March 03, 2004

Guardians of the Flame

Time to get busy with another book review. Even though these days, most of what I read is non-fiction, I still dabble occasionally in speculative fiction and/or fantasy. When I was younger, of course, I devoured that stuff, and one of the most memorable series was "Guardians of the Flame" by Joel Rosenberg. This series has now reached 10 books, and the first few are being re-released as Omnibus editions.

The initial premise is like something out of a "Mystery Science Theater 3000" bad movie: Some role-playing gamers don't realize that their mysterious game master is about to magically transport them to a fantasy world in which the gamers will inhabit the bodies of the characters they play. And of the group, half of them are female. I'm not sure which part of the premise is more preposterous, but either way, when I first realized this was the premise, I wasn't optimistic. But this is some seriously good mind candy.

After some initial mishaps, the characters decide to make it their mission in this fantasy world to eradicate slavery. The whole series (so far) stretches over a few decades, which is time for characters to die, relationships to change, kids to be had, etc. The characters introduce some modern technology (i.e. gunpowder) to this fantasy world to give their side an edge, and everything they do has an interesting ripple effect. The whole series has "edge" to it, reminiscent at the best of times of Brust's writing in the Vlad Taltos series.

By the time the series got to about the 6th book, it was getting pretty old for me, and it seemed like Rosenberg had run out of good ideas. I kept at it, though, and I have to say that one of the most recent ("Not Quite Scaramouche") was quite good, with a very powerful ending. Maybe it will represent a second wind for the series. If you've never read it, I'd recommend picking up the omnibus of the first three books, which are the highest quality of the whole series. I believe that's just called "Guardians of the Flame" and it consists of "The Sleeping Dragon", "The Sword and the Chain", and "The Silver Crown".

Posted by Observer at March 3, 2004 07:15 AM
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Sold. I'll pick up a copy next time I hit the U bookstore.

"Positively Fifth Street" sucks so far. Not enough poker, too much boring windy pretentious crap.

Posted by: Humbaba on March 3, 2004 09:05 AM

The first few chapters of "Fifth Street" were kinda blah, but it really picks up after that once he gets into the tournament. It would've been a better book (to me) if he had just stuck to the poker, but if he had done that, I probably wouldn't have heard about it via good reviews from critics. I've recently bought a couple more books about gambling/poker that I plan to read soon. We'll see how they stack up.

Posted by: Observer on March 3, 2004 09:20 AM

He violates my three strikes you're out policy.

A) He's pretentious.
B) Too much boring filler.
C) The ultimate sin: He lists urban legends as fact. I've noticed at least three of these, including his stating that the G-string is named after Grafenberg, who named the g-spot. The phrase g-string has been in use since at least the 1875, and Grafenberg is a 20th century doctor.

I enjoyed the condensed version of the book that was in Harpers, but I should have just stuck with that. The poker stuff is good.

Posted by: Humbaba on March 3, 2004 09:55 AM

Poker stuff is good, 'cause it's poker stuff.

I'd hate to imagine a RPing world come to life. Think of the smells!

Posted by: Polerand on March 3, 2004 10:59 AM

Come on... We're talking teenage gamers. The half that don't bathe are probably doing so in an effort to recreate the open-sewer setting from most medieval settings.

Posted by: Seattle Astronomer on March 3, 2004 12:16 PM

Stopped by the U Bookstore tonight, they didn't have either the omnibus nor the first of the series. Ah well.

Posted by: Humbaba on March 3, 2004 09:10 PM

Even with the new release of the Omnibus, shelf space is at a premium. I bet you'd have better luck at a used bookstore finding one, but it might be tough to find all of the first three. Next time you go to Portland, you can find it at Powell's!

Posted by: Observer on March 3, 2004 10:14 PM

You could also check Wonderworld down in Burien if that's an easy drive for you. They're a fairly traditional gamer's dungeon that I recently found that has a whole wall of used and new fiction.

Posted by: Seattle Astronomer on March 4, 2004 11:37 AM

These are some of my favorite books I read them in my early teen years and was recently lucky enough to collect books #1-#7 These are the series I remember from my earlier years if you ever get the chance they are a must read for the fantasy fan at heart.

Posted by: MATT FRYE on December 8, 2005 12:21 PM

Don't bother with anything beyond the first four books. This was a great series that lost its way entirely. The primary fovus of the first four books is on ending slavery, with an interesting side story about a sword and a legendary wizard. Somehow the author completely forgets about both of these facets for the other books. It's like he grew tired of writing about them and decided just to switch to other facets of the world he created without resolving the original story arc.

Posted by: dave jones on March 5, 2006 06:07 PM