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Book Review: The Orb of Xoriat by Edward Bolme

* Genre: Shared World Fiction, Fantasy
* ISBN: 0786938196
* ISBN-13: 9780786938193
* Format: Mass Market Paperback, 310pp
* Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
* Pub. Date: October 2005
* Series: Eberron: War-Torn Series, #2

The Orb of Xoriat is Edward Bolme�s first full length novel in the Eberron shared world. This relatively new Dungeons and Dragons roleplaying world is best described by Bolme himself. �Imagine a fantasy world crossed with interwar Europe, and you�re pretty close. Battles and wars are not driven by lofty ideals like �good vs. evil� but rather by basic concepts like �us vs. them.�� (from his website) As I read The Orb of Xoriat, I couldn�t help feeling like this unique world is something like what late Victorian Europe might have been like if Tolkien�s races had actually existed. Ultimately, the stories contained in Eberron are more about the interplay of nation states and the people who live within them, than about dungeon delving or world saving heroics. Wizards describes the world best at their website. “The world of Eberron is ravaged by centuries of war that have only recently ended. Enemy nations that fought each other to a standstill over countless, bloody battlefields now turn to subtler methods of conflict. The assassin’s dagger replaces the warrior’s sword, and the conspirator’s whisper speaks more loudly than the general’s bellow.”

The Orb of Xoriat, second in the �War-Torn� series, relates the story of the orb, an artifact of immense power that can open a gateway to Xoriat, the Realm of Madness. When the Orb is stolen from its secret hiding place, a human monk and a gnome illusionist are forced to join forces to track down the thief who stole it. But their relationship is anything but friendly, and even should they recover the orb they will still have to battle each other for control of it.

Teron the monk represents the Monastery of Pastoral Solitude, the ancient order of monks once nearly wiped out by the use of the Orb in the Last War, who have been hiding the orb for many years. Praxle is the gnomish illusionist whose University once possessed the orb, and whose morality leaves him no compunction at using any method to retrieve it. Each of these characters has a support character as well. Teron has a strange cat named Flotsam who is unnecessary to the narrative but provides great side stories and humanizes the remote Teron. Jeffers, Praxle�s butler, is a half-orc more cultured than his master. His role is larger than Flotsam�s and he turns out to be quite an interesting character, even without being one of the leads. The juxtaposition of his orc nature and his cultured attitude and behavior provides a few laughs throughout the story. There is, sadly, no real strong female character, although the thief of the story is female. Yet she only provides a look into the opposing side�s ideology for the reader, and is not a truly strong character in her own right.

Bolme�s two great strengths in this novel are his ability to make a mundane event turn into a crucial one without the reader realizing it and his eloquent battle descriptions. For instance, when Teron snubs a girl in a tavern, most readers will think nothing of it. Yet that snub turns into a crucial event later in the story, without which the plot would have gone completely differently.

As to the latter, it is obvious that Bolme has had some martial arts training, and this comes out in his descriptions of the way that Teron fights. His hand and foot strikes are believable actions. Often in stories with monks as main characters, the monks are superhuman, always dodging blades and rarely getting slashed. Bolme has disdained that to create believable fight scenes in which the unarmed monk is hurt by those with swords and knives. It is a pleasant change from the superhuman monk, whose lack of damage against armed foes can get rather tiresome.

The novel has a couple of faults as well. Firstly, when Bolme is using dialogue to describe the back-story for the world of Eberron, the dialogue can get a bit stilted and wooden. It feels contrived. While that back-story is needed, Bolme�s delivery of it draws the reader out of the story rather than in. This is unfortunate as without it, the reader will be unable to understand the context of the world of Eberron.

Secondly, the thief in the story, called The Shadow Fox, simply disappears from the narrative at one point, with no explanation as to the how or why. Since the thief up to that point had been a major part of the narrative, even a character whose mind the reader had entered, it was odd when the character is simply dropped from the story. It is as if the ending was changed by Bolme, and he forgot to write a conclusion to the role of this particular character.

This was still a good introduction into the world of Eberron. I have not yet read any other novels in this world and it was easy for me to dive right in and understand the context of the world with little to no trouble. Additionally, Bolme has a flair for the dramatic. He even wrote in one scene involving a train like structure and a dragonhawk that put me in mind of the final scenes of the first Mission Impossible movie, and it was near the beginning of The Orb of Xoriat, not the end. The narrative only got more exciting from there.

I would recommend The Orb of Xoriat to anyone looking to enter the Eberron world. It is a good story that deals with themes of trust, duty and feelings of inadequacy. Both Teron and Praxle are flawed characters, but it is the decisions they make that make them good or bad, not events or prophecy. Although there is an element of events being arranged to a pattern, the characters still must make their own choices and live with the consequences, as with Teron�s snub of the tavern wench. Bolme is good at making the incidental have consequence, and creates supporting characters that are as much fun to read about as the leads. That�s a rare skill. The Orb of Xoriat is a fun adventure novel filled with action and intrigue. Sword and Sorcery fans will enjoy it, and anyone playing Eberron ought to read it to add to the depth of their gaming experience.

SIDE NOTE:10% of all proceeds from the sale of this book are given by the author to World Vision to support their work in Darfur, greater Sudan, and refugees in Chad. Wizards of the Coast is giving a matching gift as well. So by buying this volume you get a good read and support a worthy cause. That’s a wonderful twofer.

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