Review: SwordMage by Richard Baker

Gamer’s Book Report – Swordmage

Swordmage: Blade of the Moonsea – Book 1 by Richard Baker
Published 5/6/08 by Wizards of the Coast
ISBN – 978-0786947881

Aesperus, the King in Copper

He was a fearsome necromancer who ruled over this part of the Moonsea hundreds of years ago, and survives as an undead lich who commands the dead of the barrowfields as his slaves.

Too many things that should lie dead and buried under stone rise and walk the Highfells once their tombs are breached.

No one is to open a tomb anywhere within land claimed by Hulburg, and it is considered high treason to collect anything of value buried in a barrow.

It’s one of the few laws the Harmachs enforce without mercy.

But someone is robbing them anyway.

The Draw – I chose this book due to it being in NEW Forgotten Realms. The timeline has been lunged forward over a hundred years after Faerûn has experienced the Spellplague. I wanted to see what the world was like now.  Especially since I will be dipping my hat into the up-starting Living Forgotten Realms Campaign . So, below is my review. I have left spoiling information to a minimum as to not ruin your reading experience.

The Story [5/5] – Overall, I thought that Baker told a great story here. In addition to his great choice in location (talked about in the setting section below), the story flows very nicely. Baker doesn’t try to impress you with big words, and writes in very easy to understand and enjoyable prose. This was my first novel from Baker, and I look forward to more of his work. In particular, I enjoyed how he wove many classic D&D elements into the novel. There is a lot of investigation to solve some of the novels problems, a Dungeon Delve, an OTA (Obligatory Thug Attack), and there are battles ranging from skirmish to epic. And these classic elements are set in classic D&D locations. Characters go to tombs, castles, the docks, the wilderness, and the tavern. The only thing missing is the fight-out in the warehouse (though there was a fight-out in a general store).

Another important element to this particular book is its adaptation of the setting. I talk about the particulars of the setting below, but since the Forgotten Realms is so steeped in history, people, and places, sometimes the books are overwhelming to new readers. This story is not that. You can know absolutely nothing about the Forgotten Realms and not be lost anywhere.

The Setting [4/5] – It’s the Forgotten Realms!  It is steeped in history, characters, and intrigue. However, being set in the NEW Forgotten Realms, this was an exciting prospect for me. Unfortunately from that point, the newness of the Realms were only lightly touched upon. There were only two minor changes that the author unveils. First, there are huge geological formations that have emerged in strange designs and places called Changeland. Second, There are tattoo like designs (I got the impression they were similar to Eberron Dragonmarks) called Spellscars. Novel excerpt – “The serpentlike blue mark entwined her lower left arm and covered the back of her left hand, beautiful and sinister at the same time. Two or three generations past, someone in her father’s line has come in contact with the virulent, unchecked Spellplague and has been changed by it.” In both the cases of the changeland and the spellscars, there is no explanation on why, or how, this these happened. This left me a little disappointed.

On a much more positive and more important note, this book takes place in and around a small coastal village on the Moonsea called Hulburg. I thoroughly enjoyed the books intimate setting. Too often in fantasy books the plot carries the heros all across different lands on a their quest. It was nice to stay put in one place through the entire novel. You really started to feel a part of this town and the environment toward the end. The writer was able to create many interesting locations throughout the Hulburg area, and I left the novel wanting to read more about this town. In particular I want to know more about the Rosestone Abbey, and its hermit like priests of Lathander.

The Good Guys [5/5] – Baker excelled at making his characters interesting. Especially the main character Geran Hulmaster and his companion Hamil Alderheart. I found it refreshing to having the story center around two people instead of the traditional 4-6 characters (or more – I’m looking at you Dragonlance). But between Geran’s cousin, a certain antagonist turned protagonist (I won’t spoil it for you), and Geran’s old love interest, a fairly solid adventuring group formed before the readers eyes. Very well done. I look forward to more adventures from Geran and crew. He has the potential to join the great D&D ranks of characters that many people base their own characters off of.

The Bad Guys [3.5/5] – Baker was able to do the bad guys in a way that left the reader really hating them. I was very happy with the level of evilness with the main bad guys. I am really excited about the ending of the book that, I assume, leads to the next book in the series. I do have one small qualm and one big qualm, however. The Bloody Skulls Orc tribe, in particular the warchief Mhurren, didn’t feel right to me. Mhurren was a half-Orc (half-human) and it didn’t feel right for me to have him lead an orc tribe. It made sense that his human side made him more intelligent. And, the rest of the tribe were vile, chaotic and all-around Orcy. But, it just didn’t sit right for me and my vision of orcs. That said, the battle scenes with the Orcs were extremely well written.  I thoroughly enjoyed a battle between the orcs and the good guys from the perspective of the orcs.

That main problem I had with the novel is the evil Lich advertised on the back cover of the book (read above) as well as featured on the front cover. Now the Lich does play a role and is present at a point, however, his screen time is next to nil.  So one of two things is a problem here. If he wasn’t destined to play a large roll in the book, he shouldn’t have played a large roll in the advertising. Or, if he is going to play a large roll in the last two books in the trilogy, he should have been built up more in this first novel.

Conclusion – This book gets a B+ in my grading rubric. But it was so very close on many marks. If Baker would have just included a little more of what made the new Forgotten Realms new, and a little more (or less advertising) about Aesperus, the King in Copper, this book would have been must read. But it still stands solid as a very good read. and I do recommend it to all fans of Dungeons and Dragons, or a good fantasy book.

You can purchase Swordmage HERE
Disclaimer: Trask gets a couple of cents if you buy it through his Amazon store.



Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.