Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Quag Keep (1978) - Book Review

Quag Keep by Andre Norton (1978). Fantasy.
DAW. (1979 printing) 192 pages.
Other Reviewers: Grognardia. Curled Up with a Good Book.

Brief Summary: Several real-world gamers become their fantasy-world game characters, possessing only tiny fragments of their fantasy memories, and even less of their real ones. After two of the characters, the swordsman Milo Jagon and the beserker Naile Fangtooth, meet in a dingy tavern, they are soon united with the rest of the party. They find that they are pawns of a mysterious power that is trying to bring the worlds together, with disastrous results. Setting out from the city of Greyhawk, they travel across much of a vaguely described world, with some interesting D&D style encounters, until they reach the Sea of Dust where they confront the mysterious power.

The Good: The first Dungeons and Dragons novel (sort of). The story was very original at the time, with many gaming fiction cliches being created here, not followed. Much of the middle of the book is very good, especially the encounters with Lichis the Golden, the illusionist, another dragon, and aboard a ship on the Sea of Dust. 

The Bad: The framing story/gimmick of having players becoming their characters just doesn't work.  It interferes with what would otherwise be a good quest story.  Secondary party characters are just window dressing at best. 

Overall: I have to acknowledge three personal biases in favor of this book.  1) I'm a huge fan of the late Ms. Norton.  I grew up reading her novels and love her style. 2) I enjoyed this book as a teen, before I, and most other people, even knew what D&D was. 3) Greyhawk is my D&D world of choice; I even have the original poster map up on the wall of my den.

Despite these biases, I can't recommend this book with much enthusiasm.  The gimmick really falls flat, as it always does, and its interpolation into the fantasy world, particularly in the case of the wrist-dice, is more annoying than interesting.  The world is vaguely described in all but a couple of places.  It's clear that the author didn't know to much about the geography and cultures of the world, and really couldn't add too many details as she was playing in someone else's sandbox. There are some very good chapters to the book, not surprising since it Norton, but they aren't enough to save the book from mediocrity.

Availability: This book is available as an e-book from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, for the bargain (ha!) prices of $8.99 and $9.99 (seriously!).  This is far too much for a book that is less than half the size of a modern fantasy novel.  If you do buy it, grab a used copy for a buck or two. Even with $3.99 shipping, you can save money buying a used paperback copy via Amazon. 

Final Grade C-

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