The Haunting Duet by James Stills
Review by Jasper de Joode
A tenuous pact between two rival organizations – a guild of powerful and ambitious wizards called the Prismatic Brotherhood and a reclusive dragon-worshipping cult of clerics known as the Order of the Silver Talon – is all that stands in the way of the Gobra’s conquest of Reaping Tides. However, the discovery of a powerful tome trapped within a library full of ancient magic and hidden beneath the Silver Talon’s giant cathedral for one-thousand years threatens to destroy that fragile alliance, weakening the security of the entire region. But will this tome grant its finder, Magdev Thandriss – guild master of the Prismatic Brotherhood – the level of power he so desperately desires, or will it release the greatest enemy Eldrivaos has ever known? Can a charismatic elven bard – too old to still be alive – convince the evil Aztiglomizzia, Terror of the Northern Wood, to once again assist the goodly races of Eldrivaos in defeating this epic Fiend? And will Tekumze, the leader of an unlikely band of rugged misfits calling themselves The Leper Kings, become the key to the world’s salvation? Or will he become the catalyst of its doom?
Reading at the dedication in the front of the book there was a mention of Dungeons and Dragons. So I reckoned that there would be some elements of D&D hidden in the Haunting Duet and, having played the game myself on more than one occasion, I was pretty curious what James Stills had in store for me and how it would be told.
I very much liked the idea of going off in search of a hidden book to grant new powers, and this reflected well in the prologue of The Haunting Duet. Displaying a nice introduction into the world of Storm Giants, as well as introducing Magdev, who is in search of the book of Etaglev. Then there is a follow-up in the second chapter with a 3 year leap, where Magdev is trying something out with summoning. I found these two chapter pretty neat and they really caught my attention. However, from the next chapters on I felt that the story diverged too much and lost some focus. In the Haunting Duet you will meet up with: humans, goblins, orcs, dwarfs, gnomes, dragons, elves and demons. On top of the different races there is also The Prismatic Brotherhood, Orders of the Silver Talon, Leper Kings and the Gobra’s. And for me it all felt a bit too much at certain points,
With the ideas always leaping at you from the pages and this sometimes felt overwhelming and a bit chaotic.
The writing style has a nice pace. From the characters that made a frequent appearance I can not quite put a finger on who was supposed to be the main character. If I would have to make a guess I would go for Pug from the Leper Kings as I found that his character was the most well developed. And with the events ending The Haunting Duet, I think there is more in store for Pug yet. Another character that gave a very adventurous but also D&D feeling was the elf named “The Roach”, who after his sudden appearance became an important part of the storyline. One part that I found a pity was after the introduction of Magdev, he does not make a strong appearance during the middle part of the story. His final appearance, however, proves to be pretty interesting with a probable alliance with a second party.
A great part of The Haunting Duet were the fighting scenes. The story, having indeed some of the D&D themes and styles, could have been directly from single play scenes. The fighting scenes displayed several spells known to me, using well planned actions highlighted with acrobatics and magical weapons. They were rich and pretty lively. But I do think that these fighting scenes turned the story too much in one direction, thereby driving away any attention to the story. I think that the chaos that I sometimes found was driven by a fast integration of a casual scene in between the fighting scenes. For me it was a pity that the fighting overshadowed the overall world of Storm Giants and the emphasis on the storyline.
Another thing that I think could have explained in more than a few sentences is the relationship between The Prismatic Brotherhood and The Order of the Silver Talon. Both parties are seen throughout The Haunting Duet but their founding and their true motives remain elusive. Next to these two the Gobra’s introduction felt short for me. They made a sudden, although pretty interesting appearance.
A lot of the ideas of the Haunting Duet unfortunately made a sudden introduction and left more than something to be desired instead of providing enrichment to the story line. I hope that in the sequels there will be of a more sedated pace, taking time to both highlight the general outlay as well as keeping up the lively fighting scenes.
There is much too like but the book was sometimes overwhelming and rather chaotic.
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