Let me premise this by saying two things that are important for this. The first is, the reason I (re)-read this series is because I’m doing a bit of research on some possible “from the sea” type threats for a campaign and adventure series I’ve been working on, and I seemed to remember this series being filled with threats that could be useful (inspiration, not theft, I PROMISE!).
The second thing is, I’m really not a big Forgotten Realms fan. I used to read the novels occasionally, but it was really always more of a curiosity thing than anything else, since everyone’s always talking about Drizzt and Elminster. Both in terms of novels and the setting itself, I feel as though the entire world of Faerun revolves way too much around the really awesomely powerful good guy inevitably winning over the bumbling baffoon-like antics of the “bad guys.” Of course, many novels and movies use this ethos (many of which I like), but my problem with the Forgotten Realms is that there seems to be some sort of God-Shattering NPC in every city in the Realms. How can there ever be a threat to the world, or even to just a small little hamlet, when there is always a level 30+ wizard hanging around to right the wrongs? The novels are full of these situations, and the setting itself is full of NPCs who overshadow the players by being too powerful to be beaten. Of course, this is all technical talk – for those of you who don’t role play, most of that stuff above may not make any sense. Let’s talk about books.
Every now and then, I did read a good ‘Realms book or series. One such is a trilogy from 1999 – 2000 called The Threat From the Sea, by Mel Odom, which I just finished (re)-reading. The series tells the tale of the world beneath the oceans rising up to attack the surface world. It follows the adventures of Jherek Wolf’s-Get, Pacys the bard, and Laqueel the malenti as they try to find their place in the world during this time of crisis. The series takes place between the Forgotten Realms years of 1354, the Year of the Bow and 1369, the Year of the Gauntlet, which, at this point, is over a hundred years prior to the “current timeline” of the series and campaign.
Much like the ‘Realms deity Lathander, who becomes a powerful force in the series, the trilogy is very much about birth and renewal, about letting go of old regrets, and about cherishing new loves and friendships. The Threat From the Sea follows the points of view of three characters who all have roles to play in the upcoming events, but none of whom know what those roles may be.
The main protagonist of the story is Jherek, a young sailor who is running from a haunted past. He was born of one of the bloodiest pirates ever to sail the Sea of Swords, and is branded with his evil father’s emblem on his shoulder, which is all but a death sentence in all the cities of the Sword Coast. Jherek feels he has always been cursed with ill fortune, and indeed, reading through the series and his trials, I tend to agree. By the end, it is obvious that he has been tested, strained, and poured through a sieve by a loving being who only wants the best for him (I may discuss the God/Job relationship some other time, and what I think of a benevolent deity testing people in this way), but it sure takes a long time to realize this. Jherek is a very emotional character, wanting desperately to believe in love, but not willing to believe that it could happen to him. He keeps Sabyna, the mage he obviously loves, at an arms distance (or even further if he can help it), and is unwilling to reveal the secrets of his past to anyone, save the paladin Glawinn.
The villain of the series is Iakhovas, a powerful sorcerer who is uncovered by Laqueel as she searches for “One Who Swam with Sekolah,” and will supposedly be the savior of her people, the sahaguin. He is a deliciously evil and ruthless villain who obviously has his own goals and agenda throughout the series, even though he constantly uses his former relationship with Sekolah as a podium from which to wage his wars on the world. His true nature and true goals are not revealed until very close to the end of the series, in an explosive final battle that unfortunately was much like an explosion – a lot of bang, but quick, which left me looking through the smoke to see what happens next. In fact, if I have one complaint with the series as a whole, it is that it was about fifty pages too short. Had Odom made the final battle a little longer, and had just a bit more happen, with a bit more of an epilogue, I could easily give this series props as a great fantasy series to compete with non-D&D-style books. I left the series with a feeling of wanting to know everything else about these characters, which is always good, but I also left with a feeling that a bit more should have happened to resolve the series properly, which is not really a good thing. I’ll give the series a solid “good” rating, and hope that Odom decides to write a sequel someday.
So did (re)-reading this series help me out with my research for the hopefully-soon oceanic adventures I’m planning? Honestly, not so much. There were some great at-sea moments that were somewhat inspirational for my cause, but I’m probably going to have to look more into the Cthulhu mythos (Shadow at Innsmouth?) to get what I’m really looking for in this. However, I will say that out of reading this, I’ve rediscovered something that Forgotten Realms authors should really check out. This is a story written very well about a real hero. Not the kind that was always born to be a hero, always had the power to be a hero, and simply had to step into his shoes to fulfill his role, but rather about a hero who was forced into situations he didn’t understand (and didn’t deserve!), and made the best of his situations, rising to an occasion to win the day (and win the fair lass, while he’s at it). It reminded me a bit of my favorite fantasy series EVAR, Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, by Tad Williams, in that the hero really was just an ordinary guy, doing ordinary things, and had to prove his worth by the end. (By the way, if you’ve ever read Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, or have never read but would like to know what it’s all about, stay tuned to this blog – I’m about to start a chapter-by-chapter re-read and discussion of the series.)
As an ending note, I would like to mention my favorite character in the stories, Glawinn, a paladin of Lathander, who becomes a father-figure to Jherek. Glawinn is easily one of the most well-written paladins (or paladin-type characters, since many novels have code-driven knights, just not called paladins) to date in a fantasy series (that I’ve read). He has a passion for life and love that is obvious in every single one of his actions, from his courteous speech to his chivalrous actions in battle. He is a deadly warrior, but one whom believes in the good of everyone. He even prays for the soul of a dying pirate he had just slain in one-on-one combat, because he honestly believed it would help the pirate find his way into the afterlife. If all paladins were like this, they’d be a bit more interesting to read about.
So yeah, this turned into a bit more of a review, and a bit less of a tale of how I searched for inspirations for my undersea adventures, but I’m glad I (re)-read the series anyway. If you like novels about heroes who have to struggle to accomplish their goals, and you don’t mind filtering through the ridiculous-to-pronounce names that fall from the pages of all Forgotten Realms books, I suggest reading this series.