Search This Blog

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Iron Helm by Douglas Niles

This was the second Forgotten Realms offering by The Moonshae Trilogy's author, Douglas Niles, published in 1990. And again, the novel details a land that isn't even on the map.  Or maybe it's on some weird extended map. The novel was chiefly  interesting because of a very obvious parallel to the discovery of the Americas by the Spanish Conquistadors. While this transparent comparison was so blatant that the cover featured a Spanish Comb Morion (Spanish infantry helmet) I enjoyed the comparison because I too, as a fantasy writer am interested in the time period because of the Spanish gold rush of the 15th century.  Overall, it was an exciting yarn, with lots of room to expand, (and it did) as the Maztica Trilogy.  Don't expect earth shattering character development, but for a summer read, it's not bad.

Character: Though the characters are leaps and bounds ahead of Moonshae's simplistic Tristan, Robyn, and Daryth love triangle, and the moronic impulses of the God of Murder, Bhaal, the characters are still not terribly sophisticated.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, the plot moves quickly and a number of unseen plot twists make the novel unpredictable (except for that which we know--the Spanish conquer America, and it seems likely that the Amnish mercenary company will do the same thing.
Yes, this is a Spanish Comb Morion
The hero's name is Halloran, a first level mage turned warrior in Captain Cordell's Golden Legion.  He's loyal to Cordell, a man of iron ambition with a drow lover.  However, events transpire to separate Hal from the legion and his loyalties are sorely tested, particularly when he begins to fall for Pocohontas, err, I mean Erixl, the female protagonist.  Erixl's story is rather interesting.  She begins as a girl, gathering magical feathers for her father, a craftsman of the local magic.  By the story's end, she has been a slave, escaped, enslaved, and released to become an unwilling priestess of Coexycoetl.  Possibly the most interesting character is Captain Cordell, the strongest one certainly.  A general of a mercenary legion, but one who inspires great trust and loyalty among his subordinates.  And yet, we're lead to believe he is capable of being quite cold, and then there is the mystery of his elf girlfriend, a sorceress of great power.

Hot elfess, that is completely unrelated
Cliche: The most obvious, and previously discussed cliche, not really a cliche per se, is the obvious parallel to history.  I enjoy such parallels in my own writing, and I feel that as a technique, you can unpack a lot of learning in a fun and novel way.  That said, while it deserves mention, it is by no means a traditional cliche.

Of course, like any Forgotten Realms book it uses enough of the Dungeons & Dragons Cliches.  Although, as this book takes place away from a more traditional fantasy scape, it has far fewer cliches.  Even so, it does have a dwarf and elf, and the dwarf at least conforms to all the usual stereotypes, tough, stalwart, grumpy, gruff, hard bitten warrior-type with a heart of gold.

Completeness:  Well... yes, and no.  This is the first book that touches on the City State of Amn, a place that is near and dear to my heart from my Balder's Gate days.  However, the introduction, again, of a completely new section of the map, seems premature.  I know all of these guys were friends, and that they all sat around the gaming table and talked this stuff over, but the map of the Realms is enormous, why did they feel compelled to write in this story a mere four years from the start of this completely new fantasy realm?

Overall, this was not the worst installment in the Forgotten Realms books.  Surprisingly, or not, the internet has not saturated this story or this book.  There may be only a handful of reviews of this book on the entire internet.  Which seems a shame, because it's not a bad book.  I suppose it's possible that some have found it distasteful because of the historical subject matter, shunning it because of its possible racial and demographic gauchness.  Still, if you're doing a Douglas Niles reread, this book ought to make it to your list.