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Reviews of 'Bertrem's Guide to the War of Souls, Volume 1'

Bertrem's Guide to the War of Souls, Volume 1

by Jeff Crook, John Grubber, Mary Herbert, Nancy Varian Berberick
Bertrem's Guides, Volume 2

Reviews of 'Bertrem's Guide to the War of Souls, Volume 1'

Here are the visitor reviews we have of Bertrem's Guide to the War of Souls, Volume 1. For more information about this title, please visit the item detail page.

Reviewer: Cassandra Jacobs

Rating: Stars

I approached this book with some strong reservations. I found the first book in this "Bertrem's Guide" series (Bertrem's Guide to the Age of Mortals) to be extremely boring. While it was well done, it was not an entertaining read.

I was pleasantly surprised with this book though. While it's also subtitled "Everyday life in Ansalon during the War of Souls", the authors successfully follow several common folk and write about their lives as the war affects them. I also have a high level of respect for each of these authors, and they didn't fail to disappoint me with their writing quality.

The first "novellette" was written by Jeff Crook. In his story, he relates the diary/journal of a young elven girl. I started off disliking her, as she was very self centered and petty. She tried to give the impression of seeing the Kagonesti servants as more than animals, but her racism is easy to see. Mind you, she does seem to reflect typical teenager attitude. I guess even the elves aren't immune to growing pains.

Over the course of this girl's journal, you see the development of the war in Qualinesti, including the occupation by the Dark Knights and the subsequent growth of the rebellion and the escape of the elven people. Jeff does an amazing job of showing the growth and learning of the young girl, as well as her fall into negativity and jadedness as she realizes the enemy is really the Dark Knights, and caste and status within their society doesn't matter... the survival of all elves takes precedence. A very moving and well done story. I really enjoyed this one.

John Grubber's story covers several different events/people in the town of Solace. Through the use of journals, observations and stories from the locals, he paints a broad view of life among peasants. One of the most interesting parts of his story are the games that the people play to distract themselves from the pain of the war. Diagrams and rules explain how to lay out and play these games. Very interesting!

Mary Herbert covered Sanction, a location that I've especially enjoyed after reading The Clandestine Circle, also written by Mary. The first part of her writing details the physical properties of the three volcanos ringing the city of Sanction, called the Lords of Doom. Having an interest in geography and geology, I found this information very interesting.

Following the volcano information is a journal penned by one of the guards from inside Sanction as well as a very short excerpt of a conversation and a letter exchange between a Knight and a Sanction woman. The journal was quite long, and detailed the guard's experience as a guard to Lord Hogan Bight. There are several references to Maryu's previous book, including mention of Linsha and her adventure in Sanction (which means reading The Clandestine Circle is a good idea before reading this book). I found the writings very enjoyable as well as moving.

Nancy Berberick's story is similar to Jeff's in that it's the journal of an elven girl, Silvanesti this time. This journal gives a first person account of the wasting sickness that is killing the elven people... her own mother is suffering from this sickness. She also writes about the elven people's view of the return of Silvanoshei as the king of the people. It's obvious that the people want a leader, but they have been so dejected, they have a hard time accepting and trusting him as a king. This journal didn't span a long time period the way the Qualinesti elven girl's journal did, but it was still very well done.

Overall, this book was a good read! I enjoyed it and was not disappointed in the least. Since I was nervous about it, I'm glad it was above my expectations.

Review made October 19th, 2002.

Reviewer: Morten Brattbakk

Rating: Stars

I must admit I was a bit skeptical about Bertrem's Guide to the War of Souls, Volume 1. Its predecessor, Bertrem's Guide to the Age of Mortals, was a collection of essays about things such as food, clothes, education and politics throughout Ansalon. It was a book that tried to be something that appealed to both readers and roleplayers, but ultimately I think it fell between two stools, failing to please either of the two groups. It was rather dry and boring to read, and the information was not well organized, making it hard for roleplayers to use effectively.

With this new Bertrem's Guide, Wizards of the Coast has made a different approach. There is only four sections in this book, and each part is set in one particular area: Qualinesti, Solace/Abanasinia, Sanction and Silvanesti. And these aren 't presentations of those areas, but journals and diaries collected by Bertrem's scribes at the Library of Palanthas. The sections are written by Jeff Crook (Qualinesti), John Grubber (Solace), Mary Herbert (Sanction) and Nancy Varian Berberick (Silvanesti). All of them seem to aspire to two things: To present one or more personalities, so-called slices of life, through the journals, but also to give information about the area on which they focus, historical as well as current events, War of Souls. I will review each section below, paying particular attention to how well the authors have managed the balance between creating interesting personalities and narratives while at the same time presenting major events.

Jeff Crook

Jeff Crook's piece is a journal written by a young female elven poet, Genin Crystáltust. It is set during the Fifth Age, from 2 SC to 39 SC. Genin comes of age during those years, something the author attempts to reflect in the journal. As she matures, she gets more and more involved with the Qualinesti resistance against the Dark Knights and later the dragon Beryl. The imaginary scribe "Brother Jeff Crook" also analyzes some of her poets at the end of the section. Jeff Crook's writing has always had dragonlancy potential, but he also manages to screw things up rather badly a bit too often. This time there is neither the greatness nor the nadir that have made his earlier stories and novels so uneven. The journal is not as well written as his fiction that is in third person. Some potential is also wasted when the part of the elven resistance (one of the most interesting things about the Fifth Age), is treated with less space than I would like. Also, the period up to and including the War of Souls is only a very limited part of the journal, and we only get a few glimpses of Genin's situation during these times, even though this is much more interesting than the pages preceding it. OK to read, but there is something incomplete about this. The story of an adolescent girl, and a peaceful poet at that, joining the Qulinesti resistance would probably have been better as a novella rather than as a collection of journal entries. As it is the story feels a bit incomplete.

John Grubber

The book improves with John Grubber's contribution. At first I was skeptical, this was after all about Solace, not an area that we can call unexplored. It is viewed from a new angle though, and is not focused on the Heroes of the Lance. It starts with a history of Abanasinia, a history that makes much sense. It then goes on with an assortment of journals and recollections from various individuals, a refugee from Beryl's attack upon Haven, a bitter woman who lost her family in a futile fight against the dragon, a girl who lost her mother in very tragic circumstances, and a Solamnic Knight stationed in Solace against his will. There are also some other writings, something about the refugee situation in Solace, and the best essay I have seen yet on the consequences for faith and organized religion of the gods leaving during the Summer of Chaos. There are also rules for board games that exist in Solace at this point in time, but I haven't played them or anything, so I don't have any opinion about them. John Grubber's writing style in the past has either been dead wrong, to very, very good. Here, fortunately, John the academic only barely rears his head, and his talent for writing vividly shows again as he writes interesting narratives. He pays more attention to consistency than he has done earlier (with the possible exception of how much and what kind of damage Haven suffered during the Cataclysm), but still manages to expand the focus beyond what we already know about the Solace region. One of the few criticisms to this piece is that it is too fragmented. The stories and journals are all good, but also rather short and incomplete. Despite some of the different parts weaving into each other (something that would have been more effective if the whole section had been much longer), I want to know more. I want to know more about religion after the Chaos War. I want to know more the story of the little girl and her family. It may be told later, but by then most of us would probably have forgotten all about them. John's part is more satisfying than Jeff Crook's, but still incomplete. It could have used a tighter focus. But still, it shows John's potential, and I hope that he, if he is to write Dragonlance in the future, continues to work with the talents most suitable for Dragonlance the setting, the talents that he shows here and in his Rebels and Tyrants – Tales of the Fifth Age short story.

Mary H. Herbert

As good as John Grubber writes, it shows how much more experienced an author Mary Herbert is. I love her Legacy of Steel (apart from the ending), The Clandestine Circle was almost as good. Herbert writes about Sanction, a place she has visited before in The Clandestine Circle. It starts with the report of a geological survey team gone to investigate the three volcanoes. It is a description of their trip to the three Lords of Doom, and the volcanoes themselves. I had some problems with them working like a modern survey team, and writing like a modern survey team, but she got the details on the volcanoes well. She goes on with a love story, written through letters, between a Knight of Solamnia stationed in Sanction and a local noblewoman, followed by a conversation with a nice twist. Both the "love story" and the "conversation" give insight into groups working to protect Sanction against the Knights of Neraka as well as being about people. But the real gem is a journal written by a local city guard, Cambren Hartbrooke. He is close to Sanction's governor, Hogan Bight, and writes his entries to his late wife. The journal goes all the way from the end of Clandestine Circle, and to (and beyond) Mina's attack on the city in Dragons of a Fallen Sun. It is impeccably researched (both old Sanction sources and War of Souls), and in addition to giving us insight into the troubled mind of Cambren, it also presents Sanction's turbulent history in these years. We get to know about Hogan's problems in containing the volcanoes after magic started failing, and we also get to know why he finally admitted Solamnic Knights to the city. With this journal, Mary H. Herbert balance perfectly between presenting a character, a slice of life, and of presenting major events tied to the War of Souls. Great work!

Nancy Varian Berberick

Nancy Varian Berberick, like Jeff Crook, writes the journal of a female adolescent elf. But Evelyne Stargrace is Silvanesti, and writes her journal because she has to. Her mother is sick, with the wasting sickness that unbeknownst to the elves is the fault of the Silvanesti Shield. Like Jeff Crook, Nancy Berberick didn't quite succeed (not as well as Mary Herbert did, at any rate) with the balance between "slice of life" and describing current events. She delves deeply into the character of Evelyne, and apart from the wasting sickness the events prior to and during the War of Souls becomes mere backdrop rather than (as they were in Mary's part) an integrated part of the story. The narrative doesn't add much new either or fill anything out either, it refers to events we already knew. (Again, this is in contrast to Mary Herbert). Nancy Berberick 's style in this part is, like many other stories, rather poetic. I'm not a very big fan of that style; she doesn't completely pull it off. Yet the narrative feels more complete than Jeff Crook's, and it has a fittingly poignant ending.

Bertrem's Guide to the War of Souls, Volume 1 did, overall, turn out better and more enjoyable than I thought. It is not a book that tries too hard to appeal to both readers and gamers, but a book that attempts to tell stories as well as give background, strictly in the format of texts that exist in-world. This format worked exceedingly well for Mary Herbert, whose gem of a work outshines the rest, but not as well for the other authors for various reasons. Some of it would have worked better as novellas (this goes for Jeff Crook in particular, but maybe also John Grubber), while a tighter focus would have helped some of the other work (John Grubber in particular). The format is not all bad, but it looks like it needs to be in good hands in order to succeed. I think I prefer short story collection over the format presented here, but if I am to compare Bertrem's Guide to the War of Souls, Volume 1 to the anthology The Search For Magic, I must say Bertrem's Guide to the War of Souls, Volume 1 succeeded where The Search For Magic did not: The stories in it are closely tied to the War of Souls. That was what I was hoping for when I read the book, and that was, mostly, what I got. The Search For Magic, on the other hand, had very few stories directly connected to the War of Souls.

Review made Wednesday March 6th, 2002 on the newsgroup.

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