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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Review: The Guardians of the Flame

I first read about The Guardians of the Flame series in Dragon Magazine. That's because the premise of the series is that of a bunch of D&D players (I'm using D&D in the generic sense) who were transported into the world by their DM, ostensibly to find a gate back into our world so that their DM (who's certain that he'd be a powerful wizard in that world) could translate himself back.

When I saw that Baen had put up almost the entire series in E-book format for $5 each, I told my brother about the series, and it didn't take long before we had them in our hot little Kindles. Each volume is actually a collection of 2-3 novels in the series (the series started in the 1980s, back when a fantasy novel could be 200-300 pages without being seen as being too embarrassingly thin on the shelf).

The first novel dealt with the plight of D&D players who'd been translated into their player characters. They very quickly realize that these faux dark-ages worlds aren't all that fun to be in, and proceed quickly on their quest. The characters have quite a bit of tension between them, and not everybody co-operates (at least, at the beginning). As with almost every PC party that's ever existed, they get into trouble at nearly every town they visit, and have to run for their lives.

The first novel is quite good, and the ending of it, unsurprising enough, sets up the rest of the series, pitting our heroes against the slave-trade culture of the world they're in. The second novel deals with the idea that if you have a bunch of modern college students, including an engineer, in a faux middle-ages world, you can actually do a great job building a kingdom --- if enough of you know enough to make gunpowder, for instance, you could have a pretty good racket going. The implications aren't fully explored, however, in favor of more action adventure for the protagonist of the story, Karl, who's an impulsive Barbarian-type character.

The last novel of the first volume covers Karl becoming an emperor, after an former enemy's son tries to assassinate him. This is a typical sword and sorcery novel, with guns to complicate matters, but nothing that interesting. It's unfortunate that the characters show very development at all. All in all, decent enough entertainment, and worth $5, but fails to live up to the promise of what could be a very interesting premise.

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