Novel Review : Hal Greenberg and Neal Levin – The Awakened

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The Awakened
The Awakened is a fantasy fiction anthology edited by Hal Greenberg and Neal Levin and published by Samurai Sheepdog.
By Cape Rust
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Sixteen authors playing in the same sandbox, what could possibly go wrong? Actually very little, The Awakened is a collection of stories set in a world where some people gain amazing powers on their 19th birthday. Some of these powers involve the acquisition of an animal companion who behaves more like a familiar would in a typical Roleplaying Game (Like there is such a thing as a typical RPG) while others gain powers that allow them to control the weather or elements, or to remain unseen, even while in plain sight. Most of the Awakened are welcomed in their towns and villages, but some are outcast. To complicate matters there is a king trying to muster and army of the Awakened to drive his enemies before him and hear the lamentations of their women.

Hal Greenberg, and Neal Levin have put together a mixed bag of really, really well known authors and some “new kids on the block” to complete this collection of Awakened stories.  I was very pleased with the amount of art in this book. I have reviewed several books that included art, to cover up for poor writing; in this case all of the art enhances the already quality writing in The Awakened. The list of the artists’ past credits is almost as impressive as the art they produced for this book. Like the authors, there are plenty of “been there, done that” artists contributing to this book. The cover looks great, I think some might think The Awakened is a core RPG rulebook rather than a collection of short stories, which as a gamer is just fine with me. The beginning page of each new story was done in the style of classic illumination, with intricate starting letters and page borders. Some of the opening pages had illustrations as well, but most of those were reserved for the end of the stories. Some of the art was very blatantly RPG, while a few pieces were a little more circumspect. No matter what the artist’s intent, I didn’t dislike any of the art or the choices the editors made in the use or placement of that art.

Individually all of the stories were successful, but it was the sum of their whole that made me pause. It is hard to go wrong with the quality of authors that were included in this collection, however towards the end of the book I felt like I was experiencing a strange sort of Déjà vu. Most of the stories were about different and compelling characters experiencing their awakening on their 19th birthdays. In most cases their awakenings ended up with them being bonded to an interesting animal, and their loved ones being killed and their village being attacked. There is much more to these stories than that, but there was enough of those things for a knuckle dragger like me to see the pattern. I was glad to see that not all of the Awakened’s powers dealt with bonding with animals, but most of them did. I enjoyed Ed Greenwood’s Her Scaly Bits and his take on the Awakened animal/human relationship, I appreciated that he left the alligator’s Lizard Brain in place.

This is a collection that I recommend you read in several sittings. I make this recommendation not because it is so hard to get through, but because I fear you may get that same sense of déjà vu that I did, stop reading it, and miss out on some really good and interesting stories. There are some stories that deviate from the, ‘I bonded with an animal and my village just got attacked or destroyed’ theme. A few of these stories are actually written from the perspective of the “Bad guys” and there is a wonderfully subtle thread that runs through each of the stories. This writing team is building something amazing and is establishing characters that you want to learn more about, just not in one sitting. If you enjoy fantasy, or are looking for some great game ideas, The Awakened  should be just what you need.

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