Monday, September 14, 2009

Book Review: 'Greyhawk Adventures: Saga of Old City' by Gary Gygax

3/5 Stars

‘Saga of Old City’ (1985) is the first volume in the ‘Gord of Greyhawk’ D & D series; the succeeding volume was ‘Artifact of Evil’ (1986). These novels focus on the adventures of Gord of Greyhawk, a thief and soldier of fortune.

Somewhat confusingly, Gygax then switched publishers, so while TSR issued further volumes in the late 80s in the ‘Greyhawk’ series, many authored by Rose Estes, Gord was not a central character in these novels.

Instead, Gygax continued the ‘Gord the Rogue’ adventures under the Ace Books imprint: ‘City of Hawks’ (1987), ‘Night Arrant’ (1987), ‘Sea of Death’ (1987) , ‘Come Endless Darkness’ (1988) and ‘Dance of Demons’ (1988). If the mixed reviews posted at amazon.com are any guide, the ‘Gord the Rogue’ series eventually began to run out of steam creatively (not surprising in light of Gygax’s frenetic publishing schedule).

In ‘Saga of Old City’ we are introduced to Gord when he is a malnourished child, ekeing out a precarious living as an orphan in the slum quarter. The squalor and misery of his circumstances are communicated with dark humor.

Gord winds up in the employ of the Lord of the Beggar Guild, and becomes an accomplished thief, and street warfare strategist, by his teenaged years. When war breaks out between the Thieves Guild and the Beggar Guild, Gord is able to turn the situation to his advantage. Gord emerges as the victor of sorts, and embarks on a life of adventure and intrigue in the lands surrounding Greyhawk. His boon companions eventually include a druid named Curly and a barbarian named Chert; together, the trio will investigate a mysterious burial ground high in the mountains, where demons are rumored to guard a treasure of fabulous proportions….

‘Saga’ is a fast-moving book, and I was, on the whole, pleasantly surprised by Gygax’s writing. The narrative is direct and unencumbered by elaborate literary stylings; Gygax understands that his D & D audience wants sword and sorcery action, and not the angst-riddled psychodrama of, for example, a ‘Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever’ novel.

Gord regularly finds himself in one tense situation after another, and he has a habit of fighting his way out of trouble rather than resorting to negotiations. The storyline switches locales with frequency, and new dangers are introduced on a continuous basis: bandits, monsters, and vengeful magistrates are all in pursuit of Gord at one time or another.

The book contains a number of pleasing gray-scale illustrations by well-known ‘chain mail bikini-wearing pinup girl’ artist Clyde Caldwell.

Gygax stuffs more action into 30 pages of text than most contemporary fantasy authors do in 100 pages. Needless to say, readers looking for in-depth characterization and atmosphere in their fantasy novels will probably be unfulfilled by ‘Saga’. However, those seeking an alternative to the labored, meticulous narratives that constitute much of the epic fantasy novels currently on store shelves will be pleased with ‘Saga’.

1 comment:

John said...

The reason the book left TSR's print was because Gygax lost control of TSR and was more or less pushed out. He insisted on keeping his copyright to the Gord stories and made sure a license existed allowing him to continue to reference the World of Greyhawk in the books.