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Marked for Death by Matt Forbeck

Posted by travizzt on September 16, 2012

To rescue his adoptive daughter, Kandler must brave the desolate Mournland and protect his daughter. No matter the cost.

Marked for Death by Matt Forbeck

Marked for Death is the first book in The Lost Mark trilogy. The second book in the trilogy is The Road to Death and the final book is The Queen of Death. The Lost Mark trilogy is set in the Eberron universe based on the Dungeons and Dragons setting of the same name. Matt Forbeck has written a number of novels, short stories, role-playing game rule/guide books, comic books, and video games. He has written a number of series including; the Blood Bowl series (Blood Bowl, Dead Ball, Death Match, and Rumble in the Jungle), a novel based off the video game Guild Wars titled Ghost of Ascalon co-written with Jeff Grubb, and Knights of the Silver Dragon series (Secret of the Spiritkeeper, Prophecy of the Dragons, and The Dragons Revealed). He has also written Mutant Chronicles, Amortals, Vegas Knights, and Carpathia. Marked for Death was released in March 2005 and published by Wizards of the Coast, Inc.

On the outskirts of the desolated Mournland, a small settlement is having a problem with townsfolk disappearing. Mardakine’s Justicar, Kandler, has been investigating the disappearances and makes a grizzly discovery of a body. However before too much is learned, a group of Knights arrive in town looking for a certain dragonmark, a marking that grants powers to whomever has one. Before anything can be learned, zombies and vampires attack the small settlement. Those controlling the creatures are also on the look out for this dragonmark. Unfortunately for Kandler, his adopted daughter, Esprë, bears the mark and is kidnapped by those responsible for the attack. It’s up Kandler, his friend Burch, and the Knights of the Silver Flame to rescue is adoptive daughter. Then he can worry about what the Knights want with her.

Criticisms:
1) Characters. There are two issues that really hold Marked for Death back, the most prominent one being how shallow and underdeveloped the characters are. It’s hard to identify or even grasp who most of these people are aside from their obvious defining features. When you look at these characters, they seem to blend together. Some of the characters have specific drives but sadly that doesn’t make a good character. There’s hardly any development and when there is, it’s mostly short bursts of random, out of place development, making it even harder to get behind them. Because of this, the story feels ‘off’ and almost incomplete in a way. It is almost as though the characters make the story felt lifeless and bland. Then again, it is hard to have an exciting story with characters that do not feel realistic or are one note.
2) Story. Marked for Death started out great, but fizzled as the story went on. Having Kandler’s adoptive daughter kidnapped by the villains allowed for an interesting premise of him and his friends/allies getting her back. However, it fizzled because of one reason. After retrieving the girl, she always somehow, someway was continually kidnapped. The first time when this happened, it didn’t really seem to matter but when she is constantly re-kidnapped, it feels like the story doesn’t really know where else to go. It’s almost as though it’s a tool just to pad out the story, and was only there to forcibly move the story along. There could have been so much done with the story, just take the Knights of the Silver Flame for example. There could have been more conflict with them instead of the constant trying to recover Esprë. Story-wise it was a decent enough read, but felt recycled, especially when there could have been more done.

Praises:
1) Te’oma. Te’oma was the only legitimately interesting character. She wasn’t “well-developed” but she had enough to have a presence and not come off as some cardboard cut-out. Her glances at her past really just make her feel unique and helped in having her stand out. It also helps that she herself is interesting, with being a changeling (akin to a doppelgänger, with the ability to change their appearance) and a psion (having the ability to look into someone’s mind). The changeling aspect opened a lot of visually interesting ideas and problems, because Te’oma could have been anyone at any time. The psion/psychic aspect makes her a dangerous foe, easily able to manipulate her enemies into doing or seeing what she wants. It’s an interesting choice to have a villain with those kind of abilities. It’s a shame that they never really seemed utilized past the beginning. Te’oma is the one bright spot in the otherwise dull and boring characters in Marked for Death.
2) Action. The other major positive that Marked for Death has is action. Almost all the action scenes were superb and exciting. They were intense and they do make you wonder if the characters will make it out okay, and surprisingly some don’t. From little skirmishes to grandiose large-scale battles, the action always felt fresh and interesting. There was never a dull moment when swords were being crossed and blood being spilled.

Side Notes:
1) Dragonmarks. Marked for Death is a good introduction to what dragonmarks are and how they play an important role in Eberron. Not a lot of information is revealed but it does pique your interest in finding out more.
2) Warforged. I honestly didn’t know warforged were so warlike. I thought that they would act more individually and have their own minds. Aside from Xalt, the other warforged we meet are mostly battle crazed automatons.
3) Who Should Get This. Marked for Death doesn’t really feel like a book you should read if you have no prior knowledge of the world. There are things that are nicely explained, but it never felt like a ‘starter’ book if you are unfamiliar with Eberron. Those with knowledge of the world would find it interesting, with a lot of back story given to the Mournland. That said, there is a wonderful glossary of terms and characters found in the back of the novel which does help.
4) Cover Art. Marked for Death has a very bland, washed out look in the cover art. It doesn’t look bad, it just looks muddy and unappealing. Basically the cover art is just brown, and more brown. There isn’t anything visually striking about it. Also, it looks a little too busy; with Kandler protecting Esprë from some unseen danger, Burch smelling some head in the ground (at least I think he’s smelling), and Xalt (at least I believe who it is) firing a insanely large bow at something or someone in the distance. It’s also inconstant with some of the details we learn in the novel, like the placement of Esprë’s mark and Xalt never using any weapons. Quite frankly, nothing stands out and it just feels like your run-of-the-mill fantasy/adventure novel cover.

Overall: 2/5
Final Thoughts:
Marked for Death started wonderfully but as it went on, it fell apart. The characters and story felt weak after a while. Nothing interesting really developed with them. The characters were run-of-the-mill fantasy characters that never seemed to grow or feel real. From when you first meet these characters is almost exactly how you will end with them. They just didn’t stand out or make any impact. The story felt like it was recycled, helped in part by having Esprë kidnapped again and again. It almost felt like the story was being forced to proceed and didn’t seem to want to move on naturally. It just felt like the same things over and over. Thankfully, Te’oma is the only interesting and complex character in the story. She does save Marked for Death from being boring and monotonous. She brought life to the story, but unfortunately, she couldn’t carry the story alone. Action scenes also saved this novel from being overly dull. All in all, Marked for Death isn’t how you want to start a trilogy. With weak characters and an uninteresting plot, Marked for Death leaves the reader feeling bored and not into it.

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