Novel Review: Richard Lee Byers – The Reaver (The Sundering)


The Reaver
The Reaver is the next epic fantasy novel in The Sundering series, written by Richard Lee Byers and published by Wizards of the Coast.
By Cape Rust

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The fourth installment of The Sundering takes readers to the Sea of Fallen Stars in the Forgotten Realms. As you can imagine with a named sea, there will have to be pirates and if you are going to have pirates you should probably have ninjas. Wait, this book doesn’t have ninjas? So if you have pirates, but don’t have ninjas then you should at least have zombies right? Zombies are played out as well, but why not have some type of undead? Richard Lee Byers’ contribution to The Sundering series, The Reaver, has pirates and undead, but no ninjas. The Sea of Fallen Stars has been suffering from a seemingly endless deluge of rain thanks to Bitch Queen of the Depths Umberlee. Umberlee, like the seas she rules, is ever-changing and rarely forgiving. The people who live in and around the Sea of Falling Stars are trying to make significant sacrifices to appease the goddess under the waves in hopes they will not drown in her rage. Evander Highcastle is an undead pirate captain who has floated to the surface as Umberlee’s chosen.

On the other side of the doubloon, we are introduced to Anton Marivaldi, an infamous reaver who can’t return to his own homeland. He has a thirst for blood and money (as all good pirates should) that is only matched by his inability to make any non-evil, non-self-serving choices.

Anton, Evander, and the Red Wizards of Thay are all looking for a young boy who is the chosen of the fallen god Lathander. They all want to use his powers for their own means of those of their masters. The young boy is bringing a message of renewal and hope while the angry rain of Umberlee continues to fall.

This book starts in the middle of a raid; well, a raid that has turned into a no-holds-barred fight. Any book involving pirates should start this way. For a few pages I was lost; I understood there was fight going on and I knew that a small child was the objective of the raid/fight, but that was about it. Byers must have read my mind because a few pages after that I was caught up to speed.  The Reaver is a well paced, action packed novel that makes a wonderful contribution to The Sundering series.

I want to start with Anton Marivaldi. Unlike most of the main characters in The Sundering books, he is not a chosen of the gods. He’s a skilled fighter and a formidable sea captain to boot, but chosen of the gods, not even close. I loved that Anton was basically neutral with just a sprinkling of evil. Well, actually, he wanted to do evil things, he planned to do evil things, but he could never quite follow through. I appreciated his inability to do the wrong thing was subtle; it didn’t come off as this running gag that I as a reader wanted to end. Anton was complex enough to not immediately change the way he thought just because he got caught up in events that threatened to drown every coastal town and village surrounding the Sea of Fallen Stars. He does make the transition you’d expect him to in the end, but it was a pleasure watching the journey.

Providing the foil for Anton is Evander Highcastle, the undead chosen of Umberlee. Befitting a chosen of the Queen of the Depths, Evander is a former ship’s captain (pirate) who was raised from his watery grave to serve the mistress of the waves. As a character, he wasn’t that deep, but it was interesting to see one of the gods chosen who knew what he was and wasn’t afraid to use his god give powers. Evander’s part of the book ends just as you would expect it to as well, but he made for a sturdy and powerful foe.

Stedd Whitehorn is the root cause of all of the trouble that Anton, Evander, and a host of other characters experience during the course of this novel, and he’s a good guy!  Stedd, though young, is the chosen of the dead god Lathander. He has been chosen to bring Lathander’s message of hope and renewal to the people of the Sea of Fallen Stars. Lathander’s message is contrary to Umberlee’s and Stedd turns into a combination of the Sea of Fallen Stars Most Valuable and Most Wanted.  Stedd was really likeable and not annoying. Normally when a character like this is introduced, they tend to be annoying and, based on his age, can be written as a bit bratty. Stedd causes problems by his status as a chosen, but also by some of the choices he makes. He really does try to do what Lathander wants him to and while not nearly as confident in his powers as Highcastle, he is still willing to push those abilities in some situations. Byers didn’t spend too much time letting us get to know Stedd, but when viewed as a plot device he is really important and is yet another really likeable character that really keeps this story afloat.

This book is sodden with great aspects, but I think Byers’ treatment of magic is noteworthy. He knows how it works in the Realms and follows the rules! This is another one of those books that DMs and players who play magic users should read. His descriptions of spells being cast, their effects, and even spells being interrupted or being dispelled is awesome. His treatment of both arcane and divine casting and castors was spot on. As Anton is a pirate and the entire story takes place in or around the Sea of Fallen Stars, you won’t be surprised to learn there are several naval engagements. Most of the engagements involved just a few ships, but there was one that was a full on fleet vs. fleet slug fest. Included in this briny battle was a heavy use of magic by both sides, employing both arcane and divine magic to great effect. Byers was able to adjust traditional naval tactics and include magical tactics seamlessly.

For anyone running a game, this particular battle is a wonderful example of how sea battles should be done. Byers did his homework for The Reaver; all of the different sized vessels fought the way they should have fought. The Caravels darted in and out between the much larger and most often slower ships. The boarding sequences were as chaotic and lethal as you would expect them to be; the addition of some insidious magic turned everything up several notches. Byers ability to zoom out to the larger battle as well as focus on individual combat is something that many DMs can’t do. They tend to run encounters or large scale battles, but not both.  The Reaver should be looked at as a playbook for making large scale combat relevant to individual players and an adventuring party.

As a book for role-players, this book is great; the magic is really well done and the combat has a fluid flow that might even make Umberlee happy (if that’s possible). As a fantasy book, The Reaver is great as well. Even if you feel like pirates are played out, don’t worry, Byers didn’t go overboard. The characters make you want to cheer for them and might actually be disappointed in them a few times when they make bad choices. The Sundering series has me pumped to see what Wizards does with D&D Next.

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