I’d followed Matt Ryan’s blog for some time, so it was really a shame that it took so long (and winning a contest) to get around to reading his novel, Drasmyr. So, as a partial disclaimer, while I read the book because I got a free copy for winning a contest, I’m featuring it here because it’s really good, not because I got a free copy. There will be some spoilers in this review, but you’ll probably have these spoilers and more after reading the back-of-book summary of the sequel, Children of Lubrochius.
Initially, I was slightly wary of Drasmyr. I’m not a huge fan of most modern vampire stories, which are overrun with long-toothed poofs or wangsty rebels with an attitude problem. I can assure you, neither are the sort to be found in Drasmyr.
I’ve written on occasion that the one place where vampires aren’t played out is in the realm of high fantasy. And you don’t get more high fantasy than a conflict between a mages guild and the greater undead.
Drasmyr begins like one of those police procedural dramas where you see who committed the crime and how before the opening credits runs. The audience knows the who and the what, and maybe some of the why, while the good guys play catch up until the remainder of the story involves catching the culpret. Drasmyr begins with the titular Lucial Val Drasmyr kicking off a string of brutal murders at the mages guild, starting with the Archmage who ‘vanishes’ after a ‘mysterious’ fire in his chamber that leaves two others dead. The guild calls in a team of intrepid-but-disillusioned bounty hunters, reluctant to work for nobility but also short on coin, to investigate the fire and disappearance of the archmage.
Originally, I felt that there may have been a lost opportunity here to have a straight-forward mystery with a shocking reveal, because Ryan is very good at writing the who-dunnit sifting through clues part. The readers know Lucian killed the Archmage and that the culprit is a vampire long before the heroes do, but Ryan keeps it an enjoyable enough ride. After finishing the book, I realize that the who-dunnit is to distract from the real mystery of what the heck that one girl is up to. I mean, she’s OBVIOUSLY evil and OBVIOUSLY up to something, but WHAT COULD IT BE!?
Drasmyr is very much a Dungeons & Dragons like vampire tale, more Ravenloft than Rice. I hope that you readers here take that to mean a positive thing, because (to me, at least) in terms of Vampire stories, this is a good thing. Ryan’s writing is also well above average, able to juggle a fairly large ensemble of characters and perspectives without ever sacrificing pacing. There are several minor critiques I could make, but this is far and away one of the most polished self/indie published fantasy titles I’ve read. There are no glaring typos or grammatical errors that are going to jar you out of your reading groove. I wouldn’t even bother to note this, but I know that many people (myself included) are always wary of self-published titles. This is me saying “DO NOT BE AFRAID!” (Well, be afraid of 1000 year old vampires, just not this book about them.)
One of the things I liked was the inclusion of a short glossary of a few of the various things in the world of Drasmyr that are mentioned briefly, such as a few of the non-human races who, while not present in the story, are mentioned in passing. My only complaint was that it was not more extensive. Additionally, I would’ve enjoyed having a map of Drisdak and the surrounding areas, but that’s a personal nit-picky thing; I love maps and love for my high-fantasy books to have them.
One of the main reasons I wanted to highlight Drasmyr was to bring it to the attention of folks in the rpg gaming blog community. There’s a lot of really great stuff here for inspiration, whether it’s setting, systems of magic, or simply taking the Vampire from the monster manual and fleshing out its strengths and weaknesses to make it an adversary in your game. Drasmyr is a great model for how a short undead scenario could play out at your game table: mystery, journey to dungeon, dungeon crawl, retreat from dungeon, penultimate town encounter, final town encounter. A lot of times, ‘mystery’ doesn’t work well in table-top rpgs, especially D&D. Drasmyr really helps illustrate how to successfully setup a short vampire scenario that unfolds from a mystery where the breadcrumbs are in place. How well your players piece together the clues could well determine how prepared they are for that first dreadful encounter with your recurring villain.
Drasmyr’s a fairly quick, easy, well-written and enjoyable read that I highly recommend for anyone who likes filling their games with high level undead. I’m pretty sure that a lot of other folks would enjoy it too.
There are a lot of ways you can get Drasmyr to check out for yourself.
or you can buy a really nice hardcover edition (which I highly recommend; it’s very shiny!)
He also has a collection of short stories that I might be checking out soon that you can find here at Smashwords.
Drasmyr week will continue on Wednesday, when Author Matt D. Ryan will be joining us to talk about his book and answer questions.