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Depths of Madness by Erik Scott de Bie

Posted by travizzt on January 27, 2011

Seven strangers find themselves trapped in a dungeon. They’ll have to work together to make it out alive and sane.

Depths of Madness by Erik Scott de Bie

Depths of Madness is the first book released in The Dungeons series of stand-alone novels. The series contains three other entries, which are all written by different authors. Since each novel is a stand-alone, you can read this series out-of-order. The series is set in the Forgotten Realms setting of Dungeons and Dragons. The other novels in the series include; The Howling Delve by Jaleigh Johnson, Stardeep by Bruce R. Cordell, Crypt of the Moaning Diamond by Rosemary Jones. Erik Scott de Bie has written two other full-length novels, both set in the Forgotten Realms. His first novel is Ghostwalker (part of The Fighters series) and his second novel is Downshadow (part of Ed Greenwood Presents Waterdeep series). He has an upcoming novel based off characters from Downshadow called Shadowbane which is due out late 2011. He has also written a number of short stories and game design books. Depths of Madness was released in March 2007 and published by Wizards of the Coast, Inc.

Fox-at-Twilight finds herself locked away in a cell. Her last memories being seeing her friends die and barely escaping. As she explores her cell, she finds out that she isn’t the only occupant, finding a young man named Liet. After a brief introduction, Twilight finds out that the jailer is a demon-stitched troll and is easily duped. Using Liet in a way that no man wants to be used, Twilight creates a distraction and is able to lock up the troll. She then explores the dungeon and finds other cells along with a locked chest. Being unable to open it without tools, Twilight returns to her cell as through nothing has happened. The troll is confused and buys it. After sometime, Twilight manages to escape again, though this time without the notice of the troll. As Liet and her check out the other cells, they discover other prisoners and work to free them. They find a confused halfling named Slip, an older wizard named Asson along with his elven wife named Taslin, a goliath named Gargan, and an evil warlock named Davoren. After freeing all the prisoners, the group goes to the chest that Twilight found and opens it, discovering all their equipment. After donning the arms and armor, they discover a trapdoor in the ceiling and make their way higher into the complex. Making it safely out of their prisons, they find themselves in a confusing mess of tunnels and sewers. The group must survive the trials and tribulations of the dungeon that they find themselves in as well as dealing with each other. If they don’t escape soon, madness will consume them all.

Criticisms:
1) Background. Depths of Madness has one major problem and it’s the background. The first issue is that the story seemed to start out of no where. It never felt like there was a beginning to the story. Instead the reader is just thrust into a situation that seemed random. There was no real build up to the story. Basically, the story began suddenly and it was very jarring. The second issue is that the characters just seemed to appear out of no where. We don’t know who these people are or why they are there. Yes, some of those questions do get answered, but we still don’t know anything about these characters. They just came across as awkward. The final issue with the background is that the scenery is hardly described. It was hard to picture any of the areas that the group find themselves in. There was some description, but it vague and left out a lot of much-needed detail. The locations sounded interesting, but with hardly any description, they were wasted. The background issues in Depths of Madness really made it hard to get right into the story and be that interested in what was going on.
2) Beginning. Depths of Madness has an awkward and hard to follow beginning. I’ve already mentioned that we are just thrown into the groups situation out of nowhere, but it’s much more than that. The problem seems to stem from a lot happening all at once. Depths of Madness begins simply enough, but the prologue doesn’t really flow into the actual story. Instead, we are left with more questions. How did Twilight end up locked up in some cell? What was going on with that battle in the prologue and how does it tie into this story? Things like that get prevent a reader from getting into the story right off the bat. It’s just confusing.

Praises:
1) Characters. The characters, even with the slow and awkward beginning, were fantastic. I didn’t expect the characters to carry the story, almost singlehandedly. Without them, Depths of Madness wouldn’t have been that good. It was surprising that each character was as developed and interesting as they were. Every character was just superb. Twilight was amazing, she brought a lot of depth and character to the story. Twilight was interesting. When her past is brought up adds a lot to her character and really fleshed out her character. Her personality is wonderful and she makes you like her. She has that charismatic quality to her that I just love in fictional characters. Everything she says, you believe. Then when the story ends, you don’t know if what she said throughout the story was true or not. Liet was a decent character, but doesn’t become interesting until close to the end of the book. His personality is hard to get used to. Basically he’s a lovesick puppy following Twilight around and the relationship that develops between him and Twilight is good. But truth be told, I just didn’t care for him as a character very much. Slip is surprising and really threw me for a loop. I can’t say more than that, else I’d ruin the story. Asson and Taslin were decent as well. Asson was the probably the weakest character out of the group, mostly because he didn’t have a lot of time to really develop. Thankfully, he did have some great moments. Taslin, on the other hand, gives a lot of depth to Twilight. She’s a good character on her own and has some great moments, mostly with her interactions with Asson and the time she shares with Twilight. Davoren was surprisingly just as developed as Twilight. He had a lot of depth and made his character his own. You almost want to hate him, but there’s something about him that makes you like him. It’s weird feeling. He’s bitter, powerful, and down-right evil but he seems almost like a scared bully who wants to be accepted but can’t deal with that. It’s surprising. However, I don’t want to go into any further detail because you should experience them for yourself.
2) Dark. This story is dark and I love dark stories. There are a lot of terrible and sickening moments that I didn’t expect to see. Some of these moments could have gone on for a while longer to really give it an even more creepy feeling, but they still were good. There is a lot of gory moments, but that’s not what makes this story dark. The characters make this story dark. Their pasts and actions aren’t something that you would expect from a fantasy novel. There are no ‘heroes’ or truly good people in this story. Everyone carries a dark secret or five. Also, the group isn’t a normal group. They all seem to either distrust one another or outright hate each other. As relationships form and developed in the group, we see some scary things. There are quite a few moments that stick out in my mind; Taslin and the doll, Twilight and the bloody hand-prints, and the confrontations that Davoren has with Taslin and Twilight. Depths of Madness is not a happy story, by any means.
3) Storytelling. After a while, Depths of Madness seems to succeed in making you feel like your becoming a little unhinged. The odd way the story is told helps this. For most of the story, we are left in the dark about what is happening. This helps cause you to be unsure of what’s going on. There is a definite feeling of not having any control over what is happening. The story throws you for a loop almost every chapter. You never really know what is going to happen, and trying to guess at it almost seems pointless. Also having Twilight be the main focus of the story helps. Everything that happens to her adds to this feeling of confusion and puts you right into the story. It’s weird but this makes you feel almost what Twilight is feeling. The storytelling is just interesting and had something I didn’t expect, a sense of madness.

Side Notes:
1) Fox-at-Twilight. Twilight appears in a short story by Erik Scott de Bie in the Realms of the Elves anthology titled “The Greatest Treasure”. This doesn’t have any impact on Depths of Madness, but it would be an interesting read to gain more knowledge about Twilight.
2) Goliaths. This is the first story, that I know of, in the Forgotten Realms that features a goliath. After reading this story I really do want to know more about this race.
3) Cover Art. The cover for Depths of Madness is good. The colors really convey the dark aspects of the story, with blacks and browns. The character on the cover, Taslin, looks great. I like the touches of wear and tear on her outfit and weapon, along with the scratches and cuts on her face. She really draws your eye and is definitely the main focus of this cover. It also helps that the scene depicted actually happens in the story. All in all, I like the cover art.

Overall: 4/5
Final Thoughts:
Depths of Madness is an interesting story with some wonderful characters. However, there are a few problems with it. The major problem is with the background. The story just starts and throws you in. You don’t know what is happening or who these people are. Because of this, the beginning of the story really suffers. It’s hard to get into right away. Thankfully, the characters really save the story from being annoying. They were all well-developed and very three-dimensional. These characters almost felt like real people and are some characters that really do deserve to be read about. The story is amazingly dark. It’s violent, creepy, and leaves you with a feeling of madness while reading it. This is not a happy-go-lucky story. The storytelling really enforces the feeling of madness. Scenes seems to be slightly random and leave you with wanting more. You never know what is going to happen next. I would wholeheartedly recommend Depths of Madness to anyone, especially those who like dark stories and fantastic characters.

3 Responses to “Depths of Madness by Erik Scott de Bie”

  1. grrDonDon said

    now this review made me wanting it – very, very much! Just read through The Ghost King, then EREVIS CALE Omnibus and today received Books 3 & 4 of the War of the Spider queen series, so Depths of Madness probably would be good way to sink into darkness even further, but damn! it’s out of stock from the place i order my books… but nevertheless – good review and thanks!

    • travizzt said

      Depths of Madness recently went out-of-print, so you’ll have to pick up a used copy. If you are enjoying the darker side of the Realms, definitely check out Erik Scott de Bie’s first novel Ghostwalker. I would say that it’s the best Forgotten Realms novel ever written.

      • grrDonDon said

        ou…now that’s sad (about going out of print), but thanks for the info! And definitely will check up the one you mentioned! thank you!

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