Thursday, October 8, 2009

Review: Kothar and the Demon Queen

Apologies for the delayed review of the third in the Kothar series, and further apologies for not seemingly being able to find an image out there of the cover of my printing of KDQ. There are a couple of other covers out there, not sure if these are later or earlier editions of the book, but their covers are different. As soon as I can get a decent scan of my cover, I'll be sure to amend this post.

In case you missed them the first time around, here's my posts on Kothar, Barbarian Swordsman, as well as Kothar of the Magic Sword. Also, my original post on Revisiting the Kothar Series.

Kothar and the Demon Queen is the first story in the Kothar series that is one full, continuous storyline. KBS was really three short stories, and KMS was really two stories with a thin plot point linking them together. KDQ just has one plot, and dare I say it, but I actually think it's a tad...complicated for this sort of novel.

The arch-wizard Mindos Omthol has lived many times the lifetime of a normal man, but even his incredibly powerful sorceries haven't kept him from the ravages of age. Ancient and decrepit, Mindos Omthol has finally acquired (what he thinks to be) a scroll detailing a spell that can make him young again. However, Omthol needs the aid of a "god" named Xixthur to assist him in the spell. Unfortunately, Xixthur is held captive by the Demon Queen Candara, who rules the city of Kor, and Omthol's demon advisor Abathon cannot steal the god from Candara, nor can even Omthol, with all his powerful spells. However, Abathon talks Omthol into getting the patron demon of rival city Urgal, one Azthamur, to steal Xixthur, because Azthamur is an old demon and may use Xixthur's regenerative powers to grow young again itself. From there, Omthol would need a man of great strength and skill (and incredible luck) to steal Xixthur from Azthamur and present it to Omthol. Spying out over the expanses of the Haunted Lands with his clairvoyant conjurings, Omthol and Abathon see Kothar, wandering in the direction of Kor. Could they find a better pidgeon? I think not.

Now, that isn't complicated enough for you, right?

Good, because it gets weirder. Omthol won't get Kothar to do the work for him. Instead, once Azthamur steals Xixthur from Candara, Candara herself finds Kothar hanging out in some Kor dive bar, hires him, promises him...well, you know what...and sends him off to Urgal to steal back Xixthur from Azthamur and the ruler of Urgal, one Tor Domnus. Turns out Candara is centuries old, and uses the powers of Xixthur to keep herself young, just as Tor Domnus wishes for himself. Seems like everyone wants this "god" as their very own personal fountain of youth. Candara, of course, doesn't realize that she's the unwitting pawn of Omthol, and when Kothar finally steals Xixthur and brings it to her, he brings along with him Azthamur, Tor Domnus, and the whole of the Urgal-ite army on his heels, and to the walls of Kor. This, of course, means that Candara needs to ally herself with a powerful wizard to fight against Azthamur...namely that crazy-powerful hermit living a ways off, one Mindos Omthol.

Confused yet?

In all fairness, as much as I'm poking fun of the plot, it's not all that bad. The book is actually pretty entertaining; there's plenty of demon fighting and trickery and magic and sword-play, feasting and drinking and wenching and daring escapes and avenging warriors from beyond the grave. The ending of the book is also very cool, in that it shows how even a non-magic using character like Kothar, who really knows next to nothing of the intricacies of demonic pacts or sorcery, can still out-think his way through a tough situation where even his powerful sword Frostfire can't gain him victory. Kothar might be have simple desires, but he's not a simpleton.

And, one more interseting footnote. The "god", Xixthur, is really no god at all (and this isn't really a spoiler, as Xixthur is really just a MacGuffin for the whole story); it is, actually, an artefact of ancient science, whose rays regenerate the flesh of any living thing that bathes in their radience. As mentioned in the beginning of the first Kothar book, the stories of Kothar and the world of Yarth are set not in some vague fantasy-land that has no connection to our own world. Rather, Kothar's world and his time is that of the unthinkably far future, billions of years from now, when the universe has expanded to its utmost and now begins to contract back in on itself, and mankind long, long eons ago migrated out to the stars and has since, at least on Yarth, lost almost all knowledge of these past ages.

I know this is little better than "long ago, in a galaxy far away" and all that, but I do think it is an important distinction to make, and one that fits with a lot of sword & sorcery settings; this idea that while the story happened some time in the far distant past, or some time in the far distant did or will happen in "this reality", so to speak, and not on some generic fantasy world that has no connection to reality. For those of you thinking about the Iconic Elements from yesterday's column, this idea might be something you incorporate as one of your campaign's Elements.

I'll probably take a hiatus from reading Kothar until November. Right now, I'm leaning more towards horror fiction, as befits the approaching holiday, and will have to have some postings about that in the not-too-distant future.

And just a reminder: if you're interested, check out the Halloween One-Shot Adventure Contest! There's a graphic link on the upper left hand side of the blog page.

1 comment:

Matthew James Stanham said...

Good stuff; sounds like an entertaining read!