291546Tethyr.  A land ravaged by war and petty conflicts for generations.  Where every man with enough coin styles himself a lord and tries to conquer his neighbor.  An endless, bloody struggle from cradle to grave is what most Tethyrians have ever known.

Until Zaranda Star.

Former wizard turned swashbuckling merchant, who counts among her companions a bugbear steward, talking horse, a mute ranger, half elf bard, orog paladin and a street urchin named Scab; Zaranda returns to her estate of Morninggold only to find another ‘lords’ men harassing those on her lands.  She learns that things are not all that they should be in Tethyr, and sets off to the capitol of Zazesspur to find out exactly what’s going on.

And as is the case of these things, Zaranda bites off more than she can chew and finds herself in over her head in a plot to take over all of Toril involving priests of Ao and Cyric, the Zhentarim, slave ships, darklings and deepstalkers.  Naturally…

I loved Zaranda’s character.  I feel that she’s really well balanced.  She’s a wizard but doesn’t whip out her magic at every opportunity, and whenever she does use her powers they’re very low level spells.  She’s a swords woman who can and does get beaten, as well as knows her limits when it comes to the strengths and weaknesses of her opponents.  She has a brilliant mind for tactics and seeing through other people’s plans and schemes, yet is still able to get herself drugged, kidnapped, tortured, and sentenced to death.

And one thing I have to give to these older books is the grit they have compared to some of the newer Realms books I’ve been seeing.  I mean, pretty much everyone dies in this book.  There is so much blood, guts and glory here.  It’s actually rather fascinating to see how the books have changed over the years.

So moving on and moving up! Escape from Undermountain by Marc Antony, book 3 in the Nobles Saga

291553A vast and deadly labyrinth…

Beneath the city of Waterdeep lies a city of another sort, created by a mad wizard in ages past. Its subterranean byways are home to all manner of creatures, human and otherwise.

When Artek the Knife is offered release from prison in exchange for one small errand, he leaps at the chance. All he must do is retrieve one missing nobleman from the twisting corridors of the dungeon that lies beneath the city.

Accompanied by comely but klutzy Beckla, a small-time wizard who may not be exactly what she claims to be, Artek must go deeper into Undermountain than anyone else has gone before.

Getting in will be the hardest thing he’s ever done. Getting out will be impossible…