The City of Towers

March 20, 2005

The first novel set in the Eberron campaign setting, written by Richard Baker, surprised the crap out of me. It was actually pretty good. While I greatly enjoy the Eberron setting, writing a good setting (or a good sourcebook) is not the same thing as writing a good novel.

The City of Towers follows the tale of a quartet of soldiers, late of the Great War. They’ve come to Sharn in the wake of the Mourning, the cataclysmic event that ruined the country of Cyre and created the wasteland known as the Mournlands. While they journey to Sharn with a joyful purpose ahead of them they quickly find themselves in the middle of an ever deepening mystery.

The novel is replete with interesting characters, a vivid background, and one of the best representations of a roleplaying setting I’ve ever had the chance to read. Despite a somewhat claustrophobic story (once in the city, they never leave Sharn) Baker manages to show us the exoticism and variety of the continent of Khorvaire. The characerizations are competent and the dialogue is capable and comfortable. Neither of these particular pieces of the story are extremly memorable, but the texture of the novel is such that these weak elements are more than made up for by the quality of the setting.

The weak point of the story overall is the way in which Baker weaves together the elements of the mystery. Though I was never confused by the story structure, there were a lot of elements thrown at the reader in a pell-mell fashion. The goal of novels based in a campaign setting is to be inclusive. I read Dragonlance novels long before I ever played in the setting, and one of the reasons I ended up enjoying my gaming experiences on Krynn was the background gleaned from the novels. While I’ve gamed in the Eberron setting before, and thus had no problems following the elements of the novel, I’m not sure that someone who didn’t have such a background would have followed the story as well. This seems like a poor choice on Baker’s part, in general.

Despite these issues, I really enjoyed the novel. It was a great look at the living background of the Eberron setting and was the perfect compliment to my own excursion in an unfamiliar city.

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