What Do I Know About Books? Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves-The Road to Neverwinter
If you are in the United States, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, a live-action D&D movie, is set to arrive in theaters March 31st, 2023. Thank goodness this is the first live-action D&D movie we’ve ever gotten. Yeah, I know. I don’t want to erase one of Jeremy Irons most over-the-top performances (although if you want to see Jeremy Irons turn it up to 11, just watch the HBO Watchmen series–you’ll be happier).
Despite the sheer number of novels that were once produced by TSR and then WotC supporting Dungeons & Dragons, D&D novels have become much rarer. After the initial rush of novels portraying The Sundering, the event that led to the new status quo of the Forgotten Realms as D&D 5e was released, the FR novel line started to dwindle. The number of Forgotten Realms novelists narrowed to Erin Evans, Ed Greenwood, and R.A. Salvatore. Evans’ series ended, Greenwood’s novels came to an end, and then WotC ended their book division.
Eventually, Salvatore’s Drizzt series continued, once WotC set up publishing deals for their books that outsourced the publication of novels related to the franchise. Unlike some of the earlier 5e era novels, which incorporated aspects of adventures that were being published, the Drizzt novels now kind of feel like their own alternate version of the Realms that largely just exists to provide some context for Drizzt’s continued adventures.
With Honor Among Thieves on the horizon, however, we’re getting tie-in novels. These are focused on the characters that appear in the novel, telling the story of how the heroes got to where they are at the beginning of the movie. We’re going to look at the first of these today, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves–The Road to Neverwinter.
I’m just going to point this out. I’m not on the list to get review copies for the Dungeons & Dragons game products, so honestly, I’m really not likely to be getting novels for review. It’s not even usually my thing. This particular review is based on the audiobook version.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves–The Road to Neverwinter
Author: Jaleigh Johnson
Page Count: 288 pages
Narrator (Audiobook): Fred Berman
Runtime (Audiobook): 9 hours and 18 minutes
Towards the end of the 3.5 era, and leading into the 4th edition era of publishing, the Forgotten Realms saw an influx of new authors, many of which turned in some solid, exciting stories to contribute to the settings . . . when the novels weren’t being used to saturation bomb the status quo of the setting to pave the way for the 100+ year time jump to the 4e version of the setting.
Jaleigh Johnson’s previous Forgotten Realms work includes The Howling Delve, Mistshore, Unbroken Chain, Unbroken Chain: The Darker Road, and Spider and Stone. I’ll admit that I wasn’t on board for many of the 4e era novels, but I was a fan of the late 3rd edition era novel The Howling Delve.
What’s Going On?
This is a prequel story that fills in the details of how Edgin, Holga, Forge, and Simon first met and started to work with one another. We’ll have to wait for the movie to see how the party meets up with Xenk and Doric. The novel opens with Edgin transitioning from a rough period in his life, settling down in Targos, one of the largest settlements of Ten Towns in the Icewind Dale region.
If you’ve been following the trailers, you’ve already been introduced to a lot of the plot points that we learn in the first part of the novel. That said, If you’ve intentionally avoided those spoilers, I’m not going to dive into them here.
Okay, the challenge here is going to be to explain, in broad strokes, what happens in the novel, without providing any spoilers. It’s not a secret that heists are the theme of this story. There is a whole anthology of adventures that was just released with a tie to the movie, all themed around heists.
Much of this story involves people at a rough time in their lives, coming together to survive, and learning that they work very well with one another. Eventually, this group has the opportunity to pull off a major score, and not only are there some standard heist complications along the way, but our group of thieves also end up inside a situation with much higher stakes, involving magic and monsters native to the Forgotten Realms setting.
One thing I greatly credit Johnson with is the interaction between the characters. The novel features challenges for our characters, and there are some personality clashes, but the book avoids needless conflict that could have easily emerged, such as not talking about arguments had previously in the book, pointlessly blaming one another for mistakes, or holding ridiculous grudges.
I’ve read too many books where people are just terrible at interacting with one another or resolving conflict, not because it makes sense for their personalities, but because the author felt the protagonists needed to have the additional hurdles introduced from refusing to talk to one another like adults.
One of the trailers makes it pretty clear that the movie will be deriving some of its humor and plot structure from some very D&D-based world-building. The novel does some of this when it establishes some Legendary monster rules as in-world things that have an explanation within the rules of the world. While it does this with a straight face, it also doesn’t feel as heavy-handed as some of the earliest D&D novels, where some of the writers really struggled with how much the rules should be diegetic to the narrative.
While Johnson is a returning Forgotten Realms author, the novel itself really feels like the kind of novel a fan could pick up and read without the shadow of decades of canon hovering over them. You’ll find out what the name of the businesses are in Targos, and you might be pleasantly surprised to see that it all lines up with Rime of the Frost Maiden, for example, but it’s a light touch that makes you feel like the setting has more going on under the surface, but not that you’ve been dropped into a narrative that’s already been unfolding since before you were born.
Another element of the novel that I enjoyed is the relationship the narrative has with famous characters from the setting. The end of the 3.5 era and the beginning of 4e seemed to adopt the idea that there should be no famous NPCs in the setting and proceeds to kill off all kinds of established characters. The D&D 5e era overcorrects for this and brings back a ton of NPCs that were supposed to be dead, and really shouldn’t still be alive 120+ years plus their prime, to appeal to fans that didn’t appreciate the NPC bloodbath. This novel strikes a nice balance of referencing a famous person, having the characters react to that name with a proper amount of gravitas, but using that character to set expectations for a new generation of adventurers, rather than dealing with them directly in the narrative.
I enjoyed this novel. I was happy to burn through it in a day. This novel is exactly the kind of setting tie-in novel that I appreciate. The protagonists aren’t dealing with gods or saving Faerun from a threat that will destroy half the continent. There are stakes, but we’re essentially seeing what a “typical” group of adventurers do in a “typical” adventure in the setting. We don’t get swamped with setting details, but the novel also very obviously takes place in the Forgotten Realms and not just what could be a random fantasy world.
While I’m not a stranger to the setting, it feels like this is a good introduction. There is enough texture to make the setting feel familiar and will create a certain amount of comfort when returning to places that have been introduced and detailed elsewhere.
Some of this may be influenced by the narrator, but the dialogue for the characters all felt very evocative of the actors playing the various characters. I can picture Chris Pine speaking all of Edgin’s lines. I can hear Michelle Rodriguez’s voice when Holga speaks in the novel. I think that will likely do a good job of setting expectations for how these characters appear in the movie.
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