Sunday, February 17, 2002

Review: "Black Wolf" by Dave Gross

It's been a long time since I've been excited about the novels set in the various Dungeons and Dragons worlds. But things are changing.

A big part of that change is the "Sembia" series, a group of books aimed at newcomers to the Forgotten Realms. The "Sembia" series is a group of self-contained stories that require little or no background knowledge of the massive collection of Forgotten Realms novels that have come before.

The latest in the collection is "Black Wolf" by Dave Gross (Wizards of the Coast). The novel details the trials of Talbot Uskevren, a young Sembian noble with a dark secret.

During a hunting trip, Talbot and his party were pursued by a group of werewolves. Tal escaped, but not unscathed. Now, his body heeds the call of the moon, and he must lock himself in a cage to keep from harming anyone. Things get worse when Rusk, leader of the werewolf pack, arrives in Sembia. He's convinced that Tal is the legendary Black Wolf, and intends to control him.

Rusk forms a shaky alliance with the chief rival of the Uskevrens, an odd pair of brothers from the Malveen family - Stannis, a vampire, and Radu, a seemingly unbeatable warrior. Caught between the monster growing inside him, the pack, the Malveens and his own father's wrath at his irresponsibility, Tal turns to a mysterious cleric of Selune and his old friend Chaney to help him control the beast.

I'm a sucker for a good wolf story - even if it is of the "were" kind - and "Black Wolf" certainly fits the bill. As you'd expect from a Forgotten Realms novel, it's fast-paced with plenty of action and adventure.

But there's also a deeper bit of character development, especially with the young servant Darrow - who gets shuffled between Radu, Stannis and Rusk. Despite the fact that Tal's story is fascinating, it's really Darrow that steals the show, winning the sympathy and goodwill of the reader.

Gross also has a deft hand with combat scenes, both human and wolf. His touch and attention to detail remind me a great deal of R.A. Salvatore, the master of the fight scene.

"Black Wolf" is an entertaining novel that can be enjoyed by anyone. There are a few sprinkled references to characters, places and events that longtime Forgotten Realms readers will enjoy, but as intended, no prior knowledge is needed.

The book also marks another step in the right direction for Wizards of the Coast, which has big things happening in most of the worlds of Dungeons and Dragons. In Forgotten Realms, there's the "Sembia" series and an upcoming series on the drow that looks very promising. In the classic Greyhawk setting, there's a series of novels based on classic gaming modules. And the luminaries of the Dragonlance world, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, are shaking things up on Krynn.

No comments: