Knight of the Black Rose by James Lowder
Posted by travizzt on August 24, 2010
Knight of the Black Rose by James Lowder- This is the second novel that was released in the Ravenloft campaign setting of Dungeons and Dragons. This is also the first volume in Terrors of Lord Soth duology with the second volume titled Spectre of the Black Rose, which was co-written by Voronica Whitney-Robinson. James Lowder has written a number of books. His Forgotten Realms works include; book three of The Empires series called Crusade, the fifth book in The Harpers series called The Ring of Winter, and book four in The Avatar series called Prince of Lies. He has also written a book for Tales of the Crypt titled Name Your Nightmare. He’s also been the editor of a number of anthologies, as well. He has edited two Forgotten Realms anthologies, Realms of Valor and Realms of Infamy. He has also edited a horror anthology series called All Flesh Must Be Eaten which includes; The Book of All Flesh, The Book of More Flesh, and The Book of Final Flesh. Also to note, there has been best of for this series called Best of All Flesh: Zombie Anthology. He’s also been the editor of two King Arthur type of anthologies under the series called Pendragon Fiction; The Doom of Camelot and Legends of Pendragon. He’s also edited two anthologies in Silver Age Sentinels series called Path of the Just and Path of the Bold. Finally, he has edited a few stand-alone anthologies Astounding Hero Tales, Worlds of Their Own, and Curse of the Full Moon. James Lowder has also contributed a number of short stories to various anthologies as well. Knight of the Black Rose was released in 1991 and published by TSR. However, this book is hard to find and you’ll most likely need to pick it up used.
Lord Soth used to be a well-respected and honored Knight of the Rose. However, after committing transgression after transgression, Soth is stripped of his honor and is to be executed. But, after being saved by his loyal men, Soth bottles himself in his home. After a curse is laid upon him by his dying wife and child, Soth becomes a death knight. The centuries pass after that fateful day to when Soth is leading a charge into the city of Palanthas for the dragon highlord, Kitiara. But when Soth finds Kitiara dead he sends his seneschal, Caradoc, to retrieve her soul. After doing that, Caradoc returns only to offer Soth a deal, make him mortal again and he can have her soul. Soth doesn’t like this and attacks his seneschal, but during the attack, a mist starts to rise and surround Soth and Caradoc. Only when the mists clear do they realize that they are no longer on Krynn. After Caradoc runs off, Soth goes after him, only to come across a camp of Vistani (gypsies). After being told he was in a land called Barovia, Soth kills the Vistani leader and takes a woman, Magda, hostage to have her lead him to Castle Ravenloft and Count Strahd Von Zarovich. Along the way, the duo come across an odd dwarf about to be hanged and after hearing screams, they return to find the bodies of the executioners. After reaching Castle Ravenloft, Soth and Strahd get into a disagreement and Soth leaves to find a portal that can potentially lead him home. On the run from Strahd and a mysterious shadow following Soth and Magda, are they able to find the portal and can Soth return home? Or is there more to Strahd’s scorned offer?
1) Flashbacks. The only main problem I came across was some of the flashbacks of Soth’s past came up at awkward times. A lot of Soth’s flashbacks happened suddenly and randomly enough that it became awkward and weird. Aside from the one time in the story that really made sense, a lot of the flashbacks just popped up during action sequences or in the middle of a paragraph. It was just a clunky way to tell of Soth’s past. However, it wasn’t horrible. It just was slightly annoying.
1) Soth. He was a very interesting character. While at first I didn’t really care for him as a character or a ‘person’, as the story continued, he really grew on me. The inner conflict he has with what he’s become and what he once stood for was very intriguing. The reason why I didn’t care for Soth in the beginning is that he didn’t show his noble side and he came off as little more than a villain to be hated and not to be sympathized with. So for the first one hundred or so pages he just was another generic villain. However, after the escape from Castle Ravenloft and the journey with Magda, a more heroic and noble side (albeit very corrupted) emerged. Granted it wasn’t a huge change, but the more subtle actions he did just won me over. Also, Soth was an absolute scene stealer. I couldn’t count how many times I waited from him to pop up again to say something or just move. He was what made this story an utter blast to read.
2) Background. I really liked how Soth’s background was presented in the beginning of the story. I’ve never picked up a Dragonlance novel nor do I know anything about the world, characters, history, or main story points and the way everything was easy to understand is definitely a plus. Also, there is just enough given that it doesn’t become overbearing in details. A perfect balance between too little information and too much information was hit.
1) Strahd. Strahd seemed slightly more cruel and open about what he was in Knight of the Black Rose. In Vampire of the Mists by Christie Golden, it seemed like no one knew that Strahd was a vampire, but in this story it almost seems like everyone knows that something isn’t ‘right’ with him. It just didn’t sit well with me.
2) Time Line. Once again going back to Vampire of the Mists. When does Knight of the Black Rose fit in with the whole Strahd time-line? Does it happen before Vampire of the Mists or after? My guess is after seeing as Vampire of the Mists comes first in the series order, but I could always be wrong.
3) Cover Art. Oh 1990’s art cover, how cheesy can you get? However, it’s not bad. Soth does look intimidating enough, aside from the comical feather plume and silly purple cape. He is in a pretty cool pose as well. I also like the embossing on the cover. It almost gives it a three-dimensional look to it. However, the background is rather plain with just an archway and some steps. It does help Soth stand out, but other than that it’s just forgettable.
Knight of the Black Rose is a really good story, but it’s not memorable enough to be a top-tier performer. The only big issue was the awkward positions of how some of the flashbacks occurred. But on a whole, it was a good read. Story-wise, it was a little mediocre, but it did do something with that made it interesting. While the plot consisted of “Go here, do this, then go here”, it still felt fresh and kept me interested. The characters were good and unique, with Lord Soth being the more memorable of the group. Lord Soth commanded this story from start to finish and only Strahd had any chance of stealing Lord Soth’s scenes. But even when Strahd and Soth appeared together, Lord Soth always seemed to come out on top slightly. Also I really liked how anyone could pick this book up and know what was going on. There was no real ‘learning’ curve and the characters backgrounds were brief and to the point. Is Knight of the Black Rose worth searching for and picking up? Yes, definitely.