Friday, May 27, 2011

Quick Review -- "The Temple of Yellow Skulls" by Don Bassingthwaite



Bassingthwaite's Eberron books are among the best examples of how to balance good storytelling while making a work of media tie-in fiction reflect its origins. Bassingthwaite had a way of incorporating the tone of the Eberron setting and the mechanics of D&D into the narrative without the game mechanics getting in the way of the mechanics of good storytelling. His Dragon Below series is among the best D&D media tie-in fiction written to date.

I had high hopes for The Temple of Yellow Skulls -- and the Abyssal Plague series of stories -- because Bassingthwaite's involvement in the project. Sadly, the shallow world design of the "Points of Light" setting (and the Nentir Vale in general) were a little too much for Bassingthwaite's talents to overcome. Don wasn't given the same kind of rich background he had available in his earlier work, and he wasn't given the same freedom to create characters within the story, and the book suffers as a consequence. The characters that Bassingthwaite introduced in "Skulls" are well developed and engaging, but the writing on the carryover characters seems a bit pro forma.

Those criticisms stated, Bassingthwaite tells an entertaining tale that has some genuinely enjoyable moments and the "Points of Light" setting -- and the Nentir Vale -- have more depth as a setting after this book than they did before it. I have been impressed with the way that the authors of this new "Points of Light" series of D&D books have begun to fill in the massive gaps in the setting to create a world. Reading these books is like watching world building in action. This book would have been better if the setting itself had either been flushed out, or the author given more freedom in world building, but the book was a fun way to spend an afternoon.
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