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Under the Crimson Sun by Keith R. A. DeCandido

Posted by travizzt on July 11, 2011

Gan just wanted to pay a visit to his sister, but after his best friend Rol is infected by the Voidharrow, things go from bad to worse.

Under the Crimson Sun by Keith R. A. DeCandido

Under the Crimson Sun is a stand-alone novel and the second book released in the newly relaunched Dark Sun series of novels based on the Dark Sun setting of Dungeons and Dragons. This book also ties into The Abyssal Plague trilogy, but is only a stand-alone novel and is not a part of the trilogy. This is the only instance of the plague being in the Dark Sun universe. Keith R. A. DeCandido has written a vast amount of novels for various shared universes. Most of his work is in the Star Trek universes; writing a number of Star Trek: S. C. E. novellas (Fatal Error, Cold Fusion, co-writing both Invincible books with David Mack, Here There Be Monsters, both War Stories books, Breakdowns, Security, and Many Splendors), three Star Trek: The Next Generation books (Diplomatic Implausibility, Q & A, and Enterprises of Great Pitch and Moment), a Star Trek: Gateways novel titled Demons of Air and Darkness, a handful of Star Trek novels (both The Brave and the Bold novels, Articles of the Federation, and A Singular Destiny), a Star Trek: The Lost Era novel titled The Art of the Impossible, three Star Trek: I.K.S. Gorkon novels (A Good Day to Die, Honor Bound, and Enemy Territory), a novel in the Star Trek: A Time To… series titled A Time for War, a Time for Peace, and a Star Trek: Klingon Empire novel titled A Burning House, along with editing a vast amount of Star Trek related anthologies and collections, as well as contributing a number of stories to them. He has also written a fair amount of movie, comic book, video game, and television tie-in novels; two Young Hercules novels (Cheiron’s Warriors and The Ares Alliance), three Resident Evil tie-ins (Genesis, Apocalypse, and Extinction), Darkness Falls, Serenity, three Buffy the Vampire Slayer novels (The Xander Years, Vol. 1, Blackout, and The Deathless), a Farscape novel titled House of Cards, a Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda novel titled Destruction of Illusions, three Supernatural novels (Nevermore, Bone Key, and Heart of the Dragon), CSI: New York novel titled Four Walls, a Spider-Man novel titled Down These Mean Streets, a Command and Conquer novel titled Tiberium Wars, a Warcraft novel titled Cycle of Hatred, and a Starcraft novel titled Ghost: Nova. He has also written a novel from the Super City Police Department series titled The Case of the Claw and two Dragon Precinct novels (Dragon Precinct and its sequel Unicorn Precinct). He has also written a large number of short stories, essays, and comic books, along with editing various anthologies and collections. Under the Crimson Sun was released June 2011 and it was published by Wizards of the Coast LLC.

It’s been a hard journey for Gan Storvis and his friends, Rol Mandred and Fehrd Anspah. All Gan wants to do is meet up with his sister, Feena. But Gan gambled away their means of travel causing the three to walk through the desert to the city of Raam, where Feena and her employer, the Serthlara Traveling Emporium merchant company, are currently. After weeks of travel, the three finally find the road leading to Raam. However, they come across a caravan being attacked by a group of bandits, and they decide to intervene, in hopes of gaining a quicker passage to Raam. After saving the caravan, they are allowed to come on to help guard it. However, as night falls, Rol discovers a body in the desert and becomes infected by some sort of plague from the Abyss. After an unusual feat of strength from Rol, they are taken captive by a slaver traveling with the caravan and brought to the city of Urik. The slavers force them into the gladiatorial arena named the Pit of Black Death, but soon the infected Rol becomes bigger than any of them suspected. Thankfully, Gan’s sister senses something wrong and sets out with the emporium to find her lost brother. The problem is, what she finds isn’t something the emporium can easily con. It also doesn’t help that Rol becomes something that has never been seen on the surface of Athas.

1) Characters. Under the Crimson Sun has a problem with the amount of characters in it. Truth be told, there was just too many side characters. The problem with having too many side characters is that the main characters don’t get enough time in the spotlight to really develop. In this story, only one or two characters really do feel like they were developing. The problem is, they weren’t any of the main characters. This problem really stems from having a new character being introduced every chapter, only to be there for that chapter. When this happens, those characters are the main focus of the chapter and it doesn’t allow for the main characters to really be the focus, like they should be. It seemed like the majority of the chapters in Under the Crimson Sun feature new characters. The main characters do have some scenes within these chapters, but they aren’t the main focus. For the rest of the chapter, the side characters take up most of it. This makes you start to like a character, but suddenly they are gone. The best examples are chapter one, which focuses on a high-born nobleman, and chapter six, which focuses on a gladiator. These chapters do add to the story, but also take away from who the story is supposed to focus on. They still are good chapters that help develop the setting and story. However, the main characters suffer because of the lack of attention.
2) Ending. The ending of Under the Crimson Sun had this disappointing suddenness to it. It just ended. There were a lot of things left undone and ends on a semi-cliffhanger. It is disappointing. The rest of the novel builds up to this big event, and it almost feels like the story doesn’t know how to end. There wasn’t any payoff, other than one thing happening that was bound to happen. The story really feels like it sold itself short, in some way. The climatic final battle had this jittery, randomness to it that didn’t make it coherent. Instead, one character offers up something but it’s never really told what his plan was. It works but you don’t know what happened or why it works. Then you have the end of the story. It’s like nothing was resolved and there are a lot of things that were left unanswered. While some novels pull this off in a way to not really draw attention to the unanswered questions, Under the Crimson Sun almost screams it to the reader. It feels incomplete. The ending didn’t feel like an end, instead it just ended with a lot of questions still in the air and it doesn’t have the resolved feeling to it.

1) Characters. While there may be too many characters, the characters in Under the Crimson Sun were interesting and different. They didn’t really feel like the normal fantasy characters. Instead of using brawn to accomplish their goals, they used brains and tricks to do it. This felt different from the norm. There still was plenty of fighting, but it felt secondary to planning. Even though most of the main characters weren’t developed enough to really be likable, they still had an impact and were enjoyable. The characters were pretty much defined by certain attributes and personalities, and it worked well enough. The weakest character seemed to be Rol, mostly because he was never really developed and only felt like the host for the Voidharrow. There seemed to be times when he could have been so much more, but the opportunities weren’t jumped upon. Gan is an interesting character. For the whole novel he’s remorseful for some events that happen, but it doesn’t really affect his overall attitude. He can’t stop talking and for some reason, that just made him enjoyable. I was actually having fun reading him rambling on. Aside from the two main characters, the characters from Serthlara Traveling Emporium were interesting as well. The weakest ones from the emporium were Torthal and Shira, the father and mother along with owners of the emporium. They never really did much. In fact, they didn’t really do anything at all. But that was the point. The two were giving the emporium, and how to run it, to their children, Karalith and Komir. These two were better. They gave the story a lot of its humor and really seemed like interesting people who I would want to read more about. They both had this charm to them. The other members of the emporium; a mul named Zabaj, a thri-kreen named Tricht’tha, and Gan’s sister Feena, were good characters and played their parts well. Zabaj was stoic and quiet, and that worked well for him and what he has to do. Tricht’tha was enjoyable, but could have used more time in the spotlight. Feena was interesting, but never really evolved into anything more than an untrained mind-mage and Gan’s sister. She could have been more as well, but still she played her role perfectly. But the character that left the most impact was Fehrd. He was just great and had that charismatic quality about him that made you almost instantly liked him. That’s relatively hard to do when you first meet a character. It really felt like you’ve known him for a long time. It may seem like the characters weren’t that good, but they were. Even though they weren’t as developed as they could have been, they all were still fun to read about. There was no characters that you didn’t like, which was surprising. In their own little way, the characters in Under the Crimson Sun really helped add to the enjoyment of the story.
2) Comedy. It was surprising that Under the Crimson Sun had a lot of humor in it. If you read the back of the book, you wouldn’t think that there would be a lot of humor in this story, but there is. It really took me by surprise. The best part about the humor is that it’s not forced and flows into the story naturally. It compliments the situations, no matter how dire they are. It almost enhances those situations, because it genuinely feels like the characters have been through worse. Having them cracking jokes and being witty, makes it seem like this isn’t that big of a deal to them. It also adds to the relationships between the characters. You can see that they are good friends when they can joke like that, and it feels like it’s legitimate and real. To top it all off, the jokes and witty retorts were actually funny. That’s really rare in these types of books, because most of the time, the humor comes off as forced and unnatural. Here, it’s seamless. For a story with a serious undertone, Under the Crimson Sun was surprisingly funny.
3) Simplicity. This story is a very simple, easy to follow one. It does come off as more complex than it really is, but it’s actually very simple. The complexity comes from everything that is going on. There is a lot layers of story and plans, but they are surprisingly easy to follow. You have the few different stories and point of views going on in the novel. The main story is how are Gan and Rol going to get free. That’s fairly simple. Then you add how Feena and the emporium are going to attempt to find them, and that’s also simple. There’s also a side plot with Rol’s condition, and a few other smaller storylines going on. These stories really build well off each other, and it makes it surprisingly easy to follow. With a complex story that has a lot of layers, it’s pulled off in a simple way that makes it understandable and not overly complex.

Side Notes:
1) Abyssal Plague. Under the Crimson Sun is a part of a few novels dealing with an event that’s spread through the Dungeons and Dragons universes. The actual trilogy is set in the Dungeons and Dragons self-titled novel line, and consists of The Temple of Yellow Skulls by Don Bassingthwaite, The Oath of Viligance by James Wyatt (due out in August 2011), and The Eye of the Chained God by Don Bassingthwaite (due out April 2012). There is an origin novella by James Wyatt titled The Gates of Madness and a prelude by Bill Slavicsek titled The Mark of Nerath. The plague spreads into the Forgotten Realms universe with Sword of the Gods by Bruce R. Cordell and Shadowbane by Erik Scott de Brie (due out in September 2011). Thankfully, reading these books aren’t required, but may help in understanding some of the minor details of the plague.
2) Dark Sun. The world of Dark Sun is looking even more interesting after reading Under the Crimson Sun. It really helped shape what Dark Sun is about and how different it is from other Dungeons and Dragons universes.
3) Cover Art. Under the Crimson Sun has some very bland cover art. The colors are bland and boring. The cover looks dark, almost too dark to see. There isn’t really anything to look at or draw your eye to. The reds don’t really pop out at you. In fact, it being almost all reds makes everything blend together. The most noticeable thing is what appears to be Rol, but he looks mediocre. There isn’t anything that impressive about the character depiction. Even with being infected by the Voidharrow, he looks almost ‘normal’, only with a few slight modifications. He definitely doesn’t look like the sickening and gross images I had in my mind when reading. The other character on the cover looks odd as well. I don’t know who it’s supposed to be, but that pose can’t be good for anyone. Plus he just looks boring. It’s just not an appealing cover.

Overall: 4/5
Final Thoughts:
Under the Crimson Sun was a surprising novel, but ultimately feels like a letdown. It’s still a good novel, but there’s a few problems that hold it back. The first being the insane amount of side characters. It really does take away the spotlight from the main characters, and because of that, they suffer. The other problem is the lackluster conclusion. It just ends with an anti-climatic fight, leaves us with lot of unanswered questions and unfinished situations, and on a semi-cliffhanger. It felt rushed and incomplete. If it wasn’t for that, Under the Crimson Sun would have been great. Thankfully, the main characters still were good enough to be enjoyable, although they weren’t developed. They played their parts well and they all had this strange charisma that made you like them. Even with the missed opportunities for development, they were still good. Also, there was a lot of unexpected humor in the story. This shocked me, but it was funny and really meshed well with everything. It never felt forced or unnatural. Also, the story has these complex storylines that were actually very simple. The story was easy to follow and built well upon all the storylines. All in all, Under the Crimson Sun was a good story and great second novel in a re-launched novel line. It’s something that anyone can pick up and enjoy.

One Response to “Under the Crimson Sun by Keith R. A. DeCandido”

  1. grrDonDon said

    Seems like I’ll wishlist these Abyssal Plague related novels till all of them come out and then have one big order to place! really like the crossover idea of the whole thing (sadly from experience in other media – in the end they come out like rather poor productions) and so far seems like these novels were if not great, than more than average at least.

    thanks for the review once again!

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