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Death Mark by Robert J. Schwalb

Posted by travizzt on February 26, 2012

Tyr’s future is unknown and looking bleak, with plots for the new Sorcerer-Kings’ throne and the threat of war.

Death Mark by Robert J. Schwalb

Death Mark is the third stand-alone novel in the recent relaunch of the Dark Sun series of novels based on the Dungeons and Dragons universe of Dark Sun. This is Robert J. Schwalb’s first novel, but he has written many adventures, source-books, and rule sets for various d20 role-playing systems. Death Mark was released December 2011 and was published by Wizards of the Coast LLC.

Tyr has fallen in revolution and a new Sorcerer-King has claimed Tyr’s throne. After freeing the city’s slaves and closing Tyr’s iron mines, the city of Tyr is far from recovering from the death of King Kalak. The city’s merchant houses fight for anything that is left as a rival city marches to take over the reeling city. However, that’s not the only problem that Tyr has to deal with. House Vordon is looking to take the city under its control, and placing Thaxos Vordon as the new leader. But at the same time, another merchant house is on the move to take the city. Being forced into servitude after becoming a free man, the former gladiator Loren leads House Shom towards Tyr under the watchful and mysterious Temmnya. Another merchant house, House Stel, wants to gain a foothold on Tyr or more importantly, its iron mines. Alaeda Stel journeys towards Tyr where she awaits her assignment, but something just doesn’t feel right. The disgraced templar Korvack looks to get back into King Tithian’s good graces by trying to uncover any plots against the new Sorcerer-Kings new throne and enlists the aid of Melech, a thief with connections. Tyr’s future looks bleak.

Criticisms:
1) Ending. The build up of Death Mark‘s fantastic story is almost ruined by the rushed and hurried ending. That said, the ending isn’t all that bad. It still does attempt to tie up the loose ends and bring the story to a satisfying conclusion, however it felt underwhelming and rushed. Things happen to mostly get the book to the three hundred page length. Truth be told, Death Mark feels like it should have had a sequel with everything that was going on feel like it was better concluded, along with helping to make the ending feel a bit more satisfying.

Praises:
1) Story. Death Mark is a complex, multiple plot-line story done right. There are five main plot-lines, with many little minor plot points, in Death Mark. Most novels with multiple story-lines, four or more, tend to lie on the rushed, clustered side of the road. There’s too much going on without a moment of respite or reason for why. In Death Mark everything that happens really does happen for a reason. You can see the progression of how a situation got to where it is currently. Another problem with most multiple story-lined novels is that the multiple plots seem to be either loosely connected or forced into one another. With Death Mark the stories really did come together in a nice and fitting way. This just helped in making Death Mark all the more enjoyable and interesting.
2) Characters. Where Death Mark also shines is with its characters. The main characters and the minor ones both came off as extremely developed and interesting. No character felt wasted or misused. Everyone had role and they either met it or exceeded that role’s expectations. While the minor characters were good, Death Mark‘s main cast is fantastic. Diverse, deep, and interesting really do help in summing them up. From the recently freed gladiator to the imprisoned and disgraced templar, each social status is represented and really gives the reader an excellent look into what makes Athas tick. The characters themselves are fleshed out and really do go through some great development as the story progresses. These characters do make reading through Death Mark an extremely enjoyable experience.
3) Dark Sun. After the recent relaunch of the Dark Sun novel line, this is the first book that really gave the world and setting some depth and understanding. Personally, I have no experience of the world outside of the two newer released novels and what little information I gathered from a quick search, but the world seemed a lot more explained and defined in Death Mark than it did in the previous two novels. Honestly, without the great use of background I would still think very little of Dark Sun and would still be wondering what exactly the world is. Great descriptions, explanations, and great usage of exposition really makes Dark Sun seem like a totally different and new setting that makes you yearn to learn more if you have little knowledge of the universe. All this can point back to how well Death Mark built up the surrounding world.

Side Notes:
1) Tyr. After reading Death Mark, I have this sudden interest in learning more about the city where the story takes place in. Why, exactly, was the former Sorcerer-King overthrown and how different was the city before?
2) Pakka. Out of all the great characters and their own personal arcs, Pakka’s seemed the most interesting and heartbreaking. It’s not much for me to warrant a whole praise section for this character out of the other great ones alongside her, but it is worth mentioning that her character was in my opinion the best of the bunch.
3) Cover Art. Death Mark has a very standard fantasy novel cover, but honestly, I just don’t care for it. The colors are drab and boring and there is nothing there to make it “pop”. It has the standard brown color scheme that seemed to have become popular in the past few years and that, while fitting, just doesn’t seem to work. The character on the front, who is possibly Temmnya, kind of looks unappealing. She’s just there in skimpy, impractical clothing doing nothing. She isn’t tantalizing, but just boring. Other than that, there isn’t much else to this drab, bland cover.

Overall: 5/5
Final Thoughts:
Even with the rushed ending, Death Mark really sparked my interest in the otherwise flat world of the recent Dark Sun novels. With its great cast, interesting story-lines, and an informative, yet entertaining look at the world of Athas, Death Mark was a great read. Aside from the rushed ending, which I still believe would have worked better if this was a multi-part series, there is little that really holds Death Mark back. The story is wonderfully complex and understandable, along with showcasing a lot of depth and intrigue of the world. The characters are just great and you’ll soon find one that you will attach yourself to. There is not much more to say about Death Mark other than go pick it up. If you were on the fence or even remotely interested in the world of Dark Sun, I would say this is an excellent place to start.

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