I'd sworn that I'd posted a review of Mark of Nerath, but then I realized that I'd used it as an example of a terrible product in my Business class. When it comes to buying Dungeons & Dragons novels I'm always hesitant unless they're written by Don Bassingthwaite (whose name I can spell without looking), as like Jim Butcher and Aeryn Rudel, he's built up a reputation for quality. I've never read fiction by Bill Slavicsek, and at the time there weren't any reviews up on Amazon, so I figured what the hell, I'll take a gamble.
Thankfully it's been four months since I last read the book, so I can't recall many of the exact details. What I do recall is that the book opens up with a group of stock characters chasing a dragon because its been eating farmers or something. Suffice to say, most of them get killed and the survivors decide to keep at it despite the fact that their party is three and a half men short. But that's not all, the story cuts between an eladrin wizard also trying to avenge his master who was murdered by something that was never revealed, and a lich who made a deal with Orcus that would get him out of the Shadowfell. Oh, and a human chosen one cleric from some village that I guess is of noble blood that I think the lich was trying to kill.
All told, there was over ten characters, and I couldn't tell which--if any--was the main one, as they all got a fairly equal measure of screen time. Because of this, none every saw any real development, but Bill does make it a point to shove character quirks and traits down throat all the time (though to be fair, perhaps between all the characters Bill thought you'd forget who was who).
For example, after the eladrin's mentor is killed, he teams up with a dragonborn and tiefling that are there...because. He takes his master's familiar along, a pseudodragon, who spends all of her time reminding the eladrin just how incompetent he is. She wasn't cute, or funny, just an asshole. It'd be like if you were trying to learn to something, and a friend just kept parroting how bad you were at it instead of offering actual, constructive criticism.
The lich also tours around the world with his right-hand man, a death knight (I think). You'd think that being in the position that he's in, that he must have demonstrated some modicum of skill, right? Well the lich does the same thing that the pseudodragon does: he constantly berates the death knight for being useless. Then when he gets ahold of an iron golem, starts telling the death knight to his face how much better the golem is. Oddly, the death knight does his job and keeps him safe from harm, so...why?
The writing is just bad. I mean, wow. Here's the second sentence: The dwarf palain Cliffside, strong and confident, strode a few paces back, an axe in his strong right hand. That was really all it took for me to know that this was going to be a terrible book, but I kept at it in the vain hope that it would get better. To put it nicely, the dialogue is cheesy, the fare that players at a gaming table use because they know its cheesy. Here's something that the halfling rogue says on page 2: 'Lucky for you I spotted it on the path back there. I do have excellent perception, you know."
Who the hell talks like that?
I cannot recommend this book, even for hardcore D&D fans. The characters are lifeless, the story is fractured, and the dialogue is choppy (to say the least). The only saving grace is that Wayne Reynolds did the cover, which looks pretty awesome. If you're a collector, I guess you could get it, but don't bother trying to read it. I really tried to finish it, getting through about two-thirds of it before I couldn't take it anymore. I'd give this book a 1 out of 10.