War in Tethyr

Author: Victor Milán
Published: October 1995

It’s not often that we see newcomers join the Forgotten Realms’ usual stable of authors. Victor Milán was an odd choice for TSR, a long-time writer of science fiction and fantasy who often churned out three or four books a year. He’s best known for his cyberpunk novels in the 1980s and his work with George R.R. Martin on the Wild Cards shared universe of superhero fiction, but he wasn’t averse to turning out the occasional licensed novel for properties like BattleTech, Star Trek, or Dungeons & Dragons. So is it good or bad that this was the only novel he wrote for TSR? Let’s dive in and find out. The last few novels have been serious slogs, so I’m really hoping for a breath of fresh air here.

We’ve heard about Tethyr before in previous novels like Spellfire and Elfsong, but outside of Elaine Cunningham’s short story in Realms of Valor, this is the first book in which we see it up close. It’s as much of a shithole as those previous mentions would suggest: recovering from a recent revolution, in political and economic free-fall, its people preyed upon by bandits and would-be strong men. Should give us plenty of interesting material for a novel, right?

Well… “interesting,” yes. That’s the key word here.

Plot

Zaranda Star is many things: a middle-aged army veteran, a Tethyrian countess, and an energetic entrepreneur. She’s converted her county from feudalism to the free market and makes a living running trade caravans through Tethyr’s dangerous roads. But one day a caravan trip to Zazesspur, the capital city of the old Tethyrian government, goes terribly wrong thanks to the machinations of a scheming, evil baron…

I appreciate stories that don’t hesitate to begin in medias res and throw you in the deep end right away. An unconfident writer will hold your hand and walk you carefully through the book, showing you the protagonist’s origin story and how the setting got to be the way it is. A more experienced writer knows that’s usually boring, so they’ll drop you into something interesting right away and use conversations, environmental storytelling, and little narrative asides to flesh out the details you need to know. Here we meet Zaranda in the middle of her story, already entrenched in the setting and surrounded by allies, and we learn about the setting as she travels through it. It feels like a promising beginning.

But the further one reads, the more the plot becomes an odd combination of obvious and mystifying. On the one hand, there’s a lot of clumsy, graceless foreshadowing that spoils what’s going to happen later on:

“I’m fine.” He waved a hand at her. “It’s just — these pains in my chest and left arm. They soon shall pass, martyred Ilmater willing.”

Guess what happens to this guy? I’ll give you three guesses, but if one of them doesn’t involve heart failure you should probably take a basic first aid course.

Shield stopped and stood with legs wide, seeming braced, gazing at the city. Then he nodded. “My destiny awaits there,” he announced. “I shall die in that city. Torm has told me this.”

Guess what happens to this guy? (Spoiler: He dies there.) And then there’s Zaranda’s old friend Farlorn, whom we’re told early on is behaving strangely:

And still… and still, something about him troubled her.

I wonder what could be troubling her? Could it be that the author is obviously setting him up to be a traitor?

Yet while the foreshadowing is as subtle as a brick, the story is murky and meandering. Until halfway through the book, I had no idea what the central conflict was supposed to be. The party ends up stranded in Zazesspur for a long time due to some bureaucratic shenanigans, and… does very little. They meet some people, see some scenes of unrest, and just sort of mill around. There’s some setting work and a bunch of hazy foreshadowing about something supernatural that’s making people act like dicks, but none of it directly involves the characters until Zaranda finally meets the big bad guy and it becomes clear that her opposing him is going to be the main conflict of the novel. Half a book is a long damn time to wait for a plot to build momentum.

But before we can dig deeper into the plot, we have to talk about the…

Themes

Let’s see if we can discern a theme here. We’ve got a hero who’s a benevolent capitalist entrepreneur beset by parasites and wicked tax collectors. The government is useless at best and actively harmful at worst. Anyone who talks about any sort of wealth redistribution is an idle loafer; good people pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. The bad guys, who control the government, want to crush people’s freedoms and restrict how they think.

What’s that, Wikipedia? You say that Victor Milán was a libertarian? What a shocking turn of events!

The whole book reads like a tract about libertarian politics, right from the very first scene where a bunch of bumbling halflings declare themselves an “autonomous collective,” claim that “the road belongs to the people!”, and then try to extort tolls from passing travellers. Everything revolves around defeating a villain who’s trying to increase the government’s power to satisfy his own ambition, interfering with honest tradespeople in the process. There are some socialists in Zazesspur, and their depiction is about as nuanced as you’d expect:

Hedgeblossom addressed his spiels to the laborer, but it mainly seemed idlers who were drawn by his promises of free wealth. Perhaps, Zaranda thought, the real workers of Zazesspur realize who’d have to pay for Toby’s schemes.

This book has a very cynical outlook on humanity. Rich people are mostly parasites who use their station to enrich themselves by preying on small businesspeople. Poor people are always either lazy, like the aforementioned socialists, or craven, like the peasants of Tweyar — whenever they get a taste of power, they inevitably abuse it. Principled, moderate self-starters like Zaranda have to teach them how to behave. The middle class are the real heroes of this book.

Eventually we discover that the villains’ ultimate plan is to control the government and use it to extinguish all culture, crush all dissent, take everyone’s guns swords away, enlist the entire city into a cult to exterminate all rational thought, and remake the country in their own self-glorifying image. The scene where this is revealed was the point at which I completely checked out. War in Tethyr starts off as a potentially interesting story, but devolves into a polemic where the author uses this mass-market paperback fantasy novel as a soapbox for espousing his political convictions. It gradually ceases to be a story and becomes a fable instead — a paranoid fable about an evil government versus the virtuous free market. As a reader, once you lose faith that the author wants to tell you a good story with well-made characters, there’s no recovering from that.

It’s not that this is a fundamentally unworkable plot, mind you. There’s potentially compelling drama in a story where a corrupt government tries to curtail its people’s freedoms, and many authors have successfully mined that vein before. But you have to employ some degree of subtlety and nuance in the characterization, not just heroes versus straw men, and you have to prioritize telling a good story over getting your point across. If you tell a good story, some of your readers will get the point; if you beat them over the head with the message, they’ll all get the point but most of them will hate you for it afterwards.

Anyhow, where were we?

Oh right, the plot

There’s a glaringly tone-deaf bit where Zaranda meets a sect of very thinly disguised Hare Krishnas handing out flowers and talking about peace and love. Naturally they’re evil, a bunch of privileged rich kids led astray by a sinister cult leader. Remember, this was in 1995. By the 1990s, slagging off hippies was so culturally dated that it’s hard to fathom why the author thought such a clunky real-world parallel would fly with a younger audience. What’s next? Perhaps he’ll disapprove of a bunch of dissolute flapper girls, or the penny-farthing bicycle?

Eventually the heroes escape the villains, flee Zazesspur, and start forging an army out of the common people by teaching them how to defend themselves from bandits and tax collectors, who are virtually indistinguishable. Zaranda then parlays this movement into a profitable corporation which offers protection and self-defense lessons to settlements, because everything must tie back into free enterprise somehow.

She was herself an employee now, having quit as leader in a dispute last fall over what direction the company should take. To get her back, the others had been compelled to offer a contract making explicit her powers and duties as chief executive.

I swear I’m not making this up. This is now a fantasy novel about the heroic CEO of a corporation making the country safe for the middle class. And the author just can’t stop harping on it:

Cutting Ernest Gallowglass’ tolls for the Ithal Bridge and river passage would serve the economy of Tethyr like a healing spell cast on a wounded warrior.

Jesus Christ, man, shut up already. I get it — free market capitalism good, everything else evil. By this point I’m actively hostile to the book’s message because the author keeps hammering it in like he’s trying to hammer a tent peg into my forehead. It’s not about crafting a believable setting or creating conflicts between well-developed characters; it’s about demonstrating the superiority of his political and economic opinions, and everything else is secondary.

Zaranda’s opponents, unable to match her military or economic prowess, capture her by treachery and have her tortured by sadistic henchmen. This bit ends with a courtroom appearance where she eloquently refutes all of her detractors face-to-face by preaching libertarian philosophy. It comes off as a pastiche of the courtroom scene from The Fountainhead; as with that book’s conclusion, the narrative grinds to a halt so that the author can use the protagonist as a sock puppet for their own voice. (Unlike that book, the speech doesn’t improve Zaranda’s situation any.)

Anyhow, by the end there’s a popular revolution and all the bad people — many of whom are mind-controlled by a Lovecraftian horror, because the author seems to think that nobody in their right mind would disagree with his protagonist — get their comeuppance. Zaranda becomes the Queen of Tethyr, which seems like a paradoxical, possibly even hypocritical, ending for a libertarian hero. There are a couple of subplots that never go anywhere (like, what was the deal with the “Zhentarim kidnapping children and taking them away in ships” business?), but by this point I don’t care and I’m just glad it’s over.

Characters

Zaranda Star is a much better character at the beginning of the book than at the end. At the outset, she’s a little bit Mary Sue-ish: self-assured, never taken aback, successful at everything she sets herself to. But it’s counterbalanced by some scenes where we see inside her head and get acquainted with her well-hidden loneliness and self-doubt, giving her more depth than the usual “great at everything” protagonist. Her serious financial difficulties form a good motivation to get her on the road and pointed towards the plot. But the more author uses her as a mouthpiece, the less she feels like a real character with real problems and the more she seems like an author stand-in. She displays a strong, distinctive personality throughout, but it doesn’t do any good when my belief in her as a character is being steadily eroded.

I wonder how much this novel, and Zaranda’s character in particular, stepped on Ed Greenwood’s toes? Greenwood clearly had plans for the Tethyrian Reclamation, having set up Elminster’s scribe Lhaeo as the last prince of the royal house of Tethyr all the way back in 1988. Then this book comes along and declares its new character the queen of a reunited Tethyr, so there’s no need for Lhaeo any more. The Lands of Intrigue boxed set for D&D, published in 1997, had the unenviable job of welding those two stories together: Lhaeo ends up having adventures with Zaranda, marrying her, and becoming King Haedrak Rhindaun III.

Stillhawk, Zaranda’s mute ranger bodyguard, worked out better than I expected. As an author, you have a few directions to take a mute character in: you can make an interesting mystery out of what they don’t say, you can just use them as an extra to round out the battle scenes and forget they’re there, or you can give them some special way to communicate which effectively nullifies their disability. I groaned aloud when I saw that Milán had picked the third option, making everyone in the party understand sign language well enough that they had no problems communicating. But it didn’t prove to be as bad as I feared; Stillhawk’s “dialogue” is halting and awkward when rendered in prose because their shared sign language isn’t as expressive as speech.

It’s not that, he signed. My heart is bad about this city, now. There is great evil here.

So he still meets my main criterion for a character with a disability: the disability should mean something and not be just flavour text. (As a counterexample for how to do this spectacularly badly, check out the blind character in R.A. Salvatore’s Sojourn.)

Shield of Innocence, an orog paladin who joins Zaranda’s band, is something we haven’t seen very often so far: a decent depiction of a paladin. He’s dumb as a post and has zero agency, which doesn’t make me wild about him as a character, but he’s also a genuinely good, self-sacrificing person with a deep faith. He’s the focus of plenty of Drizzt-style racism from humans in settled areas; it’s played a little on-the-nose and over-the-top, but not enough so to ruin his character.

Farlorn, the half-elf bard, feels like a waste. It’s clear from the very beginning of the book that he’s going to betray Zaranda, so there’s no tension or surprise, only a long wait until the betrayal inevitably happens. He’s an interesting enigma for most of the book while we still don’t know his motives, but in the big reveal scene it turns out that his motives are “kill all humans!” for dumb reasons, which cheapens his entire subplot. Even a simple “I did it for the money” would have worked better.

Chenowyn, Zaranda’s young ward, is a decent character for most of the book. Her backstory, which isn’t revealed until the very end, made me laugh out loud at the sheer awfulness. But for most of the book she’s a fallible, stubborn, petulant child learning to live in Zaranda’s dangerous adult world, and it works fairly well. She has a mix of good and bad qualities, gets a fair amount of individual screen time instead of just being a “child in distress” archetype to motivate Zaranda, and grows over the course of the story. I just wish the author had done a better job with her role in the conclusion.

This story is such a paper-thin parable about individualism that Ayn Rand herself shows up as a character at one point, delivering another brutal dick-punch to my sense of immersion. The black-haired Zazesspurian wizardess “Nyadnar” shows up a couple of times to deliver assistance and vague foreshadowing and, in the end, allows the heroes to defeat the final boss. She’s so big into individualism and self-reliance that we learn she gave her daughter to an orphanage so that she’d grow up to be tougher. Seriously?

The villains are so unsubtle and weakly characterized that they literally eat babies. That’s not even a joke. Baron Hardisty (called “Baron Hardly” in the back-cover blurb in a hilarious cock-up on the publisher’s part) is your standard ambitious politician who schemes to become king. He’s cruel and imperious, but successfully hides how evil he is from the credulous peasantry. The cult leader Armenides is clearly a bad guy from the get-go, but at least there’s a little mystery around his plans until he turns out to be an actual demon at the end. Neither they nor their henchmen are particularly interesting; they’re obviously evil from the very beginning, lack any shred of basic humanity, and don’t get much characterization outside of “I like to do bad things.”

Writing

I always enjoy when a book goes all-out to give me something interesting to write about in this section — not “good,” mind you, but “interesting.” The author is clearly a competent writer, but he’s aiming for a style that just doesn’t work for a Forgotten Realms novel and isn’t executed well enough to achieve the effect he’s going for. Still, watching someone’s ambition outstrip their abilities is never boring, and I’ll always prefer a failed effort to do something different to something blandly safe.

Let’s start with the vocabulary. Characters mostly chat and banter in a normal, modern-sounding tone, but occasionally pepper their speeches with ancient words like “hight,” “misdoubt,” and “whither” as if they’d just joined this production from a stint as a minor side character in Le Morte d’Arthur. Even the narration gets in on the act, dropping words like “withal,” “bedizened,” and “caracole” in the middle of otherwise modern-sounding sentences. While I appreciate seeing an extensive vocabulary used correctly, this dichotomy gives the writing an oddly schizoid tone. You need to pick a period in English writing and stick with it; otherwise, dusting archaisms over a modern narrative is like sprinkling minced garlic onto a chocolate cake.

Milán also seems to never use five words where fifteen will do. The narration is barnacled and overwrought — not quite as terrible as Brian Thomsen’s garbled parody of Jules Verne’s prose, but full of unnecessary details and long-winded descriptions. Take this, for instance:

The tallest of the sell-swords, whose black hair hung in tight perfumed curls to his shoulders and who wore tights that were vertically striped red, blue, and yellow on one leg, and purple with yellow stars on the other, elevated a long and lordly nose.

These three random minor characters get several paragraphs of careful description when they show up, describing everything from their coiffures and facial features to the hilts of their knives and the weight of their swords. They talk with the protagonists for a couple of minutes, then leave and are never seen again. Vivid? Sure, I suppose. Worth the effort? Definitely not. Why spend all that work to describe something unimportant when you could leave it up to the readers’ imaginations? If he’d just tell the reader that they’re dressed like fops in gaudy, colourful outfits, the reader would form their own picture of how silly their clothing looks without any further effort on his part. This book would have been much easier to read if he would have saved the details for the things that are actually going to pay off later.

And then there are some hilariously bad metaphors:

The blade slid inside him like a serpent’s tongue, and out his back.

Apparently there’s a lot I never knew about serpents.

And yet, for all that the writing isn’t great, it feels bad in a lively and ambitious way, as if the author is having fun and trying to show off. Its sins are often the result of trying to cram in too much detail and decoration and trying to be too clever, which are lesser sins than mere clumsiness. The command of language is certainly much better than the pseudo-Shakespearean theatrics that Niles or Salvatore have sometimes indulged in. So for all of the writing’s many faults, I find that I don’t hate it…

At the table’s left end the crier stood forward. He wore a tabard sporting the traditional device of lion, gules, rampant on field of gold. No one knew why this was traditional, inasmuch as Zazesspur’s emblem was a blue cockatrice on a light-green field. No one knew where that came from, either, cockatrices being exceedingly rare in Tethyr, ever since the monarchy’s collapse. Some savants theorized that was the reason for the symbol’s adoption, that the appearance of such a rarity as a cockatrice in Zazesspur might have been deemed worthy of commemoration. Actually, nobody cared anymore.

Okay, maybe I do hate it some.

Conclusion

Grade: D+

I don’t think my opinion about a novel has ever fluctuated so much while reading it before. I started off thinking “Hey, this is competently written and the characters are lively. This is feeling very B-ish!” Then the writing started to get on my nerves. Then the plot meandered around and didn’t go anywhere. Then the characters became mouthpieces for the author’s pet cause. At that point I was thinking “Well, at least it’s bad in a different way than usual. Should I give it extra points for originality?” But it kept getting worse and worse as it went on. By the time the villains were eating babies and Ayn Rand showed up to save the day, I was ready to admit that it was just bad — frustratingly, soul-deadeningly bad. There was a good book in this concept but it needed a different author to write it, someone who was willing to tell a story instead of grinding his personal axes. It’s a good thing that Milán never wrote anything else for TSR, because I don’t relish the idea of going through something like this again.

Oof. Three D-grade books in a row is tough on the soul.

16 Replies to “War in Tethyr

  1. *barf*

    I hate it when works of fiction beat the audience over the head with a political message, and I say that as a political buff. When I want overt political messages, I’ll go read non-fiction books, news sources, social media, etc. I’m all for deeper themes and messages in your work, but good authors do it subtly so it’s there if you notice it, but not key to the plot. Hence the famous quip about Atlas Shrugged that the driving question wasn’t “who is John Galt?” but “when will John Galt shut up?”

    It’s one thing when the message is arguably non-partisan, such as with Harper Lee’s denouncing racism in Too Kill A Mockingbird or when George Orwell condemned totalitarianism in 1984 and Animal Farm (which showed that both socialists and conservatives were capable of authoritarian tyranny), but more partisan ones are just insufferable. I complained about R.A. Salvatore doing it in Siege Of Darkness, but at least he did it in small doses. Full-blown examples, whether they be for left- or are right-wing politics, become unreadable for me.

    You’re a champ for suffering through these novels for us, especially when they have as much excess description as this one.

    1. I think the reason why I find most Objectivist and libertarian fiction unreadable isn’t only the preachiness, but also the protagonists, who are often so utterly unlikable and unsympathetic that they seem like straight-up sociopaths. Take Howard Roark from The Fountainhead, for instance, who’s such a self-absorbed dick that he dynamites a tower block of low-income housing because it doesn’t fit his artistic vision. Now hundreds of people won’t get homes, but at least this one asshole gets to prove his point. Or Richard from Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series, who… well, there are a lot of problems there, but he’s the kind of guy who will gruesomely slaughter a crowd of unarmed pacifist protestors while the author tries to make it out like he’s the good guy and the pacifists deserve to be killed for being in his way. Pretty much the only counterexamples I can think of are a couple of Robert Heinlein’s protagonists, such as Mannie from The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

      Where does Zaranda Star fit on this spectrum? Somewhere in the middle, I think. She’s basically a good person in her interactions with people: adopting and raising orphans, defending the defenseless, that sort of small-scale hero stuff. It’s the large-scale interactions where she feels less like a real character: giving speeches about politics, establishing corporations, speaking truth to power. All that stuff feels clumsy, like the author is putting on a puppet show and making her mouth flap while he talks, which doesn’t much endear her to me. But at least she doesn’t use her philosophy as an excuse to cause harm to others, which is more than many protagonists from such novels can claim.

      1. The Iron Man movies, and the MCU in general, have quite awful politics. Tony Stark has this pretty baller but horrific quote in the first movie that goes, “I have privatized world peace!” It’s deeply anti-democratic. I’d argue that a lot of zombie stories are also just excuses for plucky protagonists to mow down human beings, and get away with it. “It’s okay because they’re monsters” is pretty much exactly what a lot of real-life racists said about other people. In fact, D&D has this problem regarding “evil races,” too, which I think you’ve talked about a bit in some of your reviews of the Drizzt novels. This sort of elision of the moral worth of other entities in the pursuit of creating fun murder sequences is everywhere. Rand and her devotees are simply less subtle, possibly more honest, about it.

        1. Yes, given that the message of his films boils down to “private corporations will save the world because the government is too incompetent and can’t be trusted,” Tony Stark is the quintessential libertarian superhero. It’s the myth of the hero inventor, a favourite Randian trope, where a single larger-than-life genius could create amazing things if only they could be unfettered by society. (Never mind that real-life science is an agonizing process of trial and error which takes many thousands of person-hours of work by large teams — lone geniuses make for better stories.) Sometimes he comes off as sympathetic, but sometimes (as in Iron Man 2) he’s such a manipulative asshat that it verges on sociopathy.

          The movies never seemed to be able to reconcile the “libertarian hero” elements with the personal drama. They kept asking you to accept that we should put world peace into the hands of an alcoholic, self-destructive jerk — gee, what could possibly go wrong with that? If they removed his flaws he’d be too perfect to be believable, but he’s so flawed that one wouldn’t trust him to run a burger joint, let alone to wield military might on par with entire countries, unfettered AI, sources of power which make nuclear reactors look like microwave ovens, etc. These two themes actively fight each other.

          1. The movies never seemed to be able to reconcile the “libertarian hero” elements with the personal drama. They kept asking you to accept that we should put world peace into the hands of an alcoholic, self-destructive jerk — gee, what could possibly go wrong with that? If they removed his flaws he’d be too perfect to be believable, but he’s so flawed that one wouldn’t trust him to run a burger joint, let alone to wield military might on par with entire countries, unfettered AI, sources of power which make nuclear reactors look like microwave ovens, etc. These two themes actively fight each other.

            What do you think of a character like Conan The Barbarian, who breaks with tradition in leaving Cimmeria and wandering around Hyboria doing pretty much what he wants when he wants? He’d be the first to admit he’s primarily interested in combat and treasure, and while he does a lot of good it comes from rare moments of compassion or to save his own neck. In D&D terms, I’d think he’d be a classic Chaotic Neutral character, although shifting more to Chaotic Good over time. He does the things he does because he’s pursuing his own ambition and drive, usually not because of any larger sense of altruism or justice.

          2. I think the difference is that with Conan there’s no message. The author isn’t making a political point that “People should be more like Conan; the world should work this way.” Instead, it’s just a bunch of stories about a single legendary badass with sociopathic tendencies. He doesn’t make the world a better place by being who he is; he just behaves according to his nature and interesting drama follows.

            Conan is deliberately a “hero” in the original Greek sense of the word: a larger-than-life figure marked by destiny. But the word “hero” as used these days, comic-book superheroes included, involves a moral dimension that’s unique to modern times. We expect a “hero” to be a good person and an exemplar of how people should behave — those who don’t are generally lumped into the category of “anti-hero.”

          3. I’m not sure Conan can be easily dismissed as apolitical. While it doesn’t map directly onto a viewpoint identified as “political” the way that Ayn Rand’s or Terry Goodkind’s libertarianism does, the Conan stories have an unmistakable ideological bent which specifically promotes aspects of Conan’s culture (and, ahem, his lineage, because Robert Howard’s ideology was racial-essentialist in really ugly ways) as an example to be followed.

            Post-Howard interpretations of the character have minimized this aspect of the Hyborean mythos, for obvious reasons. Conan as solitary unique badass in a comprehensively imperfect world is a lot less problematic than Conan as exemplar of the noble cultural path midway between the savagery of fantasy-Africans and the decadence of fantasy-Asians and fantasy-Jews.

      2. The movies never seemed to be able to reconcile the “libertarian hero” elements with the personal drama. They kept asking you to accept that we should put world peace into the hands of an alcoholic, self-destructive jerk — gee, what could possibly go wrong with that? If they removed his flaws he’d be too perfect to be believable, but he’s so flawed that one wouldn’t trust him to run a burger joint, let alone to wield military might on par with entire countries, unfettered AI, sources of power which make nuclear reactors look like microwave ovens, etc. These two themes actively fight each other.

        The comics are all over the map with Tony’s characterization. In the “Armor Wars” saga, his armor designs are stolen and he goes after every armor-wearer using his stolen tech, whether it be supervillains, law enforcement or even the U.S. government creating armor to use in suppressing riots. Tony is very protective of his technology, and determined to get it back-but he has no larger agenda about privatizing world peace or claiming he can take care of everything by himself. Then, 25 real-world years later, he’s part of a secret cabal of powerful heroes trying to neutralize powerful threats and is resorting to using the U.S. Constitution as toilet paper in “World War Hulk” and “Civil War”.

        Note that this latter change also came about from writers delivering their political messages with all the subtlety of a ten-pound sledgehammer, not to mention some of those writers being at cross-purposes with each other. At least in the 1960s, the preaching was against the more explicitly authoritarian Soviet Union.

        Our esteemed host has written about how Ed Greenwood was apparently working out some of his frustrations about the Time of Troubles in some of his Elminster novels. R.A. Salvatore mentioned the same thing in a compilation of his Legend Of Drizzt short stories. He penned a story about Guenhwyvar’s origins for Realms Of Magic featuring a surface elven character who he fully intended to write more material for, only for another author to claim the character and write a series of stories about them instead. Salvatore put it down to a shared universe.

          1. Oh yeah, I remember that now. I won’t go into details to avoid spoilers, but suffice to say that was a dick move on TSR’s part, even if Salvatore made lemonade with the lemons he was handed.

            TSR under Lorraine Williams sounds like it was a really toxic place to work. When they weren’t treating their customers like crap (threatening people with fansites who were effectively providing free advertising) they were giving one of their biggest moneymakers grief. Compare that to WOTC and Hasbro maintaining the Open Game License and letting authors like Salvatore continue writing novels with third-party publishers.

    1. Oh, definitely. I didn’t actively loathe the protagonist, the plot (silly though it may have been) had a lot more going on than just “sad man makes buildings,” and there was way less creepy gender stuff going on. But “writes better than Ayn Rand” is a very, very low bar for an author to clear.

      1. It doesn’t hurt that, for all this book’s warts, I’m assuming Zaranda doesn’t destroy a building that could improve hundreds of peoples’ lives in a hissy fit over changing a few minor details, and then inexplicably get acquitted through a pretentious speech about being part of some genius elite that the rest of us lowly peons couldn’t possibly understand, much less appreciate.

        It’s telling that Objectivist Steve Ditko is primarily known for co-creating Spider-Man (which he later quit over creative differences with Stan Lee) and Doctor Strange while so many of his other characters (like the Question and Hawk & Dove) are mostly only known to hardcore comic fans, particularly when those latter characters often served as Ditko’s sock puppets.

  2. My knowledge of this books strictly comes from Land of Intrigue. And I think LoI makes a good work to turn Tethyr into a viable campaign setting.
    I think it could be noted Millán make some Spanish reconquista references. The pretenders have Arabic names like Yusuf, and the heroes look more like occidental kinghts.

    1. Keep in mind that Lands of Intrigue was written by TSR game designer Steven Schend in 1997, well after War in Tethyr came out, and Victor Milán had nothing to do with it. He was just a work-for-hire novelist, and this novel was his only work for TSR. But yeah, good point — it’s regrettable that the names and illustrations in Lands of Intrigue have some shitty colonialist signifiers.

      Re-reading the section on recent Tethyrian history in Lands of Intrigue makes me wonder if TSR had been considering following up War in Tethyr with a sequel book that would shoehorn Lhaeo into the story, then decided against it. The entire section reads like the outline of a novel that someone wrote up and then didn’t want to let go to waste, with dramatic scene-by-scene descriptions of how Lhaeo came to Tethyr, rescued Zaranda from certain doom, and became the King of Tethyr. It’s entertaining, but it feels very out of place because it’s completely useless material for a role-playing game supplement.

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