jinn, Mara, and Quess all possessed something unique that I just found fascinating. For Jinn it was his past. I’m really interested in reading more about his past lives and what happened in them. He is just a mystery, and for some reason, I just like the mysterious characters. Mara is kind of the same way, but that’s not why I enjoyed reading about her. She was a fairly good anti-heroine, and her greed really made her stick out. I really don’t know how I should feel about her, if I should hate or like her. It makes her different. With Quess it’s much more like Jinn, her background intrigues me. I wonder about her magic and her pacts she made. So in reality, the protagonists backgrounds really are interesting and I’m willing to read more about them.
3) Ending. I really did enjoy the ending. I’m not going to give much away, and because of that I can’t explain too much. But I will say that the final showdowns (yes, more than one) was worth it. They were very climactic and very satisfying. That’s all I’m going to say about it.

Side Notes:
1) Quessahn. Quick question: are eladrin’s and moon elf’s the same? I was under the impression that they both were elves and that eladrin were ‘originals’ and moon elves were more ‘watered down’ (for lack of a better word) versions of the eladrin. So it kind of annoyed me that Quessahn was called an eladrin and a moon elf on the same page, when I was under the impression that they were different.
2) Sathariel. Another question: I thought evil gods used demons and devils as minions, so is it ‘normal’ to have an angel do its bidding? Maybe I’m just ignorant and can only think of angels as being holy and good, but I’m honestly curious.
3) Cover Art. I really like it. It’s creepy and really catches your eye. The problem is that it’s too small. I’m starting to really not like how these stand-alone novels have such small artwork and have huge titles and borders. I would rather have a full cover of art and not some small space that only take up half the cover. But I do like it, just I want it bigger.

Overall: 4/5
Final Thoughts:
Circle of Skulls is really a 3.5, but I don’t like using decimals. It’s not a terrible story by any means, yet it has too many problems to be a great one. While the story’s atmosphere is creepy, it bogs down the pacing. The pacing also suffers from sudden jumps. The protagonists have something that makes them interesting and I would to read more about them, but they are just okay overall. It was missing some needed exposition (especially since it is a stand-alone novel). I really enjoyed the ending, it was climactic and exciting. For a new or casual reader, I can’t really recommend it. If you’re a fan and know a lot about the Forgotten Realms, pick it up. If you like creepy stories, it’s worth a read.

3 Responses to “Circle of Skulls by James P. Davis”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Travis Eisenbrandt. Travis Eisenbrandt said: New review up! Circle of Skulls by James P. Davis (@James_P_Davis): […]

  2. RobertH said

    Possible *spoiler* for anyone who has not read this:

    What is Jinn’s sword? What is the deal with the oath/contract?

    • travizzt said

      I don’t really know. There is a short story that James P. Davis wrote that’s an extended ending, but I don’t recall anything about the sword. Truth be told, I think it’s just something from Jinn’s past… But don’t quote me on it. It’s been a while since I read the books so I am a little fuzzy. Anyways, here’s the link to the short story, “Speak of the Devil”.

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