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Simone

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  • The City of Splendors

  • Forgotten Realms: The Cities, Book 4
  • By: Elaine Cunningham, Ed Greenwood
  • Narrated by: Nicole Greevy
  • Length: 17 hrs and 48 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 28
  • Performance
    3.5 out of 5 stars 25
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 25

In the streets of Waterdeep, conspiracies run like water through the gutters, bubbling beneath the seeming calm of the city’s life. As a band of young, foppish lords discovers there is a dark side to the city they all love, a sinister mage and his son seek to create perverted creatures to further their twisted ends. And across it all sprawls the great city itself: brawling, drinking, laughing, living life to the fullest. Even in the face of death.

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • A long, slice-of-life D&D story.

  • By Amazon Customer on 10-14-16

Not for the Uninitiated

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
2 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-21-19

This book is an interesting experience, but there are many hurdles in reading/listening to it.

The story is part of a story-world with a very big publishing-history, but though it is a part of the "The Cities"-series, the book doesn't really do anything to introduce the city of Waterdeep to the listener, simply throwing street-names around as though the listener was meant to already know them intimately, something only meaningful if one is already a fan.

The book also doesn't truly have a "story" but rather simply has events occur in a somewhat disjointed, natural-though-random way. It is also difficult to identify who the book's actual protagonists are, as characters jump in-and-out of relevance at a fast pace and at very sudden points throughout the story; some important characters don't show up before hours of the book have passed; while the early introductions of characters all are presented as unsympathetic characters.
This results in a very disorienting listening-experience.

With all of this said, the book does manage to introduce plenty of sympathetic characters over time and transform several of the characters into people the listener ends up wanting to spend time with, but at the cost of several grinding hours first.
As a result, if people are already invested in the Forgotten Realms, there is still plenty of enjoyment to be had in "The City of Splendors" if one is willing to work through its dragging nature.

  • Circle of Skulls

  • Forgotten Realms: Ed Greenwood Presents Waterdeep, Book 6
  • By: James P. Davis
  • Narrated by: James Patrick Cronin
  • Length: 10 hrs and 9 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 16
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 14
  • Story
    3.5 out of 5 stars 14

Jinn is an angel trapped in mortal flesh, sent down from the heavens to fight, die, and be reincarnated endlessly in the war against evil. But over the years, revenge supplanted justice, and now he lives only to wreck vengeance - whatever the cost - on the dark angel of Asmodeus who killed his lover. A series of brutal occult murders, left like breadcrumbs for him to follow, lead Jinn straight to the dark angel - an invitation to a final battle for the soul of Waterdeep. But will he still be able to choose the path of justice when he is so close to his enemy, after lifetimes of failure?

  • 2 out of 5 stars
  • Paint-it-by-the-Numbers Fantasy

  • By Simone on 02-17-19

Paint-it-by-the-Numbers Fantasy

Overall
2 out of 5 stars
Performance
2 out of 5 stars
Story
2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-17-19

This book is sadly a very frustrating listen, which is especially disappointing as both its very first and very last chapters (prior to the epilogue) are quite good and manage to draw in the reader/listener rather well with their epic scope.
However, between these two points of the story, the book just kinda... tread water for hours-on-end.

The Paint-it-by-the-Numbers sort of storytelling "Circle of Skulls" employs is easily outlined as being an inherently bad thing, but it doesn't truly have to be, such storytelling is good for allowing a writer to put the focus of the story on other aspects, such as on character-studies or occasionally on things such as comedy. However, "Circle of Skulls" sadly doesn't do this either, indeed, for as otherworldly as the majority of the characters of the books are: including two angelic beings, a "goodly" undead, a hag, and more. The book doesn't actually seem to know of anything interesting to present the reader/listener with about these characters, and we are instead stuck with a protagonist who is trying to be a dark anti-hero, but doesn't do anything toward being such other than being disinterested in being heroic, and a female lead who does little else but complain about the protagonist's lack-of-heroics throughout the majority of the book, while simultaneously pretending the reason why she does so is mysterious and interesting (which they absolutely aren't; in fact, they might be some of THE most basic topes in fantasy, and thereby serving to make her even less interesting).

"Circle of Skulls" has many good ideas, but fails to deliver on a lot of them, resulting in many aspects of the book feeling little more than pointless, aspects that are presented as though they are meant to have great thematic importance. A particularly noteworthy aspect-of-failed-important being the elven female lead's status as a Warlock of Stars, something she specifically emphasizes and will correct other characters on getting wrong. However, in spite of this, this ends up having no impact on the story or her character what-so-ever, indeed it is closer to detracting from her character, as her dealing with powers of dark and madness goes against her motivation relating to moral good, love, and heroics.

A good part of the book is the character of the ultimate villain (not the circle of skulls itself, as they are shockingly enough also incredibly boring characters, and there being more of them doesn't help). The dark angel steals the show every time he appears within the story, but this is sadly a little too rarely, and even when he does appear Cronin sadly didn't do a particularly good job of narrating him.

I could keep going in detail about what does or doesn't work within "Circle of Skulls," but since I don't want this review to go on for too long, here are a few rapid-fire notes:

- The book contains a "Women in Refrigerators" trope, and the character in question never even appeared, she died off-screen after having been corrupted to evil in some way (I don't think we are ever told much of what she even truly did, other than choose evil?)
- Cronin has never been a great narrator, but this book definitively has him "phoning-in" his performance; basically every character has a terribly accent-choice, but the worst of all is without question a villainous wizard with a cowboy-accent.
- Much emphasis is put on the protagonist's sword. This build-up is delivered on at the end, but the ways in which it is spoken off almost never gives the reader/listener any indication that it truly is special; it is mentioned often, but almost never in an interesting, unique way. The book just repeats that it was stolen, most of the time.
- As alluded to earlier, the book has WAY too many villains; not because it is difficult to keep track of them all, but because it becomes hard to care about any of them, as they barely get a chance to truly come into their own as characters; this includes the dark angel as well, he only survives this issue due to how over-the-top his personality is structured.


Overall, "Circle of Skulls" is mostly just a massive waste of time that doesn't seem to know what to do with itself after its beginning. However, for anyone who does decide to go through the long, boring hours of this book, know that there is a fun, epic light at the end of the book's way-too-long tunnel (However, don't take that as it being worth it, it is not).

  • City of the Dead

  • Forgotten Realms: Ed Greenwood Presents Waterdeep, Book 4
  • By: Rosemary Jones
  • Narrated by: James Patrick Cronin
  • Length: 9 hrs and 51 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 26
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 23
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 23

A haunting adventure hand-picked by Ed Greenwood... Something is causing trouble in the City of the Dead, and Sophraea Carver, born and bred next to the historic graveyard, is determined to solve the mystery before it places all of Waterdeep in peril. Set in the classic City of Splendors and presented by Forgotten Realms® campaign setting creator and celebrated author Ed Greenwood, you don't want to miss out on this exciting glimpse into what the latest edition of the Realms has to offer.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Took some getting used to, but I was spellbound

  • By AlphaPoppa on 10-06-18

Cosy view into a commoner's life in a weird place.

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
3 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-25-19

"City of the Dead" is a cute, small story of the type where despite the threat of the narrative being hypothetically catastrophic, at the end of the story, no one but the protagonists barely even noticed anything having happened at all. Everything is resolved, and almost everything goes back to normal.

These sorts of stories can feel somewhat pointless, but they allow their main focus being on other things than the narrative itself. In the case of "City of the Dead" the focus is instead on an in-depth exploration of a particular section of the city of Waterdeep and on an exploration of what it is like to live in a city as fantastical as Waterdeep is for the commoners.
Unlike so many other Realms-books, the protagonist of this book is a true commoner. Other books give the reader protagonists who are somewhat normal, but typically still practice magic or similarly more character-defining pursuits.
In "City of the Dead" however, the protagonist is just a normal girl from a somewhat-respected worker family. She has no special skills, and her most fantastical dreams are initially nothing more than becoming a seamstress.

This setup of the story allows for the book to simply focus on how the protagonist views her world, and how, to her, the fantastical nature of her home-city is nothing but natural and obvious.

For a casual listener/reader, this might not mean much, and indeed, the result is a narrative that feels like it drags on a little longer than it really needs to. But for someone already intimately familiar with the setting of Waterdeep, this book offers a truly intriguing character-study into the minds of the citizens of the city.




TL;DR - This book is truly simple and charming, and doesn't really offer anything else unless a listener is very familiar with the setting. That however, could be plenty for some.

  • The God Catcher

  • Forgotten Realms: Ed Greenwood Presents Waterdeep, Book 5
  • By: Erin M. Evans
  • Narrated by: James Patrick Cronin
  • Length: 10 hrs and 52 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 38
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 33
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 33

Tennora would give anything to be a wizard. And Clytemorrenestrix, a strange woman with uncanny blue eyes, whose name means “She Will Thunder in the Sky”, and who claims to be a dragon, promises to make her just that - in return for aid in returning her to her true form. But soon after Tennora seals the deal, a bounty hunter presses a note into her hands claiming the dragon woman is actually a human - a violent, criminally insane human who murders those who fail her.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • It’s a low rent apartment building, not a person

  • By Jake on 04-22-13

Can Erin do no wrong?

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
3 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-02-19

Erin M. Evans again-and-again proves her incredible gift and skill at writing with "The God Catcher."
Erin truly understands how to build drama between characters without falling into the typical melodramatic (and often sexist) pit traps other writes find themselves in time-and-time again.

With "The God Catcher" we once again find ourselves with a young female protagonist who has to deal with the fact that life hasn't quite turned out the way she wanted it to. And indeed, like with Farideh, she soon encounters and bonds with a strange, "alien" character who needs things of her.

The overall narrative of "The God Catcher" is comparable to many of the best of Erin's "Brimstone Angels" books; focusing on characters engaging in a criminal investigation while themselves living at the edge of the law, all while the very reasons for why the characters are involved in the matter at all is constantly being questioned, and therefore discouraged.

  • Downshadow

  • Forgotten Realms: Ed Greenwood Presents Waterdeep, Book 3
  • By: Erik Scott de Bie
  • Narrated by: James Patrick Cronin
  • Length: 11 hrs and 48 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 25
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 23
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 23

Watchman by day, vigilante by night, Shadowbane's world is turned upside down when he runs across a powerful wizard - in the form of a confused, hunted girl who finds herself at the heart of a fell plot. When his friends start dying and the girl is kidnapped, Shadowbane must choose between the darkness and the light in his heart: to avenge the deaths of his friends, or to let the villain live to face - and possibly escape - justice.

  • 2 out of 5 stars
  • Puerile and one dimensional characters abound

  • By takajej on 12-28-18

Harem Anime in Dungeons & Dragons-Form

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 12-12-18

This story sits in a rather awkward historic space, written at a time when anime as a media-form was truly making a standardized impact in the west. This influence is deeply felt in "Downshadow."

The story is quite crowded with characters, or at least it would have been if the story didn't truly only have one character, the male protagonist himself. Beyond the protagonist, pretty much every other character is a barely developed female shell with their only true purpose being to represent one of the protagonist's metaphorical values. Thus allowing the protagonist to literally flirt with different values he might stand for:

- One female character represents his tendency to lurk in the shadows and fight without honor. Thus she allows him to flirt with the prospect of embracing a life without morals.
- Another female character represents innocence and higher ideals. The life of a hero and a true paladin. Thus the protagonist gets to express his inner insecurity of not feeling worthy of her, and thus of such ideals.
- Yet another female character represents the ideas of duty and the familiar. This is further heightened by the protagonist, at the start of the tale, already having had a relationship with this particular character, essentially emphasizing his movement away from the familiar and into a new understanding of the world and himself.

Supporting characters representing such values is in-and-of-itself a good thing and shows a great insight into the development of the protagonist. However, when there is little-to-nothing to these characters beyond these roles and the continuous flirting they engage in with the protagonist, then it quickly becomes clear that they are not only 1-Dimensional, but outright unbelievable. This especially holds true when one considers the protagonists status as having been in a prior relationship with one of the female characters, but literally finds himself stumbling over the overwhelming and over-the-top expressions of affections from two women he only comes to meet at the start of the story, and immediately faces romantic advances from (in one case, the female character literally appears out of no-where, passes out immediately in his arms, wakes up in his bed the next morning, and is immediately distraught at the prospect that he might have a romantic partner, despite her barely even knowing his name yet).

All of these factors come together to create a tale that is quite interesting from the perspective of witnessing a single character's struggle with his own personal ideals and morals. But is a complete disaster when it comes to its narrative flow and emotional center. The book could essentially have just one character, or one character and the villain. All the female supporting characters could in truth be nothing more than figments of the protagonist's imagination, and the thematic evolution of the story would barely have suffered.
These very same issues can be found in countless examples of "Harem Anime," though this book at least rises above the majority of those by not having the protagonist be a blank slate for readers to use as self-insert-material.


With all of this having been said, "Downshadow" is in truth a quite enjoyable book. One does, however, need a specific mindset for how to truly tap into what the book has to offer, and be willing to accept and look past its many major flaws.
"Downshadow" is not a good book, but it can be a fun one.

  • Mistshore

  • Forgotten Realms: Ed Greenwood Presents Waterdeep, Book 2
  • By: Jaleigh Johnson
  • Narrated by: James Patrick Cronin
  • Length: 10 hrs and 41 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 33
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 30
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 30

Icelin thought she had escaped the horrors of her past - until they come hunting her, forcing her to go to ground. But when things go from bad to worse, and her friends start paying for her mistakes, Icelin learns she has to embrace the talents she fears, accept the past she runs from, and confront those threatening her future. Ed Greenwood, beloved author and creator of the Forgotten Realms, presents the second book in a brand-new series dedicated to showcasing both the City of Splendors and our most talented up-and-coming authors.

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Definitely a D&D Novel

  • By Jennifer E. Johnson on 09-01-16

A Quaint List of Ideas

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 11-20-18

People always look about for "Must Reads!"
This tale isn't that. It offers nothing essential to anybody, but is simply a charming snapshot of a part of the beloved Forgotten Realms. Indeed, though the book takes place in the famous city of Waterdeep, only little of importance relating to the city in question is given beyond; "Mistshore is a sh*tty place."

No. This book isn't a Must Read. It isn't a Realms-shaking tale of epic heroes and warring gods. But what it is, is a small story, about simple people simly trying to live with their traumas in a world filled with chaos and malevolent intent.
Mistshore, both the book and the place, is about good people whom society has given up on and simply want to be rid of.
The book is a story about people, and as a result, the narrator goes the extra mile to try and keep everyone distinct. As a result, the book offers the novel experience of having a female protagonist given an Irish accent, while another speaks like a Cowboy. The dynamic of the narrators voicework does much to bring this small and often-times-confusing story to life, keeping the listener invested in the fates of its scarred heroes.

Due to the book being a small story, it gets to play around with several small but interesting ideas for the fans of the Forgotten Realms to experience; such as how the memorization of Wizardly spells function, and what influence a deity has over the world even after its death.

Mistshore isn't a Must Read. But it is a wonderful and emotional tale of what life can be like in the Forgotten Realms, showing of what a diverse a fantasy world it truly is and can be.

The book is not required, but highly and warmly recommended.

  • Timeless

  • A Drizzt Novel
  • By: R. A. Salvatore
  • Narrated by: Victor Bevine
  • Length: 12 hrs and 30 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars 1,492
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 1,364
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,360

R. A. Salvatore reveals the Underdark anew through the eyes of of this unlikely pair - offering a fresh take on the intrigue and opportunities to be found in the shadows, and providing a fascinating prelude to the journeys that have shaped the modern-day Forgotten Realms. There, a Zaknafein and Drizzt are joined together in a series of trials that parallel those of centuries long past, even though their paths no longer seem to be aligned.  

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • A New Era

  • By Jamie on 09-05-18

Isn't quite a Story yet.

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 11-05-18

This book is a highly enjoyable experience, exploring many of the long-asked questions raised by the Drizzt-series.
The book does however hardly feel like real story, but more like a compilation of only slightly related events, presented together to setup the true story to come.

Salvatore himself has proclaimed this book as a good entry-point to the series, but due to the reasons mentioned above, I personally feel hesitant to agree. Granted, the book puts much effort into explaining its own, long history and the role of the different characters therein as the need arises, but a true appreciation of the events as a story only really occur within the context of the rest of the series; as build-up to the real story to come in future books.

A place where this book does serve well to introduce newcomers is for newcomers already familiar with the Forgotten Realms during 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons but without any former familiarity (an audience swiftly growing).
Many familiar people and places introduced in contexts relevant to 5th Edition are here, creating a fu experience from that perspective.


In conclusion, the book is good, but does by no means stand on its own, and will only truly show its quality in years to come as the storyline reaches an actual narrative flow and climax.

  • Venom in Her Veins

  • A Forgotten Realms Novel
  • By: Tim Pratt
  • Narrated by: T. David Rutherford
  • Length: 7 hrs and 10 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 39
  • Performance
    3.5 out of 5 stars 37
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 37

Zaltys is a girl like any other to grow up ranging thejungles of the Southern Lluirwood. She’s a crack shot with a bow and no stranger to the dangers that lurk beneath the deep forest canopy. On expedition with her family to harvest the forbidden terazul flower, a powerful drug that has gathered many a dreamer into its narcotic embrace, Zaltys is about to unearth a truth long buried by the feculent loam of deception.

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Good Stroy

  • By Bugzee3 on 02-04-13

Simple and straight forward.

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
3 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-22-18

'Venom in Her Veins' is pretty much a classic D&D adventure; it is a short journey into danger for reasons simple and noble. People won't get anything special from this book other than a minour look into the life of a region rarely visited in the Forgotten Realms, but that is also enough. The book's main draw is its charismatic and unique characters and how they deal with issues. Overall, this book isn't a masterpiece, but neither is there anything wrong with it. It is simply offering simple fun and adventure. Absolutely worth a listen if you simple want something light and easy to listen to for some hours of enjoyment.

  • Prince of Lies

  • Forgotten Realms: The Avatar, Book 4
  • By: James Lowder
  • Narrated by: Nicole Greevy
  • Length: 12 hrs and 33 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 116
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 110
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 111

An all-new version of one of the key titles in the entire Forgotten Realms novel line. This title is the fourth in a series of recovers of the popular Avatar series. At the time of its original release, this series presented key events that impacted the entire Forgotten Realms world, and the effects of those events are still felt in current novels. This re-released series features a cohesive cover design and all-new art.

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Great story, terrible narrator.

  • By Robert A Vaughan on 06-06-16

It is hard to believe how far we've come.

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
2 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-05-18

Sitting here after having finished the "Prince of Lies"
is best described as a surreal experience.
The overwhelming quality of this book can hardly be believed
to have any connections at all to the dumpster-fires that were
"Waterdeep" and "Tantras."
That I've now been through a story so good that even the
acts of occasional stupidity within the main-characters come
off as intriguing character-features calling for a reader's
analysis of their mindsets, as opposed to simply being
facepalm-inducing, is more than a breath of fresh air.

The narrator is always still bad, but she appears to deliver
a more varied performance this time around, when compared
to earlier readings, and even then, her somewhat robotic
delivery makes for a somewhat fitting interpretation of the
alien minds of the gods when given voice.

Overall, a great book, and an overwhelming improvement
to the general series, do not miss this one.

  • The Ring of Winter

  • Forgotten Realms: The Harpers, Book 5
  • By: James Lowder
  • Narrated by: Marty Moran
  • Length: 10 hrs and 30 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 55
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 52
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 52

One of the Harpers (a secret organization fighting for good) searches the jungle for a missing explorer and happens on a lost civilization--complete with dinosaurs--and the evil Cult of Frost, which tries to steal his magic ring.

  • 2 out of 5 stars
  • ToA

  • By Amazon Customer on 01-12-18

Indiana Jones with Dinosaurs

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 12-08-17

Though this book is nothing remarkable, it is highly entertaining and the very definition of the word "Adventure." This is not a story one needs to experience more than once, but that one time a reader/listener will struggle not to smile at every minour or major event. This story is not incredible or life-changing. No. What this story is, is endless, simple FUN. So if you feel like just being happy while being told a story, this is the perfect place to find it.