What Do I Know About Books? Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves-The Druid’s Call
Hey, remember way back when we were talking about D&D novels and how there is a new one being released to tie into the Honor Among Thieves movie that’s coming out? Well, turns out there is more than one. While the Road to Neverwinter explains how Holga, Edgin, Simon, and Forge met, The Druid’s Call is a story that delves into the backstory of Doric, who doesn’t appear to be a member of the crew until the events of the movie transpire.
If you read my First Impression of The Road to Neverwinter, you’ll know that I paid for these books out of my own pocket, due to my own personal curiosity about what would be portrayed in these tie-in novels. No review copies for me this time around. My first impression is going to be based on the audiobook, which is how I consumed this story.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves-The Druid’s Call
Author: E.K. Johnston
Page Count: 304 pages
Narrator (Audiobook): Emily Lawrence
Runtime (Audiobook): 6 hours and 59 minutes
Young Adult Books
In recent years, certain genre tie-in media has been marketed on multiple tracks, especially when it comes to novels. It’s not uncommon for there to be one “adult” novel and one “young adult” novel to promote the same property, usually with distinct stories.
What makes this a little strange is that often the properties that receive this treatment don’t really have “adult” novels that are presenting a significantly different experience than the “young adult” novel. In fact, I’ve definitely seen the “young adult” book be the superior tie-in novel in the past. Lost Stars is still one of the best Star Wars novels to come out in the Disney-era, and ironically, there is a lot more “adult” relationship development in that book than most “adult” Star Wars novels.
I don’t want to get too far into the weeds on how companies market books. I’m just saying that the only significant difference in the kind of genre story between The Road to Neverwinter and The Druid’s Call is that the protagonist of The Road to Neverwinter is an adult man, and The Druid’s Call’s protagonist is a young woman.
The Road to Neverwinter was written by Jaleigh Johnson, who had several Forgotten Realms novels under her belt going into this assignment. The author of this novel, E.K. Johnston, hasn’t written a Forgotten Realms novel before, but she’s been writing a number of Star Wars novels, including Ahsoka, Queen’s Hope, Queen’s Shadow, and Queen’s Peril. I have read Ahsoka, so I was looking forward to Johnston’s take on the Realms.
The Heart of the Story
The main narrative weight of this novel revolves around Doric, a tiefling born to human parents, attempting to find her place in this world. Shunned by her parents, she ends up in a community of wood elves in the Neverwinter Woods. While I don’t want to delve too deeply into spoiler territory, Doric starts off not being and druid, and begins the upcoming D&D movie as a druid, so you may be able to surmise some of what happens in this book.
Like The Road to Neverwinter, while we don’t get a deep dive into the lore of multiple locations in the Forgotten Realms, we also don’t ignore established locations in the setting. The relationship between the people living in the Neverwinter Woods and merchants from Neverwinter is an important aspect of this story. We’re also treated to a change in geothermal stability as the action shifts from the Neverwinter Woods to Ardeep Forest, near Waterdeep.
The Road to Neverwinter was a third party narrative that leaned into Edgin’s point of view, but also told the story of the crew as it gained additional members. The focus of The Druid’s Call is much more personal to Doric. While there is an ongoing conflict that drives Doric and provides some stakes for her home and adopted family, the narrative weight of the novel is much more focused on Doric, both in how she interacts with people she meets, and with her history, as we are provided flashbacks to her childhood.
The trailers that have come out for Honor Among Thieves so far have portrayed Xenk, the paladin character, as the most serious and herocially motivated of the crew, but if this novel is consistent with Doric’s portrayal in the movie, Doric shares some of those traits with Xenk. She less of an adventurer, and more a character driven to do things for the sake of others, and perhaps to prove herself, rather than being a thrill seeker or motivated by desire for anything, be it gold or magic.
For better or worse, Doric’s most talked about ability, based on the trailers, is explained in the novel, and is specifically addressed as not being a common ability to druids. The novel throws in a fair amount of D&D specific things like spell names and creatures unique to the IP, although there are some narrative mismatches if you are paying close attention from the lens of game rules. For example, a character portrayed as being in training whipping out a named spell that is 5th level in the current edition of the rules.
While The Road to Neverwinter use a lot of in-world terms, The Druid’s Call is a bit more free with using terminology that may or may not feel diegetic. For example, while The Road to Neverwinter refers to sorcerers as a defined element of the setting, it doesn’t describe other bundles of skills in terms of class names. For example, The Road to Neverwinter never refers to Holga, Edgin, or Forge in terms of character class. Holga isn’t really called a barbarian, but the closest we get is knowing that she comes from the Elk Tribe of Rheghed barbarians.
The Druid’s Call doesn’t have a problem with saying that some characters are rangers or barbarians, and doesn’t really bother to define those terms after using them. The implication is that rangers are good at hunting, but barbarians aren’t really defined at all as a title, other than noting that they sometimes associate with rangers and druids.
There is a character that is specifically not assigned a character class all through The Road to Neverwinter that is assigned one very casually in this novel, and honestly, I thought they weren’t using the term in the previous book to point out the difference between someone being able to do something well, and being trained to do it magically. But I guess not?
I enjoyed the Road to Neverwinter a bit more. It felt like it was a little better at tossing in D&D-isms as elements of the world, versus tossing out terms as if the world literally works exactly as the rules play out in the tabletop game. That said, I think Doric’s story is a bit stronger and more engaging than Edgin’s. The biggest problem is tha the resolution to the ongoing conflict in The Druid’s Call is almost an afterthought, the backdrop to Doric’s character journey, while the climax to the Road to Neverwinter is a full blown action set piece with its own stakes.
Doric’s story, being mistreated by her parents, and mistrusted because she is born a tiefling, may also be a story that is difficult for some readers to engage with, so I think it’s important to bring up that there is definite widespread bias against tieflings that is a plot element. It’s worth noting that both novels, however, portray a wide range of humanoid creatures as being common and accepted in more metropolitan settings.
It don’t think it rises to the level of spoiler, since most of these characters aren’t even significant supporting characters, but its not uncommon to see orcs, goblins, firbolgs, tabaxi, and other species referenced in crowd scenes. It isn’t a major story element that anyone reacts poorly to orcs in a city, as an example. They are one of the species you find in Faerun.
Overall, this novel is enjoyable, but I wish the resolution of the conflict had played a bigger part in the novel, and I wish a few more of the rough edges of referencing D&D rules directly could have been sanded down. But this novel is still a long way from the Pools of Radiance novel from the 80s referring to the “lawful good” alignment that Tyranthraxus had to suppress when possessing a dragon, or the early Greyhawk novels throwing in references to alignment languages.
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