Unbroken Chain by Jaleigh Johnson
Posted by travizzt on July 22, 2010
Unbroken Chain by Jaleigh Johnson- This is a stand-alone novel set in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting of Dungeons and Dragons. This is Jaleigh Johnson’s third full-length novel, her other two are also set in the Forgotten Realms. Her first novel is The Howling Delve (part of The Dungeons series) and her second novel is Mistshore (part of the Ed Greenwood Presents Waterdeep series). Both of those novels are also stand-alone. She has also written a number of short stories. Unbroken Chain was released in July 2010 and published by Wizards of the Coast.
Ashok, a shadar-kai, is being chased down by shadow hounds in the Shadowfell. Knowing he has no chance of surviving, Ashok turns to face his death. But due to a vision by a priest of Tempus that shows Ashok being surrounded by fire along with his location, a rescue party is sent out. The party is surprised to see that Ashok is still alive and brings him back to Ikemmu, a shadar-kai enclave. Upon waking up, Ashok thinks he is a prisoner and tries to escape. However, after being able to walk around the enclave freely, he still tries an ill-fated attempt at escaping, only to be stopped by two shadar-kai brothers, Cree and Skagi, and a nightmare (a kind of fiery horse). However, upon spending time with the brothers, a sellsword named Vedoran, and a young doe-eyed warrior named Canoch, Ashok slowly starts to enjoy his time in the enclave. But what of this vision Natan had of Ashok and fire? Will Ashok tear the enclave apart or will he be the one to stop it?
1) Conflict. There never seemed to be a real conflict happening within the story, but it’s there. The conflict is mostly internal with Ashok’s feelings and what he happening to his view of the world. While that would be an interesting premise, it never felt important. It seemed like it was almost secondary and forgotten at times. But it does pay off at the end, but the build-up never seemed to be there. Also, later in the story, the group is sent on a rescue mission. While this would have made an interesting full-length plot point, it was sorely underused and tacked on. In fact, it only takes up about four chapters. The conflict that would normally drive the story wasn’t really prominent and was very underused.
2) Rushed. What could explain the lack of conflict is the rushed pace of the story. When I first picked up this book, I was lost for the first few chapters because there were so many questions I was asking my self and there was so much going on. It did start to slow down and develop some of the characters, but at the halfway point, where we get the rescue mission, things got by at a blurring speed. It was all actions and no huge developments. It doesn’t help that most of the dialogue is choppy with an unnatural flow. This really does back my point of that the whole rescue mission was tacked on.
1) Characters. At first, every character seemed interchangeable and bland. But as the story progressed, the characters became more defined and unique. Ashok was a very different main character, very different. For most of the novel, Ashok comes across as a very unlikable character, but slowly grows into someone interesting and dimensional. As he grows, you actually see it and you see how his relationship between the others grows and develops. With Vedoran you can see his mental state slowly degrade, which makes the story a little tragic. The other characters start out very generic, but they do get some personalities to tell the apart. The novel is very character driven, more so than plot.
2) Shadar-kai. It’s wonderful to see this new race get some background and insight into their culture and ways. Ever since I heard about this race, they seemed to be interesting. A race that lives off of thrills and excitement, else they will fade into nothingness. They are really brought to life and, while very foreign at first, their ways became more and more interesting and engaging.
3) End. The ending was really interesting and different. It does have the staple of a usual ending with a final confrontation, but the whole build-up to and the ending itself was unique. I won’t go into detail, but having Ashok face his past transgressions in that way felt right.
1) Shadowfell. The Shadowfell did feel kind of wrong. It didn’t feel like it was dark and shadowy, but more vibrant and bright with shadows, if that makes any sense.
2) Two Books? Honestly, I think this should have been a duology. The first book could have been Ashok’s experiences with the new culture. The second book could have been the whole rescue attempt and the ending. That would have solved a lot of the major problems.
3) Cover Art. For some reason, I hate it. It’s way too dark and sloppy. It doesn’t catch the eye at all. However, the first cover (the red one) is better. You can see what is going on, it’s an awesome pose and just so much better!
Unbroken Chain is an interesting look into a new race in the Forgotten Realms. This book does have some problems, but it hardly detracts from the fun. The rushed feeling only happens at certain parts, but it does go away. The major issue is the seemingly lack of any real definitive conflict. While the internal struggle that Ashok goes through is interesting, it almost seemed to be secondary. The story is really character driven and that’s where this story shines. The characters are wonderful, only takes a bit of time for some of the minor characters to develop. It’s also wonderful to see a new race in the Forgotten Realms to be the main focus. As for a recommendation, if you like the Realms, pick it up. If you like good characterization, pick it up.