In Elizabeth Moon's Divided Allegiance , her trilogy takes a decided turn for the worse. The first Paksenarrion book was bog-standard medieval military fantasy made interesting mostly because its protagonist was a member of a mercenary company rather than an adventurer; the second begins with Paksenarrion leaving her mercenary company behind and setting off for a solo D&D-style adventure.

Quickly, she meets up with a level six chaotic neutral half-elf mage, and the two of them explore the ruins of an ancient elven city, now possessed by a powerful evil. The passages and corridors in the ruins, of course, are full of orcs, and there's nice loot (including a magic sword that glows blue, and special elf-crafted chain mail) once they defeat the powerful bad guy at the end.

After this, she heads off to a small village, where the town council asks her if she can investigate a band of bandits that attacked a caravan. With the company of a mysterious thief and a few low-level fighters, she traces the bandits back to an abandoned keep peppered with all sorts of traps, grunts (not orcs, but they may as well have been), and ultimately a powerful evil cleric. I think I remember that quest in (the computer game) Baldur's Gate.

This book had the Baen logo on the spine, but if you swap a few proper nouns around, it could just as easily have had a TSR logo. If it had, it'd be a superb TSR novel -- I've read a lot of those in my day, due to a youthful conviction that if a series of books sold a lot of copies, it had to have something good about it, so I know whereof I speak. Most D&D books are abysmally bad, so that when one comes along that's even reasonably well-crafted, it seems astonishingly good in comparison: consider the success that R.A. Salvatore has enjoyed in that realm, and how much less success he's had writing more mainstream fantasy. Moon is better than Salvatore, which puts her about ten miles above the rest of the TSR stable.

Still, this isn't a D&D book, so I'd have hoped for something a little bit more. I'm still very much in the mood for generic fantasy, but this is starting to stretch even my tolerance of genre conventionality -- I don't think I've read a real novel where the phrase "you can almost hear the dice rolling" was more applicable. This is a disappointing follow-up to a relatively promising start; the end of it does skew things in a new direction, though, so I'm curious to see how the third volume will go.


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