Treachery's Wake by TH Lain
(Wizards of the Coast, $5.99, 181 pages, paperback; 2003.)
Ah, the world of media tie-ins. Whether based on movies, TV, computer
games, role-playing games or what-have-you, these slim
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
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.