Wow. This books certainly came out of nowhere and surprised me. I started listening to this book a few weeks ago and it didn't catch me at first. I left the library rental expire and then I decided to give it another go a few weeks ago. Once the story got going, it absolutely pulled me in.
This is labeled as a "Young Adult" book, but it is probably the most "adult" YA book I have read. The story is well put together. While it does cover many of the standard fantasy tropes, the world that Garth Nix has put together is incredibly well thought out. The magic system and world history is interesting. There are elements here the harken back to the John Carter or Narnia series in the way the world is constructed. It is tight and focused, keeping the world building isolated to the immediate land that the story is taking place in. We don't learn about the "whole planet", but that doesn't matter in the story telling.
I really liked the story arch that our main character, Sabriel went through. She was portrayed as a strong female lead character. She was capable where she needed to be, but knew that she was inexperienced. That inexperience was a primary plot device as it related to the Old Kingdom, but it was never used to victimize Sabriel. She also didn't fall into the traps that are so commonly used with YA or genre fiction where her decisions were driven by teenage emotions. Sure, she is a young adult in this book, but her character show the right amount of composure and emotion to make her believable. I really love that the other characters in the world held respect for her, for the Abhorsen, despite her age. It really showed a lot about the world.
Narratively I felt like this book was written as a result of Garth Nix playing D&D. Several of the plot points played out like D&D encounters in my opinion. They were satisfying though, nonetheless.
Overall, I loved the book. Any let me just put a final note in for that cover art. I absolutely love that artistic choice.
I have been DM'ing for almost three years now, playing the same campaign in Storm King's Thunder with my Friday night group. Through all of that period I have gone back and forth on trying to keep myself organized as the DM. I have admittedly struggled to keep a good track of my notes through the campaign and in general.
I have wanted to approach D&D in as analog a way as possible. I spend so much time online and on the computer as it is, bringing that to the gaming table seems counter productive. That being said, there is an endless amount of functionality that a laptop or note taking software brings to the table, that it would be foolish to try to manage all of it in paper alone. I have finally over the past year or so begun to develop a system that works for me on keeping track of my notes, etc.
Tracking the Game
My first stop here is the use of a Tūl paper notebook. As I noted above I want to be as independent from the computer as possible at the gaming table and my quick reference notes during a gaming session are all being placed right into this paper notebook. I fund this Tūl system to be fascinating because of the ring bound sheets which allow you to remove pages and re-arrange them in any order. I have used spiral bound notebooks in the past and they have worked fine, but I have run into two primary limitations with them. 1) What to do when you have narrative or note changes that required you to re-arrange pages and 2) what do you do with the notebook if it is only partially filled and you are done with what you need with it?
The Tūl notebook solved both of those problems for me and I picked up the smaller format size which works well for sitting at my side on the gaming table. The page size is exactly one half of a standard 11x8.5" page, so creating a few templates in Apple Pages is pretty easy and straight forward.
Right now I have it divided into three basic sections. Story Summary, Current Adventure Notes, NPC's
I think I want to add some supplementary reference material to it as well, including some quick random tables along with a master index sheet for referencing back to the various books.
Apple Notes, and Evernote before that, are the cornerstone of where I keep track of all of my documents. In Notes, I have sub folders where I keep the text I write out along with .PDFs, images, and ideas for the campaign I am running. Up until recently, I was keeping a running campaign summary and NPC list in Notes, having that pinned to the top of my notes list. This worked well, but wasn't the best for quick reference during the middle of an active gaming session.
I have moved more to a method of using Notes to capture my pre-session planning and ideas. What I have begun to do now is create a new note for each location or story plot and incorporate the relevant NPC's, and information needed for that section into that session.
I am also using Apple notes to capture various D100 tables that I find online for adventure planning.
Over the next couple of months I hope to begin development on some home-brew adventure planning. I feel my Ebenere Nanowrimo story for a few years ago would make for an excellent setting to place a campaign in.
Mind mapping is one of those things that I can recognize the utility, but I haven't really taken full advantage of. I experimented with it a little bit for my current campaign, but I think it hasn't been successful because I didn't start using it from the beginning. The result is I haven't had a good amount of connecting ideas to develop with the narrative. You can see my poor mapping laid out below when I tried to pickup with our party in Gauntlgrym.
When I begin a new home-brew campaign, I anticipate this will become critical for mapping out the overall story arc though
Omnioutliner is a great outlining and note taking app. I anticipate this will also become a core component for my future home-brew campaign as I chart out future NPCs, characters, etc. You can see below my failed attempt at trying to keep track of items in it for the SKT campaign.
It took me over a year of chipping away at this book to finally finish . Having spent the the past 7-8 years reading this series now I need to get through to the end. I would have to say that I do enjoy this series on the whole, but this book is the prime example of what is wrong with the series. This book clocks in at over eight hundred pages. We are 90% of our way through this series and Erickson continues to layer on an endless number of new characters and story arcs.
The book's structure is also quintessential of the series thus far, where the reader is dragged along for hundreds of pages with little concrete happening in terms of the story, only for a very impressive climax to finally occur in the last 150 pages or so. This book did have a fantastic ending battle, of which Erikson is known for, and I found myself emotionally distraught as we once again watched characters we came to love and enjoy get torn apart by the horrors of war. Truthfully, I don't know of many authors who can write large battle scenes as well as Erickson can.
The difference for me this time around though is that the final battle felt a bit too "Deus Ex Machina". The enemy that our main characters encountered came from nowhere, and I did not have any pretense, as a reader, as to where they came from, why they were there or why they were attacking the Bonehunters. Because of this the weight of the scene was largely lost. To add to that whole feeling of "huh?", was the fact that Erikson threw another "Deus Ex Machina" element into the final scenes during a battle with the sky keeps. When we thought our heroe to be lost, a new player enters the field, seemingly out of nowhere. It all felt just a bit too convenient of a story telling mechanism for me with out the necessary guiding motivation for it to actually occur.