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The Captive Flame by Richard Lee Byers

Posted by travizzt on May 18, 2010

The Brotherhood of the Griffon have fallen on hard times, but it’s about time it changes. Does The Captive Flame spark some life into the mercenaries or does it leave them with nothing?


The Captive Flame by Richard Lee Byers This is the first book in The Brotherhood of the Griffon trilogy. The second book is titled Whisper of Venom and is due out in November of 2010. The third book is titled The Spectral Blaze and is due out in June 2011. The Captive Flame 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, The Tale of Terrible Toys, and The Tale of Gaia and Uktena: Werewolf, 5. He has a collection book titled Dark Kingdoms. He’s also contributed a number of stories to other series including; Nightmare Club (Joyride, Warlock Games, and Party Til You Drop), World of Darkness (Caravan of Shadows, Netherworld: Vampire, On a Darkling Plane, and Wraith: The Ebon Mask), X-Men (Soul Killer), and Warhammer (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; Sembia: Gateway to the Realms series (a short story in the first book of the series, The Halls of Stormweather, and the third book, The Shattered Mask), R. A. Salvatore’s War of the Spider Queen series (Dissolution), The Rogues series (The Black Bouquet), The Year of the Rogue Dragons trilogy (The Rage, The Rite, and The Ruin), The Priest series (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 Captive Flame was released in May 2010 by Wizards of the Coast, Inc.

Quick Continuity Point: The Captive Flame has characters that have appeared in The Haunted Lands trilogy as well as referencing events of The Year of the Rogue Dragon trilogy.

Aoth Fezim’s mercenary band called The Brotherhood of the Griffon hasn’t been in that good of shape since we last saw them in The Haunted Lands trilogy. The Brotherhood has come across a string of bad luck and are fortunate enough to find work in the country of Chessenta, who are notorious in their hatred of magic and mages. That makes things a little difficult for Aoth, a war-mage, and his lieutenant, Jhesrhi, as they encounter distrust and hatred for their magical abilities. It doesn’t help that a series of murders have been committed in the capital city of Luthcheq targeting prominent ‘wizard haters’. The only clue is the killer leaves behind a green hand print, which singles out the wizards of Chessenta who are forced to have one of their hands tattooed green. But that can’t be why the Brotherhood is hired for Chessenta could it? After finding out the who’s responsible, the Brotherhood is placed in a town named Soolabax by the border of Threskel to help prevent raids by Threskel into Chessenta, but also are tasked with a secret mission. That mission, lead by Jhesrhi and another of the Brotherhood’s lieutenants, Gaedynn, is to find Chessenta’s lost ruler, a red dragon named Tchazzar. At the same time, the Brotherhood sent a small group to help accompany a group of dragonborn on their way home to Tymanther. After finding out that Tymanther is being attacked by some ash giants, another of the Brotherhood’s lieutenants, a dwarf named Khouryn, decides to stay and help out for a few weeks. But it soon becomes apparent that the ash giants are more organized than the dragonborn thought. However, back in Soolabax, it seems that someone or something is trying to assassinate Aoth. What does Khouryn learn? Are Jhesrhi and Gaedynn able to find Tchazzar? Who was behind those murders in Luthcheq and what connection does it have with Aoth and the town of Soolabax?

Criticisms:
1) Slow. For the most part, the story’s pacing was fairly good. For the most part, it was fast, but yet not fast enough to rush everything by to quickly. However, there were parts that really bogged the story down. These scenes really only happened in the first one hundred pages and mostly concerned political matters. I don’t know why, but I just felt like they dragged on a little too long. It just wasn’t interesting and it felt like padding, even if it actually is relevant to the plot.
2) Rushed. Yes, another pacing problem. There were scenes that were rushed and confusing. There were only two scenes that had this rushed feeling in them. These scenes took place with Khouryn’s journey with the dragonborn and could have been interesting, if not for the rushed pace of the dialogue. It felt like something was skipping ahead to the next frame and that caused some dialogue to be lost. These were my least favorite scenes in the story because no matter how many times I read them, I just had no idea what happened or what was even said.
3) Khouryn Scenes. In the middle of the story, Khouryn accompanies a group of dragonborn back to their homeland. There are some great scenes but for some reason, there was a rushed feeling to them. It made me not really care about Khouryn or what was going on for a brief time. The rushed feel of some of the conversations in these scenes made me think that they were last-minute additions to the story. Because of the rush feel of the conversation, I was lost most of the time. They just weren’t handled well at all.

Praises:
1) Stories. I really did enjoy the story lines. There are about four or five plots going on at once, yet it never felt like it was too much. Each of them were easy to follow because they rarely crisscrossed and almost always stuck with the same people. Also, each was unique. First you have the murder plot, then you have the Khouryn/ dragonborn plot, then the search for Tchazzar plot, and finally we have Aoth’s time in a town defending the border. Each was vastly different, yet they all connected and made sense at the end of the book. It also helps that each part felt like it wrapped up with just the right amount of questions left unanswered.
2) Jhesrhi and Gaedynn. Their adventure to find Tchazzar was great. They had chemistry and were fun to read about, not to mention that their scenes were my favorite parts of the book. The chemistry that they have felt like something akin to what a good sitcom has, you want them to admit they like each other, yet they don’t. As the journey progresses, it just gets more and more obvious that there is something there between them. The journey itself was interesting. We learn why Jhesrhi is the way she is. However, I did feel that it came across as kind of sudden and little forced, but still interesting and shocking. I can’t give too much away about any of the other trials they faced, but somehow they made even the worst fantasy clichés (imprisonment) enjoyable.
3) The Ending. Once again, I can’t spoil it but I really enjoyed it. It wraps a lot up, and yet leaves enough unanswered to keep me interested in the sequel. There is even a few new questions that arise, yet it didn’t end on a cliffhanger as most trilogy books do. If this was a single, stand-alone novel it would work. Yet, it has that ‘epic’ factor that all trilogy books should have. What really impressed me was that by the end, the main plots of the story were wrapped up and it left me wanting more.

Side Notes:
1) Exposition. Wow, was there a lot. Every god, city, and creature mentioned had a brief and wonderful description along with it. If you were coming into the Forgotten Realms blind, I would say is would be a decent book to start with.
2) Red Dragons. I thought chromatic dragons (red, blue, green, black, etc.) were supposed to be evil. Yet, Tchazzar was a beloved leader and from what I gathered, didn’t seem all that evil.
3) Cover Art. I like it and yet I don’t. I do like having Aoth and his griffon, Jet, on the cover. They look close to perfect. It catches your eye and holds it. However, it’s too bland. I feel like there needs to be something else and looking at the bottom of the cover, there seems to be something going on. What that is, I can’t tell. Also, the color scheme is muted grays and browns. It looks dark and not very appealing until you see the blue in Aoth’s hand and in his eyes, they really make the cover stand out.

Overall: 4/5

Final Thoughts:
The Captive Flame is a really good story, with one huge problem that hampers it. The pacing is all over the place. The story starts off a little too slow, and then goes into a rushed jumble. Sure, the problems only happen in particular scenes, but it’s noticeable and annoying. However, everything else just works. The characters are great, the story is wonderful, and it ends just the right way. Even with having five unique stories combined into one, Richard Lee Byers manages to succeed in making everything exciting and understandable. The ending wraps up wonderfully, and leaves just enough unanswered to make you want more.

3 Responses to “The Captive Flame by Richard Lee Byers”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Travis Eisenbrandt. Travis Eisenbrandt said: A review of The Captive Flame by Richard Lee Byers (@rleebyers): Check it out! http://wp.me/pGqQm-d6 […]

  2. Ghastly said

    “2) Red Dragons. I thought chromatic dragons (red, blue, green, black, etc.) were supposed to be evil. Yet, Tchazzar was a beloved leader and from what I gathered, didn’t seem all that evil.”

    If I recall correctly, Tchazzar was an evil dragon who somehow portrayed a charismatic human leader and lead the Chessentan rebellion against Unther so he could create an empire of his own. Unfortunately, that’s just a small synopsis, as I don’t know the whole story, myself.

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