The Seal Of Karga Kul by Alex Irvine (book review).

Dungeons & Dragons novels are rarely literature, but they should at least exciting romps that are true to the spirit of the role-playing game and that is precisely what ‘The Seal Of Karga Kul’ delivers. From wandering monster encounters through to the coordinated teamwork needed to overcome a lich, there’s a lot here that reads like a rock-solid campaign where every character gets to shine.

The story starts with a young messenger, Remy, being attacked by giant scorpions in a desert. Having been despatched by his master to deliver a certain package, it quickly becomes clear that his master expected him to be killed, but a group of adventurers comes across Remy and rescues him. Led by a dragonborn paladin called Biri-Daar, the group also includes a human cleric, a half-elven wizard, an elf ranger and a halfling rogue.

Author Alex Irvine sketches out each of these different characters early on and, for the most part, the characters stay true to that throughout. So it is that the ranger, Lucan, starts off gruff and cynical and only gradually softens his feelings towards Remy as the story unfolds. On the other hand, it could be argued this sort of ‘playing to type’ approach does mean the characters feel somewhat one-dimensional.

One of the adventurers is killed quite early on, but it’s hard to care given how little we know of them. That said, shallow characterisation is not a major flaw in D&D novels, where we’re not really expecting profound character development. It’s nice when that happens, of course, but it’s not why people read these books. No, what’s more important is that the characters act according to their alignment, race and character class and this is something Alex Irvine does well.

The nature of the mysterious package that Remy is carrying is revealed about halfway through the novel, though relatively easy to guess at well before then. But there’s a clever twist to the story that lifts the item from mere McGuffin status to something more dangerous. This revelation adds pressure to the story, but there are few parts of the book that felt slow. Indeed, what Irvine recreates nicely is the sense of a proper D&D campaign, where minor quests early on provide action and intrigue, before all the pieces fall into place in time for the final showdown with, in this case, demonic forces bent on bursting through a portal between worlds.

Overall, there’s little fault here. You know what you’re getting after the first few pages and, while the quests become harder and the combat more lethal, new characters join the group that helps to keep things moving in the right direction.

There’s some good stuff around the tiefling character, Obek, who has to justify his place in the team as someone ‘tainted’ with demonic blood. Side characters, NPCs if you will, help or hinder the group, with the halfling boatmen being particularly interesting, while the alien-ness of the elves, by human standards, is something else that’s developed at certain points.

If you’re looking for a story that reads like a well-designed and well-played, D&D campaign, ‘The Seal Of Karga Kul’ won’t disappoint.

Neale Monks

October 2021

(pub: Dungeons & Dragons, 2010. 303 page paperback. Price: $ 7.99 (US), $ 9.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7869-5572-5)

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