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Book Review: The Howling Delve by Jaleigh Johnson

Genre: Fantasy, Shared World, Forgotten Realms
Pub. Date: July 2007
Series: The Dungeons Series
Format: Mass Market Paperback, 311pp
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast

In The Howling Delve, a part of the Forgotten Realms Dungeon�s series, Jaleigh Johnson�s story has, unlike Erik Scott De Bie�s Depths of Madness, did not rely entirely on the dungeon as the setting. Set in Amn in the Year of Lightning Storms, The Howling Delve�s plot revolves around two protagonists. The first is a nobleman�s son who seeks revenge for the overthrow of his family. The other is a fire elementalist who once lived on the streets of Amn, who seeks something unknown even to her.

Although this is Johnson�s first foray into novel writing, she has experience writing short stories as well. One of her stories can be found in the recently published Sails and Sorcery: Nautical Tales of Fantasy published by Fantasist Enterprises. One of her short stories also appeared in Realms of the Dragons II from Wizards of the Coast.

Johnson�s first novel effort has, in this reviewer�s opinion, been a success. Although initially the book had a difficult beginning it finally ended strongly with a well written chase through the tunnels of the Howling Delve. The tortured beginning comes from the choice Johnson made in skipping around in time for the first seven or so chapters. The reader does not actually reach the Year of Lightning Storms (1374 DR) until about the eighth chapter. This is in part because of the decision of Johnson to have two protagonists whose interwoven stories needed separate back stories and histories. While the writing is excellent, this reviewer found himself wondering when the meat of the story was to be reached. When it came, it was worth the wait.

The interwoven plot of the two heroes parallels and describes the other. Although Johnson does resort to making that obvious, even to the point of having a character directly state it rather than allowing the reader to get the subtlety on his own, the plot is weaved interestingly enough to hold the reader�s attention. The plot follows a logical pattern filled with interesting characters and some surprising twists.

Rather than delve too deeply into the psyches of the characters, Johnson has given them simple motivations and then allowed the characters to react using situational ethics. The lack of character depth is not a detraction but rather an attraction to the story. The Howling Delve is truly a sword and sorcery style fantasy. The protagonists are not particularly deep, but their motivations are pure, and they are, ultimately, good.

Of the two Forgotten Realms: Dungeons books currently for sale, this is the best of them. Johnson has created characters using some of the lesser explored areas of the Forgotten Realms setting (i.e. elementalists, a priest of Dumathoin, and the Shadow Thieves) and given them appeal. This reviewer hopes to see some the stories of the characters from The Howling Delve continued in follow up novels.

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