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Blackstaff Tower by Steven E. Schend

Posted by travizzt on December 4, 2011

Vajra is the new Blackstaff, but is captured and tortured. It’s up to a group of new heroes to save her.

Blackstaff Tower by Steven E. Schend

Blackstaff Tower is the first book in the Ed Greenwood Presents Waterdeep series of stand-alone novels set in the Forgotten Realms universe of Dungeons and Dragons. There are six novels in Ed Greenwood Presents Waterdeep series including Blackstaff Tower. The five other novels include; Mistshore by Jaleigh Johnson, Downshadow by Erik Scott de Bie, City of the Dead by Rosemary Jones, The God Catcher by Erin M. Evans, and Circle of Skulls by James P. Davis. Steven E. Schend has written one other full-length novel for The Wizards series of stand-alone novels titled Blackstaff, which can be seen as the prequel for Blackstaff Tower. He has also written a few short stories for three anthologies which are; “Concerning a Gambit of Fraternity” in Fellowship Fantastic, “Unreadable” in The Dimension Next Door, and “Being Played” in Gamer Fantastic. Blackstaff Tower was released September 2008 and was published by Wizards of the Coast, Inc.

Vajra Safahr has just became the next Blackstaff, after witnessing the former Blackstaff’s murder. Unfortunately, before she could assume the full power of being Blackstaff, the killer, a guildmaster for the Watchful Order named Khondar “Ten Rings” Naomal, is holding her and trying to torture the secrets of Blackstaff Tower and of the  Blackstaff out of her. Thankfully, a sellsword, Meloon Wardragon, and his employer, Laraelra Harsard, overhear the screams and investigate. They learn that the house the screams are coming from is owned by Renaer Neverember and the trio, along with some of Renaer’s friends, go to undercover the secrets. But they find more than they bargained for as they rescue the new Blackstaff and try to put a stop to Khondar’s plans.

Criticisms:
1) Characters. The biggest issue that Blackstaff Tower has is with the characters. While not terrible characters, there are too many things that hinder them from being something more than just generic archetypes. The first noticeable problem with the characters is the amount of them. There are way too many named characters that have little to no point in the story causing both confusion and a severe lack of development with the more prominent ones. This big problem with the characters because of the effect it has on how generic and underdeveloped the main characters are. When time is taken away to introduce someone who plays little to no part in the novel the main characters really suffer. On top of that, it was almost suffocating with the amount of the characters. Names start blending together before too long and it does become hard to remember who was who. The biggest issue that stems from the amount is that the main characters don’t feel engaging. They just feel there to do a job and it was hard to really connect and understand them. Then there is an unfortunate side effect of the characters coming off as cliché. Just looking at the main characters, it’s surprisingly easy to pick up on all the clichés. Vajra is the most complex of the main characters, but only because of what happens with her. By the end of the novel, you don’t know her and you only know what she went through. The others are really one-dimensional. Renaer Neverember is the noble-headed leader, Meloon Wardragon is the ‘muscle’, Osco Salibuck is the wise cracking thief, and Laraelra Harsard is the level-headed sorcerer. There is little more to them than that and as the story progresses, and they never felt like they changed in any significant way. With such simple characters, it’s hard to really like them as you’re supposed to. However, when all was said and done, the characters weren’t that bad, they were just generic.
2) Pacing. Another issue with Blackstaff Tower is the with its pacing. Simply put, Blackstaff Tower moves way, way too fast. It felt rushed. The best way to describe how fast the plot moved is by comparing it to a slide show. For the most part, scenes would happen in such a way that they felt like they were pictures flashing on a screen. Before you can even digest what just happened, you would find yourself in another scene that seemed barely connected to the previous one, aside from characters that is. This made for a very choppy, yet quick story that never seemed to be connected from scene to scene. There were some slower moments, but they were few and far between. Blackstaff Tower really needed to slow down and not throw things at the reader.

Praises:
1) Khondar Naomal. There is one character in Blackstaff Tower who does steal the show and that’s the main antagonist, Khondar “Ten Rings” Naomal. Like the rest of the characters, he does lack depth and is riddled with cliché, but he makes Blackstaff Tower an insanely enjoyable read. He’s one of those bad, campy villains from anything who just wants to do right, by doing the wrong thing. There never is a motivation for what he does, he just does it for what he thinks is the “greater good”. Words can not describe how entertaining he is without reading the novel. He is just entertaining and really makes Blackstaff Tower surprisingly enjoyable.
2) Action. Another thing that Blackstaff Tower does well is the action scenes. When there is an action scene, you know exactly what is going on. It’s very easy to picture what is happening and who is doing what. On top of the easy to follow action, it’s intense. You never know if the characters are going to make it out and that’s proven as the story progresses. On top of that, the action is insanely fun. All in all, the action is just great and does make Blackstaff Tower enjoyable.

Side Notes:
1) Quotes. Each chapter begins with a quote from some book within the world. This was a very nice way to introduce a chapter’s ‘plot’, as well as making the world feel deeper and more real.
2) Blackstaffs. After reading Blackstaff Tower, I would love to learn more about the five other Blackstaffs and what they were like. Aside from Khelben and partially Tsarra, not much is known from a novel reader’s standpoint.
3) Cover Art. Blackstaff Tower has a very colorful blue cover, but what exactly is it supposed to be. Is it magic? Spellplague? Or something else? It may have to do with something that occurs at the end of the novel, but it wasn’t written to look like wavy magic. It’s not a bad cover, but it feels very random.

Overall: 3/5
Final Thoughts:
It may look like I didn’t enjoy Blackstaff Tower, but on the contrary, I loved it. It is campy awesomeness that makes Blackstaff Tower awesome. While the story suffers from too many characters with a severe lack of developed characters, they still were great in their cliché, generic ways. The biggest hindering issue with Blackstaff Tower is with the pacing. The story unfolds way too fast. It really seems like the story is just a series of short events barely strung together. Thankfully, there are things that do make Blackstaff Tower enjoyable. I’ve already mentioned that while the characters are generic and never felt developed, they are still entertaining and fun. But there is one character that really makes the novel enjoyable. The main antagonist, Khondar “Ten Rings” Naomal is insanely entertaining. You just have to read the novel to really understand why. Also, the action in the novel is exciting, intense, and incredibly fun. All in all, Blackstaff Tower is very entertaining. It’s not wonderful, but it’s not terrible. It’s entertaining. It would be worth reading if you knew a lot about Forgotten Realm history and lore, but new readers will be lost. Still, it’s entertaining and I did have a lot of fun reading it.

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