Review of Blackstaff Tower
At one of Ed Greenwood’s author signings this year, Steven Schend was signing and giving away copies of his new novel, Blackstaff Tower (releasing today) from the Ed Greenwood Presents Waterdeep series. I’ll confess that I wasn’t familiar with Schend’s work, but I seldom ever turn down a free book, so I very happily accepted his book and resolved to read it as soon as I had finished the book I was reading at the time.
Now, I am a huge fan of the Forgotten Realms, but Waterdeep is not one of the places I have visited often. Everyone knows of the City of Splendors, but my knowledge of the history and lore of the city are pretty slim. And I only had passing familiarity with Khelban Blackstaff or the Blackstaff Tower.
Schend did a great job of involving me in the story. The first chapter was very disconnected from the prologue, so it took me a little while to be fully introduced to the characters and how they all fit into the story. Very quickly, though, I was immersed. The story was engaging; I became invested in the characters and needed to know what happened next. Before I knew it, I was a third of the way through and in danger of staying up all night to finish the book! (I didn’t, but only because I had to work the next morning.)
It’s an epic tale of good versus evil with plenty of intrigue and suspense thrown in for good measure. Without ruining the tale (because I highly recommend reading it for yourself), the story follows the adventures of a noble-born, a spellcaster, a thief, a sellsword and the Blackstaff heir in their quest to prevent the evil mage from taking control of Waterdeep.
There were several things I liked about Schend’s writing style. First, he was able to draw me into the quest very quickly and with only a little effort. I was concerned for the good guys, I despised the bad guys, and I desperately wanted to see the good guys succeed, especially during those times when I was sure they couldn’t possibly overcome of the odds. Second, Schend easily provided me with the information I needed to feel comfortable in Waterdeep; one of the characters was a student of Waterdavian history, who shared information about the city without lecturing so there was never too much unnecessary information to bog down the story.
Best of all, Schend handled the combat sequences beautifully. As I read about the battles, I could imagine sitting around the table, rolling the dice… the successes and near misses were so vivid. I simultaneously felt as if I was watching the battle and participating in the roleplaying.
The one thing I would have changed was the ending. Not to say that the story didn’t end well: all the lose ends were wrapped up and there was a sense of closure. However, it seemed a little rushed; I wanted it to be drawn out a bit. I’m sure this is partly because I was having a great time and didn’t want to see it end. To me, it felt hurried during a time when I wanted to savor the successful end of the quest.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and will definitely read it again. I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys stories of the Realms.