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Treachery's Wake by TH Lain

by Treachery's Wake by TH Lain

(Wizards of the Coast, $5.99, 181 pages, paperback; 2003.)

Review by Stuart Jaffe

Ah, the world of media tie-ins. Whether based on movies, TV, computer games, role-playing games or what-have-you, these slim cover scanvolumes obtain little respect. They tend to be shoved into the back reaches of a bookstore's science fiction/fantasy section (which is already shoved into the back reaches of the bookstore), so that patrons must slink in to retrieve the treasures they seek. The big question in my mind, having never read a media tie-in before, is: Is this "bastard son" reputation deserved?

Now, my dear reader, if you are a fan of these works, and more so, if you are a fan of this particular series (it's a Dungeons & Dragons tale), then let me simply state that the book delivers what you seek. Go purchase it and have a good time. For the rest of you, the answer is not so simple.

First off, the story. Treachery's Wake follows the adventures of two half-orcs, a druid, an elf, and a rogue. Employed by the powerful Thieves' Guild, this band seeks a magic staff lost during the wreck of the good ship Treachery. Retrieving the staff is relatively easy (if you call battling a giant crab, countless gnolls and a two-headed brute "easy"). The real trouble begins after the companions collect their fee, when they are framed for murder.

It's not a bad fantasy story, with rich potential for all sorts of fun. And on the surface level of reading, the level of entertainment, I had a blast. The action soars, is deftly handled to make everything clear, and is filled with enough twists to keep the pages turning.

Sadly, that is the only level the novel even attempts to work on.

The characters are flat, given the barest scraps of depth and emotion. It's almost, let me see, as if they were characters off a role-playing character sheet. Perhaps I'm missing something due to Treachery's Wake being in the middle of a series, but I doubt it: were that the case, the fullness of character would still shine through, lacking only the details, with past experiences and relationships hinted at.

Some detail problems also gnawed away at my enjoyment. Much of the action takes place in a city, but I never got an urban sense. I never felt the crowding, the bustle, the richer culture. Instead, I felt like I was watching a Hollywood set waiting for its actors. Also, the powerful staff they sought turned out hardly to be used in the novel -- was a McGuffin, in fact. Maybe it comes back to haunt us in a later episode, but that isn't even suggested.

Really, media tie-ins like this are formula books. They hold all the same pluses and minuses as a Hardy Boys tale, and that point leads us closest to our answer. I love the Hardy Boys books. Yes, I recognize they are not great literature (at times, they're not even good literature!), but they are fine stories for letting loose the imagination. What they lack in craft they make up for in heart -- a major reason for their longevity and their appeal to young readers.

Treachery's Wake follows this well worn path (including the fact that there is, apparently, no author named T.H. Lain but rather a pool of writers who nail out these books every other month). The book promises to immerse you in the gaming world, and in this it succeeds. At times, the adventure reminded me why Dungeons & Dragons lured so many of us to crowd around a kitchen table for hours. But I also felt empty at the end. I kept wondering just how wonderful this book could have been had the "author" not been so constrained by the limitations of a formula.

As I look at my current pile of books waiting to be reviewed, I see at least one more media tie-in, so I'll have the chance to explore this theme further. After all, I cannot judge the entire crop just on this one taste. Still, concerning this particular book, though I see the draw for those just getting started in books, I do not recommend it for seasoned readers.


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