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Unbroken Chain: The Darker Road by Jaleigh Johnson

Posted by travizzt on July 29, 2011

Ilvani is being plagued by nightmares, which are causing the city of Ikemmu problems. It’s up to Ashok to help stop the nightmares.

Unbroken Chain: The Darker Road by Jaleigh Johnson

Unbroken Chain: The Darker Road is the second novel in the Unbroken Chain series. The first novel is titled Unbroken Chain and as of now, that is all there is. Unbroken Chain: The Darker Road is set in the Forgotten Realms setting of Dungeons and Dragons. Jaleigh Johnson has written two other novels set in the Forgotten Realms universe; an entry in The Dungeons series titled The Howling Delve and the second book in the Ed Greenwood Presents Waterdeep series titled Mistshore. Both of these novels are stand-alone. She has also written a number of short stories for various anthologies and magazines. Unbroken Chain: The Darker Road was released in July 2011 and published by Wizards of the Coast LLC.

Ashok feels like he is finally fitting into the shadar-kai city of Ikemmu. After saving Ilvani, who is thought to have a connection with the god Tempus, he is seen as a chosen of the god of war. However, things aren’t quite right with Ilvani after returning home. The witch is plagued by nightmares, nightmares of a snow rabbit accompanied by a violent storm. Unfortunately for the citizens of Ikemmu, that’s not all that plagues the returned witch. Somehow, the dangerous and deadly animals of the Shadowfell are going berserk, but with a purpose. The connection to the crazed animals and Ilvani’s nightmares is made and through an odd occurrence, Ashok discovers that whatever is causing Ilvani to act this way is coming from Faerûn. In order to stop it, Ashok and Ilvani have to travel to the country of Rashemen and enlist the aid of the witches there to help. But the journey is going to be much harder than anyone can endure as everything seems to want to stop them.

Criticisms:
1) Reminders. Unbroken Chain: The Darker Road does not help the reader recall what happened in the previous book. Most sequels take time early on to reintroduce the reader to what happened, and help them get back up to speed. Here it took a while to recall who was who and what happened. Aside from who Ashok was, everything else really came off as blurry and fuzzy in memory. There are a few things that do get refreshed early, but for the most part a lot of the plot points and references from the previous book do go unknown for a while. Most of these things are better recalled halfway through the book, which is very odd. When picking up a sequel, you do forget things that happened in the first book. It really takes the reader out of the story when they can’t remember who such and such was or what happened to him or her. An example is two of Ashok’s comrades in the first book never really get a reintroduction, or more specifically, what exactly happened to them. While, references to the previous novel are necessary, it helps if they were re-explored or better discussed.
2) Fight Scenes. The fight scenes seemed rather incoherent and rushed. While not bad, they didn’t flow very well. It was hard to really know what was going, which is the point of a hectic fight, but they should be kind of coherent. It also felt like there wasn’t a fight going on mostly do to there being a lot of weird ‘stoppages’ in combat. There are times when a fight is going on and the main characters don’t seem to really be in it, while being in it. They stop and have these long conversations that really feel out of place. Along with the conversations, there are times when someone is surveying the battle. These times happen in every written battle, so it’s not that unusual. However, these times last extremely long and really took the reader out of the story and fight. They weren’t that engaging and interesting because of this. Banter is good in these situations, but here, it just takes away from everything else. Because of these times, the fights seemed jerky and not as coherent as they should have been. Those brief calming moments in the fights really came off as awkward and weird, which takes the reader out of them rather quickly.

Praises:
1) Characters. It can be hard when a story has a lot of characters and names in it, but Unbroken Chain: The Darker Road does a great job in distinguishing everyone. There wasn’t a character that didn’t feel the same. They were all very unique and very different. There still were times when a character appears only once and nothing really comes of it, but these times were still few and far between. For the most part, the characters all are distinct. The supporting ones do a good job with what they have to do. There are a few stand-outs; Mareyn and Daruk. Mareyn really stood out from most of the others because she added a lot more meaning to some of the things that were going through Ashok’s mind at the time. Most of these things deal with the nature of following a deity, and it is really insightful and smart. Daruk is just interesting. He doesn’t really come off as anyone until almost the end of the novel, but when he does show up, you know there is something about him. It’s never really explored fully, but it really does set up things for the future. The main cast was wonderful. Ashok, Ilvani, Cree, and Skagi really brought a lot to the story. Cree and his brother, Skagi, brought some of the humor and depth to the story. You can really see how devoted to Ashok they are and without them, Ashok wouldn’t have been that interesting of a character. Also you really see them grow and change as the novel moves on. Basically, they make Ashok great. Ashok and Ilvani are surprisingly similar. They are both wonderful characters, and they bring a lot of depth to the story. Ashok is trying to learn where he fits into this new world. It’s surprisingly deeper than what a simple explanation can do. There is a lot of things that he thinks about and discovers along this journey that really change him. For a character who comes across as a violent thug, Ashok is surprisingly insightful and deep. It really throws you for a loop when you realize this. Ilvani is very, very intriguing. She’s crazy, or at least that’s what you would think when you read what she says, but she’s seeing the world differently. But that’s not all. She goes through so many experiences that only she can understand and comprehend, and that makes her really stand out. It’s hard to explain, because once again, a simple explanation can’t do it. She also goes through a lot of interesting development and there are times when she really surprises you with what she says. She’s interesting to read about and to try to understand what she means with what she says. How are they the same? It’s something that the reader has to find out for themselves, but by the end of the novel, you really see how connected these two are to one another. All in all, the characters are just interesting and distinctive. No one feels alike and they all give the story something deeper.
2) Story. At first glance, Unbroken Chain: The Darker Road looks to be a very simplistic story. That’s not the case. This story is deep. The story really shows how different things are between various outlooks on life. Really, this story is all about how to live your life and what it means to you. Also, there’s a lot about what the people in your life mean to you and how they influence you through it. It’s just very thought-provoking. For a story to be this deep, it’s surprising how simplistic the premise is. Looking at the book in a simple perspective, it’s just a story about a journey to a far off land. But what makes it good is this deeper meaning. It’s not even a hidden meaning, it really brings this to light and makes you think about it. It’s something you never really expect to think , but when it hits you, it hits you hard.
3) Shadar-kai. Unbroken Chain: The Darker Road really delves deep into the psyche of the shadar-kai. It’s nice to get these kind of stories that really focus on how certain Dungeons and Dragons races act and showcases their beliefs. It really makes them feel different from the typical human and elf. In fact, the whole race is wonderfully developed and by the end of the novel, they do feel like they are a different kind of being. It’s rare that a book really enforces the differences like Unbroken Chain: The Darker Road does. Most books feel like the differing races are the same. They really only feel like they are offshoots of humans, with different skin or powers. The shadar-kai really feel different from the norm, aside from appearances. Their psyches are deeply explored and it really makes them stand out. It also helps, that others are pointing out the differences, drawing more attention to them and making them feel that much different. The story really brings the shadar-kai to life.

Side Notes:
1) Rashemen. It’s nice to see stories about this unusual place. It’s a very interesting land, and it should be looked at more often than it does.
2) Gods. A lot of Forgotten Realms theology is brought up and it’s really interesting. This is the first novel to really touch on how different some of the gods and belief systems are. It was fun to really delve into the differing theologies and what the deities can mean to differing people.
3) Cover Art. Unbroken Chain: The Darker Road has cover that’s full of action. Unlike the first novel’s cover, this one is much clearer to what’s going on. It’s also very action heavy, with Ashok attacking a serpentine creature. He looks really awesome on the cover. You can see the rage in his features and the pose he is in does look really cool. He really draws your eye. This is due to the nice color behind him. The red/orange color really makes you look at Ashok and is the only other color on the cover that isn’t a dark color. It draws your eye and when that happens, you see the action, which gets you interested. It’s a good cover, unfortunately, there aren’t any great images of it online at this time. Most are too dark, but if you pick it up, you’ll be drawn into it.

Overall: 4/5
Final Thoughts:
Unbroken Chain: The Darker Road is a very deep story that can be slightly frustrating at times. What makes the novel frustrating is that there are things that aren’t reintroduced early on from the previous novel. Most sequels do this rather quickly to help the reader recall everything that happened. Here, it’s iffy, to say the least. There are a few things that do get brought up, but for the most part, a lot of things are just mentioned in passing or aren’t really fully explored. While it’s not terribly annoying, it did take me out of the story during those times. Also, the fight scenes seemed rather awkward. They weren’t bad, but it was rather hard to really get into them and to take them seriously. There were a lot of weird calming moments in them that you wouldn’t think there would be. These moments really caused the fights to feel jerky and not really a threat. Thankfully, these things didn’t detract from the novel too much. The characters were superb. The supporting characters did their parts rather well and some of them added a lot to the overall story. The main characters were good. They were interesting and fun to read about. The brothers, Cree and Skagi, brought some humor to the story, along side seriousness. Ilvani really came across as mentally unstable, but not crazy. She really added a lot of depth and thought to the book. Same can be said with Ashok. You can really feel his connection with the others in the novel. You can see him change and he also added a lot of depth to the meaning of the story. Speaking of, the story is fantastic. It’s a simple premise of a journey, but there’s so much more there. It’s deep. It’s very deep. It really makes you think about what life is and what the people in your life are to you. It makes you think. Finally, it’s nice to see the a race feel different from the normal fantasy ones. The shadar-kai really became something different and stood out from being the usual human disguised race. What I mean is, most races feel like a slightly altered human, but the shadar-kai really get developed and feel like their own race. It was just interesting to really delve into them as deeply as this novel did. All in all, Unbroken Chain: The Darker Road is a good sequel and I can only see this series getting better and better. It may be a good idea to reread Unbroken Chain before jumping in, or at least not wait a while between that novel and Unbroken Chain: The Darker Road. It’s worth a read, and don’t be surprised if it leaves you thinking.

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