Monday, April 3, 2023

Ten Recommended Forgotten Realms novels

  1. Ten Recommended Dungeons and Dragons Novels
  2. Ten Recommended Dragonlance Novels
  3. Ten Recommended Forgotten Realms Novels
  4. Books That Made Us: Dragonlance Legends
  5. Books That Made Us: Prism Pentad
  6. Ten Recommended Ravenloft Novels

Dungeons and Dragons novels are pretty much responsible for me becoming the fantasy fan I became as an adult. If not for the books I bought at my local Waldenbooks (the literary equivalent of a Blockbuster from the Nineties and just as absent today), I would have rotted my brain on silly things like interacting with my peers or group activities like a healthy functioning teenager. Whew. Glad I avoided that. Just kidding.

One of my favorite settings for Dungeons and Dragons novels were the Forgotten Realms. The creation of Ed Greenwood with other authors adding to it, I always found the setting to be wilder and more fantastic than Dragonlance's Krynn. 

People who have been following my work will note this is the second article on the subject with Ten Recommended Dungeons and Dragons Novels. Special thanks to Whitney Reinhart who helped me write this.

10. Darkwalker on the Moonshaes by Douglas Niles

The first of the Forgotten Realms novels wasn't actually intended for the setting but was written independently. Nevertheless, I love the people of the Moonshaes. A very simple "beginner's novel" for people getting into fantasy, it's really good and entertaining. The dark god Bhaal wants to take over the Moonshaes and kill the Earthmother. Its sequel trilogy is even better, dealing with the generational nature of Forgotten Realms as well as how even heroes can fall.

Bhaal and his minions are pretty generic "muhahaha" villains while Robyn and Tristan are stalwart goodie-goodies but that isn't always a bad thing. Sometimes you just want a god of darkness invading the peaceful Not-Britons before they are defeated through the power of love. I also liked the fact druids are the focus of the book since they rarely got attention in classic Dungeons and Dragons.

9. Azure Bonds by Jeff Grubb and Kate Novac

Azure Bonds is fantastic as an introduction of the differences between the Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance or, say, something like the Lord of the Rings. Whereas other stories ease you into the weird, Azure Bonds has cloning, a halfling bard, a dragon man paladin, a chatty red dragon, demons, liches, sexy sorceress ex-opera singers, and a magical curse in just the first volume. The characters are likable, entertaining, and just plain weird. It's a reminder why 5th Edition has Tieflings and Dragonborn as starting characters.

Alias is a fantastic protagonist as a sword-swinging sarcastic mercenary with the voice of an angel. She has no respect for the gods, society, her fellow mercenaries, and altruism. Which is problematic when she has a charitable lizard man, a faithful merchant, and a roguish halfling as her associatives.

8. Dissolution by Richard Lee Byers

What do runaway males, a slave revolt, and powerless priestesses have in common? The potential for true chaos and societal collapse. Lolth’s priestesses struggle to contain the secret of Lolth’s disappearance while wizards contrive to exploit their unexpected weakness. Rogue male drow band together and partner with an unlikely ally to incite a rebellion and wreak further havoc on the always precarious balance of power in Menzoberranzan. 

In this, the first book of the War of the Spider Queen sextet, the Ruling Council chooses four representatives to determine whether other drow enclaves are affected or if Menzoberranzan stands alone. Phauraun Mizzrym, chief threat to Socere archmage Gromph Baenre; Ryld Argith, a Master of Melee-Magthere; Quenthel Baenre, Mistress of Arach-Tinilith and next in line to the Matron of House Baenre, First House of Menzoberranzan; and, Faeryl Zauvirr, daughter of Ched Nasad and ambassador to Menzoberranzan must journey into the Underdark and work together to preserve and protect their homeland, their way of life.

7. Elminster: The Making of a Mage by Ed Greenwood

Who knows the Forgotten Realms more than the creator? Ed Greenwood manages to distill the events of an entire trilogy's worth of epic fantasy into a single book. Elminster of Shadow has long been the ultimate quest-giver in the Realms, being a sage on everything but also slightly mad. Reading his origins is a fun deconstruction of classic fantasy tropes as he is a hidden prince as well as farm boy who needs to retake his homeland from the sinister Mage Lords. Along the way, he becomes both lover as well as apprentice to the goddess of magic, Mystra.

Some people have criticized Elminster as a Gary Stu over the years, do to the over-the-top nature of his adventures but I actually appreciate the more interesting story of self-realization that he undergoes. Mystra forces Elminster to live a life as a rogue, priest, and even woman to help give him a perspective on the varieties of lives in the Realms. While he wants to overthrow the Mage Lords, by the time he finally confronts them, he's mostly let vengeance leave his heart. We also get why Mystra wants so many Chosen, magic tends to attract power-hungry lunatics and this turns the public off it.

6. Prince of Lies by James Lowder

The gods are always active in Dungeons and Dragons but the ones in Krynn are far more morally absolute than the ones in Faerun. Here, at least under some authors, they are every bit as petty and conniving as the Olympians. Their flaws are exaggerated and even the gods of good are prone to major screw ups. After the Time of Troubles, three new gods are elevated to ruling over the spheres of Death, Magic, and Evil. Watching Kelemevor, Mystra, and Cyric grow into their roles is a fascinating story.

Prince of Lies has Cyric as the primary focus with the newly crowned God of Evil being absolutely crap at his job. He's more concerned about making his followers worship him fanatically and systematically dismantles the Zhentarim that, previously, were the most effective force for villainy in the Realms. However, just because he's terrible at his job doesn't mean he's not incredibly dangerous. An idiot with omnipotent power is no less terrifying than a genius. Just in different ways. The sequel, The Trial of Cyric the Mad, is also a fantastic follow-up by Troy Denning.

5. Elfshadow by Elaine Cunningham

Arilyn Moonblade is a fantastic character and I really enjoy her as a contrast to Drizzt and Tanis Half-Elven as "outsider" characters. Drizzt is a fantastic character but being a drow means that stories regarding racism always have the tinge of, 'But Drow are a race of evil schemers.' Tanis also has a really dark origin as well. Arilyn Moonblade? She's a half-elf who is hated precisely because elves are blood purity obsessed bigots. Worse, she struggles with the fact that as the only half-elven Moonblade wearer, she is a "model minority" to some while a hated usurper to others. She just wants to kick some Zhentarim ass.

Arilyn is accompanied by a Wizard/Thief/Fighter named Danilo Than. If you're thinking multiclassing into those three classes versus going into Bard is a bit overcomplicated, then you're probably right. Also, it predates a similar joke in Order of the Stick by a decade. It's also one of the rare fantasy romances I'm actually invested in.

4. Canticle by RA Salvatore


While the Legend of Drizzt books are some of the most famous fantasy of all time, certainly up there with the best of "popcorn fantasy", I actually prefer the Cleric Quintet of Bob Salvatore's creations. Cadderly is an agnostic cleric of Deneir who struggles with the existence of his god despite being granted magic by him. He is aided by a beautiful bare-fisted monk named Danic and two oddball dwarves named the Bouldershoulder Brothers.

I like Cadderly as an alternative to Drizzt as he while he constanty questions and philosophizes, he often comes to definitive conclusions. I also feel like priests and clerics are an underrepresented group in fantasy.

3. Daughter of the Drow by Elaine Cunningham 

Liriel Baenre is a drow apart. She is the daughter of Gromph Baenre, Archmage of Sorcere and brother to the most powerful Matron of Menzoberranzan. Liriel’s innate magical abilities are beyond those of most drow wizards and under Gromph’s protection, she is allowed to run free and wild throughout the city and wild Underdark tunnels. 

She laughs and dances, fights and schemes, studies and explores at will…until Matron Triel Baenre orders her wayward niece to enter Arach-Tinilith, the proving grounds for all of Lolth’s priestesses. But Liriel yearns for more than clerical supremacy. She discovers a way to take her Underdark magic to the surface world but the power players, both priestesses and wizards alike, seek to strip her of her discovery, her freedom, her life.  

2. Forgotten Realms Classics by Jeff Grubb

This is cheating because it's a comic book series rather than books but I have to say that Jeff Grubb's Forgotten Realms comics are one of my all-time favorite. The crew of the Realms Master are an eccentric bunch of oddballs ranging from an iron golem to an alcoholic former paladin to an incredibly obnoxious elven priest. The crew only grows stranger from there. It's the willingness to embrace the wackiness of Dungeons and Dragons that makes me happy.

Dungeons and Dragons is, at its heart, not just fantasy. It is all fantasy everywhere shoved into a blender and then you hit frape. This is the kind of book where you have an airship, a winged rogue, liches, and the Time of Troubles. Yet, for all the sillingness, there's actually quite a few stories that are touching or serious. When you hear about a halfling with substance abuse problems, you think it's a joke, but it's actually played entirely straight. Not everything has aged well (a half-drow is split between her dark and light personalities and guess which ones are the evil?) but most of it is awesome.

1. Homeland by R.A. Salvatore

There was really no chance that there could be any other book at the top. As much as I love Everis Cale, the Spellfire books, or the Cormyr series, nothing will ever approach the popularity of the Legend of Drizzt series. While it technically started as the Wulfgar series with The Icewind Dale books, the books that cemented the popularity of D&D’s most iconic ranger (if not character) were the ones about his origins in Menzoberrazan.

Part of what makes the books so great is that they’re so very different from typical fantasy. The decadent corrupt matriarchal society of the drow is incredibly fun. It’s absolutely ridiculous but played dead serious as Drizzt struggles to deal with the fact everyone else he knows is an enormous sociopath. The subsequent books lack the punch of Homeland but subsequent series have given us many more insights into drow society (two of which are on this list). Bob Salvatore may not have created the drow, a lot of the society he depicted was in Vault of the Drow (D3) but he certainly popularized them.

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