Fiction Review: The Seal of Karga Kul

Listen up, Bill Slavicsek. A new guy named Alex Irivine just pwned you in a BIG way. He figured out how to write a D&D novel that doesn’t come across like a bad fanfic translation of someone’s Saturday night game. He wrote a “standard” D&D novel that was engaging, with great characters, believable action and a plot that doesn’t put me to sleep like an overdose of NyQuil. Alex Irvine hit it out of the park with The Seal of Karga Kul. 

I haven’t done a fiction review here yet, despite having intended to do so a good long time past. I figured that with D&D re-launching its “Home World” series of books, that would be a good time. Unfortunately, my first intended review, Mark of Nerath by the guy who got pwned above, failed utterly because when it came time to write the “Positive/Negative” section of the review, I couldn’t think of anything to put in the Positive category!! 

In any case, I thought that I’d pick up a couple of the newer D&D Fiction books on my Kindle (for PC), and read them digitally. Even though it’s been out for a while, I started with The Seal of Karga Kul, by Alex Irvine, and right from the beginning, I was blown away.

The very first page of the book starts out with a 4-paragraph blurb that could easily be the voice-over at the beginning of a D&D TV series. It’s exciting, engaging, and mysterious, and makes you want to turn the page. It’s great.

The plot centers around a guy named Remy who happens to be dying when we meet him on the first page of the book. Remy is a messenger for the Vizier of Avankil, which we haven’t seen any info on yet in any canon D&D product. In fact, except for races, classes, and gods, the entirety of TSoKK is in an area that we have heard nothing about, but is so much more interesting than the Nentir Vale that appears in pwned-man’s story that it’s nearly incomparable. Irvine creates a realistic world tossed with bits of high fantasy that makes for a background I’d LOVE to run a D&D game in. In fact, several elements of his story are going to be woven into my game as soon as I can manage it.

A group of adventurers on a journey to the city of Karga Kul encounter the dying Remy, and the adventure continues from there. It includes demons, wizards, a bridge held aloft by ancient magics, tieflings swarming like locusts, an upside-down castle, demons, love, betrayal, loyalty, friendships… I could go on and on. It’s amazing.

The story has a couple predictable turns, but even then Irvine manages to put a twist on them that makes it a good thing. There are completely unexpected plot elements, and several classic D&D moments that any long-time player will be familiar with, including my favorite, the “We have to fight a WHAT?!?!” moment. It’s all very well written, tastefully done, and polished prose.

If you’re a GM, I want to specifically suggest you pick up this book (cheap on Kindle), read it once for the characters and story, and then re-read it. The second time, look for the game elements that Irvine writes into the story, and how he fuses the world of game mechanics and story. You can specifically SEE in the story where a character makes an attack of opportunity, uses their second wind, drops an action point to make an extra attack– all the major 4E character and combat elements are there, beautifully wrapped in prose that is really a pleasure to read. Even an extended rest where the PCs achieve a level-up is in there, if you read between the lines. Irvine isn’t blatant about it, but neither does he hide the game mechanics that make the game–and his book– run.

One more thing on a personal note: the main character in this story is really a cool thing to me in that he breaks the “standard fantasy protagonist” mold: He’s NOT the Child of Prophecy or the Chosen One or the Foretold Leader or whatever else. He’s a freakin’ messenger-boy at the beginning of the book, and by the end he’s probably picked up a couple levels in what class? Fighter, most likely. Not Paladin, not Swordmage or anything flashy– Fighter. I love that. You get to see his viewpoint and attitude change as the story goes on, too. It goes a really long way to prove that you don’t have to build a weird, out-there character idea in order to have a great roleplaying experience.

Final Verdict: Buy The Seal of Karga Kul. Read it, then read it again.

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