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Realms of the Dragons edited by Philip Athans

Posted by travizzt on November 22, 2010

Dragons. Those mystical creatures that inspire fear and awe at their presence. Does Realms of the Dragons add to that or are dragons weak little creatures?


Realms of the Dragons edited by Philip Athans- This anthology was released in October 2004 and was published by Wizards of the Coast, Inc. This anthology is based in the Forgotten Realms setting of Dungeons and Dragons. This anthology ties into Richard Lee Byers’ The Year of Rogue Dragons trilogy. There are fourteen short stories written by Paul S. Kemp, Edward Bolme, Elaine Cunningham, Ed Greenwood, Jess Lebow, R. A. Salvatore, Richard Baker, Thomas M. Reid, Lisa Smedman, Voronica Whitney-Robinson, Keith Francis Strohm, Dave Gross, Don Bassingthwaite, and Richard Lee Byers. Realms of the Dragons deals with stories about dragons.

“Soulbound” by Paul S. Kemp
Kesson Rel is the first Chosen of Mask, who drank from the chalice that Mask forbade anyone from drinking. Labeled a heretic by the followers of Mask, he seeks revenge on his fellow priests. However, an oath prevents him from just killing the priests. But he has another idea, use a Shadow Dragon to do it. After a vision that Avnon the Seer has, he knows what he must do.
Criticisms:
1) Confusing. As a stand-alone story, this was very confusing, unless you’ve read Paul S. Kemp’s The Erevis Cale Trilogy. However, even if you have read that trilogy, this story is still a little confusing. You really don’t know who these people are, and that causes you not to really care about them. It felt more like a ‘history’ lesson without any background or explanations of what was happening. It’s just hard to really follow and grasp without the proper knowledge.
Praises:
1) Kesson Rel. He is an interesting character. You don’t really understand his motives, other than revenge. However, that feeling of revenge is something almost palpable. It’s that strong. Plus, for the fans of The Erevis Cale Trilogy and the Twilight War Trilogy, this is a very nice look at Kesson Rel. However, even if you haven’t read those two trilogies, Kesson Rel is just someone who makes you want to know more about him and this story just whets your appetite.
Overall: 3/5
Thoughts:
“Soulbound” is an okay story. For those who haven’t read The Erevis Cale Trilogy or the Twilight War Trilogy you will be left in the dark. However, Kesson Rel is a very interesting character who makes you want to find out more about him. It’s still an entertaining story, but it could leave a lot of new readers in the dark.

“First Flight” by Edward Bolme
Serreg is an archwizard of the floating city Delia sent to discover why the earth and creatures below the city are dying. After coming to the conclusion that its something magic related, Serreg goes out to put a stop to the spell and its casters. However, Serreg underestimates the beings and cries out for help, which is answered by a god. The god gives Serreg a dagger that gives its wielder an amazing power, but at a cost. But is it enough to save the archwizard from the creatures?
Criticisms:
1) Dragons. For a story included in an anthology about dragons, it felt like they weren’t the main focus. Even though one does appear at the end, it never felt like it was the main focus. The story felt like to belonged to another anthology book instead of this one.
Praises:
1) Story. The story itself was really good. Seeing Serreg try to understand what is happening to Delia and his investigations into it were very interesting. Then seeing Serreg become almost useless is very unexpected, after finding out that he is a powerful mage. It’s just a fun, engaging story.
Overall: 3/5
Thoughts:
“First Flight” was a good story, but it really felt out-of-place in this anthology. I would have expected that a story in an anthology about dragons be primarily about dragons. Instead we have a story that is based more on magic and the arcane than on dragons. However, the story itself was very entertaining and did hold my interest. It still is a good read, but still feels very out-of-place.

“Gorlist’s Dragon” by Elaine Cunningham
Young Gorlist doesn’t want to be a wizard like his father. Instead, he wants to be a warrior, just like his mother. He wants to follow in her footsteps, become a renowned gladiator like her and be as respected and feared. But that doesn’t work in the drow society, and it doesn’t help that Gorlist loves his mother blindly. So when she sells him to the gladiator pit, he wins every battle, to prove he’s worth it. That is, until trickery and deceit pit Gorlist against a dragon in a battle he must win.
Criticisms:
1) Mother. Gorlist’s mother relationship was really good, however, it never left like it finished properly. Instead, we have just a sentence to learn what happened to her. It was as though she was meant to be forgotten. It was just disappointing to see this plot and new-found resentment towards her being tossed aside.
Praises:
1) Story. The story itself was really engaging and interesting. Gorlist’s relationship with his mother was very interesting in the first half of the short story, and I would have liked to see it to its conclusion. The second half, when Gorlist goes up against the dragon, is full of intrigue and deception that it felt a totally different story. It felt like there were two short stories combined into one, which made this story all the more enjoyable.
2) Drow. This gives us another look into drow culture, and it is interesting. It still reinforces the basic idea that drow are a heartless culture built on deceit and backstabbing. It’s a good introduction to drow culture without giving too much away.
Overall: 4/5
Thoughts:
“Gorlist’s Dragon” was a really fun and exciting story. The only problem was that I wished that Gorlist’s relationship with his mother was a little more fleshed out and not tossed out like it was. That was a big disappointed. However, this story is a good way to get introduced into drow culture and the way they think. Also, the story itself felt more like two stories fit into one. All in all, this was a very good character driven story.

“The Keeper of Secrets” by Ed Greenwood
Mirt the Moneylender is trying to collect a debt from Yelver, but discovers him murdered. Mirt then goes off to find the secrets the man kept, seeking the aid of a person calling herself the Keeper of Secrets. However he is unable to find anything out and as they leave, a fight occurs and the Keeper asks him for help in exchange for Yelver’s secrets. What was Yelver hiding and who exactly is this Keeper?
Criticisms:
1) Story. This story was very confusing. It started out interesting with Yelver winding up killed, but it soon became a mess. The whole murder mystery was dropped in favor of a more, less appealing story about the Keeper and who she is. Nothing was resolved, and nothing felt like it happened.
2) Dialogue. The dialogue and conversations between the characters came across as forced and unnatural. The dialogue had no natural flow to the speech. Also, most of the dialogue felt like there was something major being left out and unsaid. This caused me to not really know what was going on. Also, all the “ye”, “aye”, “thy”,and “tis” really got bothersome and very, very annoying. I understand that it’s a staple in fantasy, but here, it’s just too much.
Praises:
1) Potential. The murder plot was very interesting, and I wished it would have been more important and not scrapped like it was. Even though the murder plot was interesting, it still came across and confusing and utterly pointless.
Overall: 2/5
Thoughts:
“The Keeper of Secrets” had an interesting beginning, but soon became confusing and bothersome. The murder mystery beginning of the story was interesting, but there wasn’t a resolution to it, as far as I could tell. After that was scrapped and forgotten everything became a mess. It was just plain confusing, due to it feeling like it lost its way. It actually felt like there wasn’t a point to any of this. I didn’t learn anything new, nor did I really care after the turn of events. Also, the dialogue had an unnatural pacing to it and it came across as forced. I would skip this story unless you can understand what is happening.

“The Topaz Dragon” by Jess Lebow
Captain Clay and his crew of the Expatriate are out to find an egg that’s worth a small fortune. The only problem is that the egg is that of a topaz dragon. However, as they reach the island the dragon comes to them and asks for aid in recovering her stolen egg. It appears as though someone else took it before they could have. Captain Clay agrees to recover it, but finds himself up against something he didn’t expect.
Criticisms:
1) Dragon fight. Because this happens at the end of the story I can’t give away much. However, seeing the topaz dragon just decimate the other creature come across as weird. The other creature was played up to be a very powerful and unstoppable force, yet the topaz dragon didn’t have a problem with it. Also, the final fight was severely rushed and a quick.
Praises:
1) Story. The story was fairly basic but it still worked out to be very exciting. The action scenes were fun and it added to the stories enjoyment factor. It was also surprisingly thrilling. The chase through the lava tubes was nail-biting and hoping that everyone survives as very suspenseful.
2) Captain Clay. I really liked this character. He doesn’t really do much but I wouldn’t mind seeing him in other things. He just piqued my interest.
Overall: 4/5
Thoughts:
“The Topaz Dragon” was a pretty good story. The ending fight didn’t really feel right. It was too quick and it seemed way to easy for the topaz dragon. The story, while basic, was still exciting and fun. The action scenes were really thrilling and kept the story moving. Also, Captain Clay came off as a very interesting character. I don’t know why but something about him just makes me want to read more about him. Overall, the story was very exciting and definitely worth the read.

“Wickless in the Nether” by R. A. Salvatore
Artemis Entreri and Jarlaxle are hired out to recover a flute that their benefactor’s rival is in possession of. However, things don’t go according to plan and identities aren’t what they appear to be.
Criticisms:
None.
Praises:
1) Friendship. This story does a fantastic job at developing Entreri’s and Jarlaxle’s friendship. After reading the story, I could actually see these two as friends. It does a great job at solidifying the friendship between the two.
2) Story. The story was fun. There was just enough action to make it exciting. Also, the twists towards the end, you wouldn’t have seen coming if it wasn’t in an anthology about dragons. All in all, it was an exciting read.
Overall: 5/5
Thoughts:
“Wickless in the Nether” is a good story. It builds on the friendship between Jarlaxle and Entreri and you should probably read this before going into Salvatore’s Promise of the Witch King, which is part of The Sellswords trilogy. Otherwise, the story was fun as well as a good read.

“Serpestrillvyth” by Richard Baker
A group of adventurers arrive in a small town asking for aid. The townsfolk tell the adventuring company that a dragon is plaguing the village and has already slayed one group of adventurers already. After hearing this, the group hires the guide that led the first group to the dragon and set off. Things don’t go according to plan.
Criticisms:
1) Prose. The way the story is told came off as clipped and read jerky. When reading this story, I felt like everything came across as sudden, with no real build up. It went from one thing to the next, to the next without any breath. The best way to describe this is that the story read like a rough draft, missing the finishing touch of flare to it.
Praises:
1) Unique. How many short stories end with a happy ending? This one does not, at all. It was very surprising to see how everything turns out. It was very unexpected and a welcomed twist.
2) Dragons. This is how I picture a dragon to act. When reading The Year of Rogue Dragons trilogy by Richard Lee Byers, I never felt like they were all that menacing and seemed way too easy to kill. However, Richard Baker really changes that and creates a dragon that is absolutely terrifying. They really aren’t something to scoff at and this story proves why.
Overall: 4/5
Thoughts:
“Serpestrillvyth” was an entertaining story with bad prose. When reading the story, it came off as sudden and jerky, instead of smooth and tight. However, this story was very unique. It was dark, with no happy ending. It felt refreshing to get a story that ends like this one does. Also, the dragon was terrifying and felt like a dragon should feel like. Serpestrillvyth was a powerhouse and not an easy kill, something that authors seem to forget about dragons. Overall, this was a good story and probably one of the darker ones of this anthology.

“Waylaid” by Thomas M. Reid
A young woman, Lynaelle, is on her way to the city of Silverymoon in the dead of winter. However, she gets waylaid by a white dragon and taken to its lair. The dragon than demands that Lynaelle serve him by killing the thief who stole his treasure. But is the thief really a thief? It is an orc after all.
Criticisms:
1) The End. The ending is severely groan worthy in how silly and cheesy it came across. It’s not a terrible ending, but it just came across as extremely cliché. However, after reading this story, I did have a stupid grin on my face.
Praises:
1) Fear. The fear that Lynaelle felt was almost tangible, and you couldn’t help but be scared for the girl. Everything she did, you know she didn’t want to do it. However, if she didn’t do it she would be eaten. This also helps reinforce that dragons are scary creatures that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
2) Lynaelle. She was a great character. She made you worried about her, and it really surprised me to feel that way. She played her role perfectly and that’s all you could ask for.
Overall: 4/5
Thoughts:
“Waylaid” was another good story, but with an extremely cheesy ending. The ending itself wasn’t terrible, but it was just too convenient and silly to be taken seriously. However, the rest of the story was wonderful. Lynaelle was a great character who played her part perfectly. I actually cared about her well-being and hoped everything turned out fine. Also, you could feel the fear she felt. It was a very frightening experience for her and it was written so that the reader would feel the same. Overall, this story was well worth the read, even with the silly and cliché ending.

“Standard Delving Procedure” by Lisa Smedman
Two dwarves, an old delver named Durin and a new recruit named Frivaldi, are searching for a magical weapon called The Bane of Caeruleus. This weapon was forged to be able kill a blue dragon, and the knowledge of how to forge more of these weapons is what the duo are after. However, Frivaldi isn’t following standard delving procedure and is getting the pair into trouble, but are they able to get out of it?
Criticisms:
None.
Praises:
1) Clever. I really enjoyed all the acronyms that Durin spouts off whenever Frivaldi does something stupid. It was clever. Also, the story came across as clever. It wasn’t a standard story about dungeon delving and it had a lot of clever humor in it.
2) Dwarves. The two dwarves were great. Durin is more of a ‘by the books’ kind of character, and doesn’t take many chances. On the other side we have Frivaldi, who is rash and impatient. It’s your typical foils, but they work very well together. It was fun seeing Frivaldi really get under Durin’s skin. They just made the story that much better.
Overall: 5/5
Thoughts:
“Standard Delving Procedure” is a great story. It’s clever and amusing and kept me entertained throughout. I really liked the use of acronyms for the ‘rules of delving’, they were just clever. The dwarves really worked well together. They were the usual foils to each other, but it worked to perfection. They brought a lot of amusement and humor to the story. All in all, this story was a great read and had some wonderful characters.

“An Icy Heart” by Voronica Whitney-Robinson
Chorael, a dragon turtle is about to lay her eggs. While creating her nest, she reflects on the rage that has afflicted dragonkind and what it’s doing to her species. After laying her eggs, she returns to the icy waters of the lake only to discover a man drowning. She makes a last second decision and saves him, but somethings not quite right about the situation and she is too late to stop it.
Criticisms:
1) Slow. The story developed slowly. It took awhile for things to happen. This also made it hard for me to really care about some of the things that were happening early on.
Praises:
1) Story. While slow, it still was a good read. You see a different perspective of how the rage is affecting the species of dragons. It’s also a very tragic tale and really did make me feel sad about the circumstances that happen.
2) Dragon Turtles. I liked that we see a different kind of dragon. These creatures do seem more subdued and relaxed than a ‘normal’ dragon. They piqued my interest in these creatures and I wouldn’t mind seeing more of them.
Overall: 4/5
Thoughts:
“An Icy Heart” was a good story, albeit a slow one. The story felt very sluggish at times and I found myself not caring about what happens early on. However, that soon changed because the story was actually interesting and heartbreaking. What also interested me were the dragon turtles themselves, and I would like to know about these creatures. If you can get past the slow development, this story may just surprise you.

“Penitential Rites” by Keith Francis Strohm
Drakken Thaal, a half-dragon, finds himself losing to the urges of the rage. He is afraid that he killed a friend, a sub-prior in a temple of Ilmater, due to it. However, the rest of the members of the temple don’t think he did and he is tasked to uncover the murder. What he finds both relieves and boils the rage inside him.
Criticisms:
1) Slow. The story has a very slow pace to it. It didn’t have that ‘edge of your seat’ feel that most murder mysteries seem to have. There wasn’t anything that really helped pick up the pace, until the end. Also, the way it was written came across as slow and meandering.
Praises:
1) Murder Mystery. I did like the murder mystery aspect, even if the pacing was slow. It still had that sense of excitement whenever Drakken found a new clue or lead. It was also interesting to see how the investigation affected Drakken’s mental state as it went on.
2) Drakken. Drakken was an interesting character. You see how he is trying to deal with these new feeling of rage and hate. It was very interesting to see how he starts to lose control over meaningless or silly things, and how he is able to snap himself out of it. Seeing Drakken try to fight against something he couldn’t control was interesting to read about.
Overall: 4/5
Thoughts:
“Penitential Rites” was a very interesting story, however paced very slowly. The slow pacing didn’t fit with the murder mystery plot. It wasn’t as exciting and fast paced as other murder mysteries. However, the murder mystery itself was interesting. It was exciting to see the effect the mystery had on Drakken. Also, Drakken was a great character for that reason as well. It was interesting to see him try to fight off the mounting rage he was feeling. Overall, this story was good and definitely worth a read for another view of the dragon rage.

“How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth” by Dave Gross
Talbot Uskevren does not do commissions. As the majority shareholder for the Wide Realms playhouse, that should have some say. However, when an alluring woman comes to them with an offer to create a play, Talbot can’t help but accept. She wants a play that can “break a miser’s heart”, but what Talbot crafts is something beyond that. That is, until the special guest the woman mentioned arrives to attend.
Criticisms:
None.
Praises:
1) Story. This is probably the best story out of the anthology. The story is interesting, engaging, funny, and smart. Everything seems to work for this story and everything comes together nicely. I did not want to put it down until I finished.
2) Talbot. I’ve always liked Talbot Uskevren. I’ve always like the Uskevren family. However, Talbot has stood out from the rest of the family. He’s just a likable character and a very interesting one at that. Here, we see another side of Talbot and it’s always good to see more. The story really does a great job at adding more development to the character, along with adding a new dimension to him.
Overall: 5/5
Thoughts:
“How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth” is a fantastic story. It was interesting and engaging. It added just enough humor to keep it fresh and exciting.  Also, it’s next to see a new dimension to Talbot. Overall, read this story.

“Beer with a Fat Dragon” by Don Bassingthwaite
A caravan arrives at an oasis, much to the joy of the group. Tycho Arisaenn, a bard, eyes up the women and heads off for the oasis’ tavern, which is little more than a filthy large tent. After winning the locals over with song, he makes a mistake in dishonoring the people’s beliefs by using magic. However, that’s not all he dishonors.
Criticisms:
1) Awkward sentences. There were a lot of awkward sentences I’ve found in this story that didn’t really seem like they belonged. For example, late in the story one character yells at another for being jealous, yet I didn’t gather that the other character said or did anything to warrant it. There were a few times when these awkward sentences popped up and made me stop and scratch my head.
Praises:
1) Tycho. Tycho was a very interesting character. He had a lot of charm and charisma to him that you couldn’t help but like him. There was just something about this character that made the story very enjoyable.
2) Humor. This was a fairly funny story, and it was surprising. I didn’t expect to smile as much as I did while reading this. This really added something different to the story.
Overall: 4/5
Thoughts:
“Beer with a Fat Dragon” was an amusing and fun story to read. However, there were a few times in the story that I found my self confused for a moment. There were more than a few awkward sentences or outbursts that never really seemed to fit in the moment. Otherwise, everything else was great. Tycho was a very interesting character and I would like to read more about him. He’s charisma just had me hooked from the start. I was also surprised by how humorous the story was. I found myself with a smile on my face more than once while reading. All in all, this story is definitely worth a read and hopefully you can understand some of the awkward scenes better than I could.

“The Prisoner of Hulberg” by Richard Lee Byers
Will and Pavel travel to Hulburg in hopes of discovering another clue to the rage. However, what they find isn’t what they expected. Deciding to intervene, they find themselves in a dire situation that only luck could get them out.
Criticisms:
1) Character Development. After reading The Year of Rogue Dragons trilogy, this short story doesn’t really advance Will and Pavel as character too much. It just seemed to solidify their friendship and that’s all.
Praises:
1) Action Heavy. The short story is very action heavy. This did help by keeping the story exciting. The action itself was very fast paced, easy to follow, and well written. The action really did help hold my interest in what could have been a very mediocre story.
Overall: 3/5
Thoughts:
“The Prisoner of Hulberg” didn’t seem to really do much, other than have a pretty good fight scene. Will and Pavel didn’t really have that much more development, other than solidifying their friendship. The action was really entertaining and did help hold my interest. It’s worth a read if you want a more action heavy story.

OVERALL AVERAGED ANTHOLOGY: 4/5
Final Thoughts:
Realms of the Dragons is a very enjoyable anthology with not very many terrible or bad stories. Each story does do a competent job at capturing your interest in dragon culture of the Forgotten Realms. While there were a few stories that could have had better representation of dragons, they were still very enjoyable. All in all, this was a very pleasing and enjoyable anthology. Should you go pick this up? Yes, this is more than worth a purchase with a vast amount of great story and it can introduce you to some wonderful new authors.
Stories That You Should Definitely Read:
1) “Wickless in the Nether” by R. A. Salvatore
2) “Standard Delving Procedure” by Lisa Smedman
3) “How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth” by Dave Gross

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