Blackstaff by Steven E. Schend
Posted by travizzt on June 10, 2010
Blackstaff by Steven E. Schend- This is the first book in a stand-alone series called The Wizards. The second book is Bloodwalk by James P. Davis, the third is Darkvision by Bruce R. Cordell, and the final book is Frostfell by Mark Sehestedt. With this series, each book is a separate entity and the only theme to mention is that each novel revolves around wizards and magic. Blackstaff is set in the Forgotten Realms universe of the role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons. This is Steven E. Schend’s first full length novel. His second novel is titled Blackstaff Tower and is part of the Ed Greenwood Presents Waterdeep series of stand-alone novels. Steven E. Schend has written a number of short stories and articles in various anthologies and magazines. Blackstaff was released in 2006 and published by Wizards of the Coast.
Khelben “Blackstaff” Arunsun has lived for centuries due to being one of Mystra’s (the goddess of magic) Chosen and is one of Faerun’s most powerful mages to ever walk the world. He’s the archmage of the coastal city of Waterdeep and has protected it for countless centuries. All that’s about to change. After an experimental spell goes awry, Khelben finds himself linked with two of his apprentices. His one apprentice’s body is destroyed due to the spell while the other can’t go to far from Khelben else she dies. What’s worse is that this apprentice, Tsarra, gets flashes of Khelben’s past, which is something better left alone. As the duo try to find a way to stop this from happening and to save Tsarra’s life, an old rival of Khelben’s appears and causes havoc that could destroy the Sword Coast. Can Khelben and Tsarra separate their minds and stop the rival from killing thousands, if not millions?
1) Characters. There are quite a few major problems with the characters in this book. First off, there are just too many of them. It seemed like every other page a new person was introduced who was either never mentioned again or comes back late in the story. There are a few problems with this. The first is that we don’t know who these people are. Sure you may recognize a few people here and there, but new readers (who I think would be the target of a stand-alone novel) would be totally lost. Heck, even people familiar with the Realms would be hard pressed to know who is who. The other problem with this is that you don’t know who is who. There are so many people with similar looking names that you can easily switch up people. It really ruins the immersion factor. Another problem with the characters is that they are just plain wooden and shallow. There is really only one person that has depth to them and everyone else is just lifeless and boring. Tsarra’s only characteristic is her sudden mood changes and that does get old really fast. Raegar, a rogue who is Tsarra’s love interest, has times were he is an interesting character but is ruined by the whole love interest aspect, which I’ll get into more detail later. Nameless, Tsarra’s familiar (wizardly companion), could have been one of the better main characters of the group, other than Khelben. However, that’s not saying much. He’s a flying cat and is really a one trick pony. I’m not even going to bother with the side characters or the main villain because they were all forgettable and almost pointless. The villain never did feel menacing and he didn’t even have a presence. The side characters were just background noise most of the time. All in all, I think the characters are one of the two things that really ruin this story.
2) Plot. The other thing that ruins it is the plot. This book as the distinct honor (or dishonor) of having not enough plot but at the same time having too much of it. What I mean is, there isn’t a solid plot and everything just didn’t make any sense. First off we have the whole Tsarra and Khelben link issue which I thought would have made a great story, but it seemed like it was mostly forgotten. It was mostly forgotten because of the other main plot about the destruction of the Sword Coast, which really ruined everything that the story had going for it. This plot felt like it was added because someone realized that the whole Khelben/ Tsarra storyline wasn’t going to last for a full book. So they decided to add a boring, confusing mess to an already boring and confusing mess. Honestly, I still don’t know if I summarized the story correctly from the above summary, and I don’t even know what exactly the whole point of the story was. To make matters worse, nothing is explained. Khelben has this lovely habit of not telling anyone what is going on, leaving the story’s characters and the reader in the dark about pretty much everything. There was no real chance of using logic to figure out what was going to happen because it was so vague. I can’t even accurately describe what I’m trying to get across because the story was just a mess, a very bad mess.
3) Love Interest. I will give the story this little credit before I get into the horrible love interest, Khelben and Laeral (his true love , wife, and a fellow Chosen) had a touching and deeply personal relationship that I did enjoy reading about. That being said, the Tsarra/ Raegar interest was awful. At no time did I sense a connection between these characters, other than lust. But the story and the comments characters were making seemed to make them out to be soul mates. At first, I didn’t have a major problem with this. But when the book hit the point where Tsarra or Raegar was looking at each other with love in their eyes (or whatever it was) and I just wanted to throw this book into a fire and just let it burn. It was grating and painful to read. It may have been different if the duo knew each other for more than maybe half a day, but that’s as long as they knew one another. Honestly, I would rather read a Twilight novel for a better romance story then have to deal with this pointless “romance”.
4) Tears. This is a more personal annoyance I had with the book. Everyone cries at the drop of a pin for almost no reason. The worst example of this is late in the book when someone (I don’t know who) looks across and sees someone else and just bursts into tears. Really? Why? They weren’t dying or injured (as far as I could tell). Did an epiphany suddenly hit them? Or did this just realize they were in a horrid novel? I’m leaning towards the latter. It was just annoying seeing on almost every third page someone having tears in their eyes. This is what broke me. After this point in the book, I just didn’t care and I knew that this book was a huge waste of time.
1) Khelben. He was the only character I liked. His relationship with Laeral was just beautiful and you can sense the love between them. He’s the only character that went through any sort of real development, yet he didn’t let his emotions overcome him too much (like the insipid and overly emotional Tsarra). When we saw some of Khelben’s past through visions that Tsarra was given, we got a good look at who Khelben is and how he came to be. Honestly, this book should have centered more around him and his past, while allowing the books real ending to still happen. I just enjoyed Khelben immensely.
1) Lore. This book was full of Realms lore and terms, but with absolutely no explanation or real clues to what half of these things are or meant. It almost felt like I was reading a guidebook to Dungeons and Dragons.
2) Magic. I have to say that when there was a magical fight it was handled pretty well and was semi exciting. The only problem is that everything felt overpowered and unstoppable. I don’t like that.
3) Cover Art. I really like it. You have Khelben doing an awesome and heroic pose that takes up the cover and you see the nice outline of the Sword Coast and Waterdeep in the background. It’s a really interesting and good cover.
Blackstaff can be summed up in three words: boring and confusing. The plot is so confusing and it never seems like it knows where it’s going. The characters are boring and almost lifeless and the love interest between Tsarra and Raegar was awful. I still don’t understand how someone could tear up for no real reason. Too many references with no explanation is a bad, terrible thing. Not even the Blackstaff, himself, could save this book from being down right terrible. It’s one of the worst Forgotten Realms books I’ve ever read and one of the worst books I’ve ever wasted my time on. The worst part is, this is my second read through. The first took me about a month and this took about a week and a half. It’s just boring. So do I recommend this? What do you think? No. I don’t. At all. But if you’re interested in Khelben or a huge Forgotten Realms database of knowledge by all means, waste a good day or so of your life on this. If you’re not one of those people, stay as far away from this abomination as humanly possible. This sure is a great way to start a series…