I am an avid reader of literature, especially science fiction or fantasy. I think my love affair with fantasy began with reading Greco-Roman and Norse mythology when I was a kid. My mom tells me that I was the only kid my age that she ever saw reading the dictionary, which I often did looking up these strange and weird gods and goddesses. This love fully blossomed when I became a teenager and started reading J.R.R. Tolkien for the very first time. I started with The Hobbit, continuing on with The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. I loved Tolkien’s world, and all of the wonderful people that inhabited it (yes, even the orcs!).I am also somewhat of a gaming geek, so I naturally gravitate towards roleplaying games, especially fantasy based ones. I never got to play Dungeons and Dragons with anyone, mostly because no one I knew played it (and those who knew about it thought it was satanic). I got my fix, however, by reading novels based in the Forgotten Realms and Eberron settings, both of which are campaign settings in Dungeons and Dragons. I still enjoy reading a good fantasy novel, and during my Winter break from college, I decided to pick one of my novels and read it for the first time. This is my short review of that novel.
I picked Baldur’s Gate by Philip Athans because the novel is based on the best-selling computer RPG of the same name, Baldur’s Gate. Let me just say that the game is fantastic and I really enjoyed it. The plot of the game centers around the fact that Bhaal, the Lord of Murder and the Faerunian god of Death and assassins, was killed during the Time of Troubles (a time when the gods were cast down to the world by the Overgod, Lord Ao, for not doing their jobs), but before he died he foresaw his death and impregnated a number of females with his offspring. His plan was to use these offspring in an attempt to resurrect himself later on. The idea was that when his offspring matured, their dark natures would manifest and they would be driven to kill each other, becoming stronger and stronger until there was only one left (think Highlander). The last one standing would then, presumably, become the resurrected Bhaal. The protagonist of the game (which you make yourself and can be any race or gender) is one of these children of Bhaal.
Ok, now that that is out of the way, I can now start the review. Let me begin by first saying that I read this novel because I was such a fan of the game and its sequels, so I was hoping for a similar experience with the novelization of the game by Philip Athans. I was totally wrong! This was such a let-down, in many ways. The protagonist of the novel, Abdel Adrian, is such a bland, one-dimensional character that had such good potential but is largely wasted in Athans’ hands. Unlike the game (which has the protagonist starting out as a young ward of a mage and scholar named Gorion), Abdel is already a trained mercenary at the beginning of this story, battle hardened and very efficient at killing (he’s the son of the Lord of Murder, so what do you expect?). He is handsome, stands nearly seven feet tall, and wields a big broadsword that he uses to cleave limbs off in regular intervals. Abdel is not dumb, but he’s certainly not the sharpest sword in the armory either.
As a story it is ok, not totally awful, but just bland. The most well developed character, Abdel, is barely two-dimensional, if that. There’s virtually no struggle with his legacy as the son of the dead god of Murder. The rest of characters are barely recognizable from the game, because Athans effectively kills them twice. First, he kills them via character assassination by having them behave almost nothing like their game counterparts. Secondly, he literally kills them in a revolving door fashion. Join Abdel’s party, die a horrible death, next supporting character. My favorite supporting character has to be Xan, an elven mage the party finds in the mines of Nashkel. The elf is snarky and often pessimistic, and he was one of my favorite characters from the game. My joy did not last for long, as he is killed off about halfway through the book (he is decapitated by a large spider). I was literally saying to myself “Oh come on, Jesus” while reading that chapter. Another of the main supporting cast, Jaheira the half-elven warrior druidess, is reduced to an emotional train-wreck of a damsel in distress who acts as Abdel’s love interest in the story. This really did make me gag, as the ‘love story’ added nothing to the plot and felt forced. When the love story of Edward and Bella from Twilight seems more natural than the one you write, you need to stop writing romance plot points, period.
Our heroes run off from one location to another due to maybe one line of explanation given that they might need something in the next area. The book is only about 250 pages, so I would have appreciated some more exposition as to what the heck was going on in-between character deaths. Even the Conan stories have more depth to them, and they are pure hack and slash. What we have here is a sub-par novel that takes place in the same world as a great game, with the same locations and character names, but the characters are only the characters in name only. This novel only rates 2.5 stars out of 5 from me, and that is only if you are familiar with the games.
There are two other novels in this series, but Athans only wrote Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn, while Baldur’s Gate II: Throne of Bhaal was written by Drew Karpyshyn. I have to read them now, because my obsessive-compulsive disorder will not allow me to read just one book in a trilogy. God help me.