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Death Mark: A Dungeons & Dragons Novel (Dark Sun, Abyssal Plague) (Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Sun) Mass Market Paperback – 1 Nov 2011


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Death Mark: A Dungeons & Dragons Novel (Dark Sun, Abyssal Plague) (Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Sun) + Under the Crimson Sun: Dark Sun: The Abyssal Plague (Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Sun) + The Eye of the Chained God: The Abyssal Plague Trilogy, Book III
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Product details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Wizards of the Coast (1 Nov 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786958405
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786958405
  • Product Dimensions: 10.5 x 2.3 x 17.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,075,427 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Mass Market Paperback
This D&D novel was published by Wizards of the Coast in 2011 and was written by Robert J Schwalb in 2011. Yeah… I’m a bit late on this one. I should have got hold of it a long time ago.

I absolutely adore Dark Sun. It was the first D&D setting I actually got to master and it was so far out from anything else that was going on at the time – and the time is 1994 when is was released in Spain – that I was captivated from the moment go.

I read the Prism Pentad novels avidly and I re-read them not four years ago. Then I read the newer novels. I wasn’t impressed, I’m sorry to say.

You see, Dark Sun is meant to be a truly horrible and brutal world. One that would make Westeros a cozy place. The novels I’ve read didn’t convey that. They offer a rather sanitised version of Athas that I felt belonged more in a Disney production than an HBO, if you know what I mean. So when I found this novel, I bought it out of inertia more than anything else. Yes, the author’s name was encouraging, but then that’s never any guarantee.

When I started to read, though, I started to change my mind pretty much as soon as my eyes hit the pages. Much to my surprise!

The plot takes place one year after the events in the Prism Pentad. King Kalak has been defeated and Tithian has been crowned king in Tyr. The city is in turmoil as it tries to shift from slavery to a free society and the merchant houses, unsettled by the loss of earnings and the threat of invasion from Urik, decide to take matters into their own hands and various plans are conceived to take over the commerce and government of the city, including the tremendously profitable iron mines, now closed.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
This is easily the best of the Dark Sun novels that I've read, above the other two recent releases and even the Prism Pentad itself. Chronologically, it takes place within 'The Crimson Legion', second volume of the pentad, with the action revolving around intrigue within Tyr as the legion marches to war.

There are several different characters from whose points of view the story is told, running the gamut from a disgraced templar to a gladiator who's won his freedom. The narrative bounces around between them all fairly briskly, never allowing any one character to become overly familiar and keeping the pace marching along. At times this method can become slightly unsettling, but it is used to great effect near the end to get across the chaotic nature of a mass battle.

The stakes in the novel become pretty high, and not every character that you'd expect to survive does, just as an example of how well the bleak setting of Atahas is conveyed here. Most of the races and creatures feature in some small way, dropped in without unnecessary exposition and perfectly in character.

There's time spent in the arenas, the desert, the city and the underground, and a particularly disturbing segment featuring a halfling's use of a spoon that is not for the squeamish. It's Dark Sun at its purest, without some of the more bewildering digressions that the pentad occasionally fell into.

Oh, and as a clarification, this book is in no way linked to the Abyssal Plague series, no matter what the product page may say.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 10 reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
A great Dark Sun novel! 6 Dec 2011
By Robert J. Adducci - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback
The new Dark Sun novel, Death Mark by Robert J. Schwalb, is being released as a mass market paperback and a kindle ebook on December 6th, 2011 (ISBN: 978-0-7869-5840-5). This book is marketed and advertised as an Abyssal Plague novel, but for those of you who don't care for the Abyssal Plague idea you'll be glad to find out that there's no mention of the Abyssal Plague in the book. What is in this first time novel writer and longtime game designer's novel? That's easy, Dark Sun and lots of it!

It's easy to tell that Schwalb not only knows the setting (he is one of the 4th edition authors), but that he's a fan. You won't find mention of Goliaths or thri-kreen walking on six legs; instead you'll hear about half-giants and the dwarven focus. Schwalb's story focuses on the machinations of the Athasian merchant dynasties, a topic central to the Dark Sun setting that has been left all but unexplored in current or past novels.

The backdrop of these merchant wars is the budding war between the city-states of Tyr and Urik, but this is no Crimson Legion (Troy Denning's second Dark Sun novel) part deux. Instead much of the action takes place in and around Tyr, focusing on events leading up to the war. We see how these events affect the world through the eyes of Schwalb's characters, who are Athasian through and through. We see Loren a Tyrian, ex-gladiator recently freed from slavery in Nibenay only to be caught up in the backstabbing dealings of the merchant houses. We see Melech, street thief of Tyr struggling to survive and Korvak, Templar of Tyr, struggling to repair his reputation. Then we have the players from the merchant houses themselves, cold Thaxos Vordon of Tyr and House Vordon, thoughtful Alaeda Stel of Urik and House Stel, and of course the mysterious Temmnya Shom of Nibenay and House Shom, all struggling to come out on top. Besides the main cast of characters, the supporting characters in Death Mark all bring some Athasian flavor with them; from Pakka and her dwarven focus to the halfling Watari and his choice of Athasian meals.

I really can't explain how much of a pleasure it was to read this Dark Sun novel. Not only was the feel of the setting evident in every passage, but there was consistency with the other Dark Sun books and setting material that has been lacking in the past. That's not to say that it was perfect.

I'm an old Dark Sun grognard and I noticed some details that were slightly off. First was the use of copper coins, I think this might just be a personal preference and throwback to the original setting where there were no copper coins and reading the Dark Sun campaign setting for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons it does mention Copper coinage, so not a big deal. Secondly, the use of an erdlu as a war mount. In all previous setting materials erdlu were domesticated herd animals used for food and goods, not fighting. Crodlu is the common riding animal and there are heavy or war crodlu in previous versions of the setting. I told you I was a Dark Sun grognard, so while not story breaking or anything, there it is.

Lastly the only other issue I had with the book was the end. This critique is not a setting issue, but one of storytelling. The end seemed a bit rushed and some of the details in the battle were a bit confusing. Why did these things show up and what was the purpose of this other thing? I can't really explain without spoiling it (perhaps Schwalb himself will explain in an upcoming interview) and it didn't ruin the book, it just left some unanswered questions. Perhaps those questions will be answered in another book. We can only hope!

All in all, this is the best of the new Dark Sun novels out and possibly one of the best of all, but nostalgia and the passage of time make it hard to compare. Suffice to say, if you're a Dark Sun fan, buy this book! Even if you're just a little interested in Dark Sun or Robert Schwalb's writings, buy this book, you might just get swept away and find yourself lost in the deserts of Athas.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A fun book with a story that falls apart about 2/3rds of the way through 14 Dec 2011
By Peter pressing X to feel something then getting beer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
I will just start by saying that you wont regret reading this book. It really is a fun book. However, as is often the case with authors in the fantasy/D&D setting, too many ideas get crammed into one book, and a desperate attempt to tie them all together ensues. At first, the political machinations and the various characters are very interesting and intriguing. However, the story sort of runs out of space, and rather than make this into a duology or trilogy to really explore the various plots and further the character development, the author ends up kind of just throwing it all out in the end in favor of an all or nothing battle where the various factions have no choice but to team up and fight alongside one another. The character who ultimately ends up as the primary antagonist dies cheaply, and the main characters essentially all end up relatively unharmed in that stage of the story (preceding this, they almost all suffer horribly).
Without the story's complete collapse, i would have given this book four or five stars. However, in my opinion, it is rather unforgivable for an author to rush to a conclusion of the tale. Not that I'm advocating a Jordan or Martin approach to storytelling for this author, but he would probably have benefited from utilizing at least part of their approach to storytelling. My personal belief (unsubstantiated) is that WoC gave the author a hard deadline, and he simply had too many ideas invested to scrap them, but not enough time to develop them properly.

'nuff said. I would still recommend giving it a read, but i believe you will find a duality in your opinion of the story...great until....

Enjoy.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Death Mark by Robert J. Schwalb 26 Feb 2012
By Travis Eisenbrandt - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Death Mark is the third stand-alone novel in the recent relaunch of the Dark Sun series of novels based on the Dungeons and Dragons universe of Dark Sun. This is Robert J. Schwalb's first novel, but he has written many adventures, source-books, and rule sets for various d20 role-playing systems. Death Mark was released December 2011 and was published by Wizards of the Coast LLC.

Tyr has fallen in revolution and a new Sorcerer-King has claimed Tyr's throne. After freeing the city's slaves and closing Tyr's iron mines, the city of Tyr is far from recovering from the death of King Kalak. The city's merchant houses fight for anything that is left as a rival city marches to take over the reeling city. However, that's not the only problem that Tyr has to deal with. House Vordon is looking to take the city under its control, and placing Thaxos Vordon as the new leader. But at the same time, another merchant house is on the move to take the city. Being forced into servitude after becoming a free man, the former gladiator Loren leads House Shom towards Tyr under the watchful and mysterious Temmnya. Another merchant house, House Stel, wants to gain a foothold on Tyr or more importantly, its iron mines. Alaeda Stel journeys towards Tyr where she awaits her assignment, but something just doesn't feel right. The disgraced templar Korvack looks to get back into King Tithian's good graces by trying to uncover any plots against the new Sorcerer-Kings new throne and enlists the aid of Melech, a thief with connections. Tyr's future looks bleak.

Criticisms:
1) Ending. The build up of Death Mark's fantastic story is almost ruined by the rushed and hurried ending. That said, the ending isn't all that bad. It still does attempt to tie up the loose ends and bring the story to a satisfying conclusion, however it felt underwhelming and rushed. Things happen to mostly get the book to the three hundred page length. Truth be told, Death Mark feels like it should have had a sequel with everything that was going on feel like it was better concluded, along with helping to make the ending feel a bit more satisfying.

Praises:
1) Story. Death Mark is a complex, multiple plot-line story done right. There are five main plot-lines, with many little minor plot points, in Death Mark. Most novels with multiple story-lines, four or more, tend to lie on the rushed, clustered side of the road. There's too much going on without a moment of respite or reason for why. In Death Mark everything that happens really does happen for a reason. You can see the progression of how a situation got to where it is currently. Another problem with most multiple story-lined novels is that the multiple plots seem to be either loosely connected or forced into one another. With Death Mark the stories really did come together in a nice and fitting way. This just helped in making 'Death Mark' all the more enjoyable and interesting.
2) Characters. Where Death Mark also shines is with its characters. The main characters and the minor ones both came off as extremely developed and interesting. No character felt wasted or misused. Everyone had role and they either met it or exceeded that role's expectations. While the minor characters were good, Death Mark's main cast is fantastic. Diverse, deep, and interesting really do help in summing them up. From the recently freed gladiator to the imprisoned and disgraced templar, each social status is represented and really gives the reader an excellent look into what makes Athas tick. The characters themselves are fleshed out and really do go through some great development as the story progresses. These characters do make reading through Death Mark an extremely enjoyable experience.
3) Dark Sun. After the recent relaunch of the Dark Sun novel line, this is the first book that really gave the world and setting some depth and understanding. Personally, I have no experience of the world outside of the two newer released novels and what little information I gathered from a quick search, but the world seemed a lot more explained and defined in Death Mark than it did in the previous two novels. Honestly, without the great use of background I would still think very little of Dark Sun and would still be wondering what exactly the world is. Great descriptions, explanations, and great usage of exposition really makes Dark Sun seem like a totally different and new setting that makes you yearn to learn more if you have little knowledge of the universe. All this can point back to how well Death Mark built up the surrounding world.

Side Notes:
1) Tyr. After reading Death Mark, I have this sudden interest in learning more about the city where the story takes place in. Why, exactly, was the former Sorcerer-King overthrown and how different was the city before?
2) Pakka. Out of all the great characters and their own personal arcs, Pakka's seemed the most interesting and heartbreaking. It's not much for me to warrant a whole praise section for this character out of the other great ones alongside her, but it is worth mentioning that her character was in my opinion the best of the bunch.
3) Cover Art. Death Mark has a very standard fantasy novel cover, but honestly, I just don't care for it. The colors are drab and boring and there is nothing there to make it "pop". It has the standard brown color scheme that seemed to have become popular in the past few years and that, while fitting, just doesn't seem to work. The character on the front, who is possibly Temmnya, kind of looks unappealing. She's just there in skimpy, impractical clothing doing nothing. She isn't tantalizing, but just boring. Other than that, there isn't much else to this drab, bland cover.

Overall: 5/5
Final Thoughts:
Even with the rushed ending, Death Mark really sparked my interest in the otherwise flat world of the recent Dark Sun novels. With its great cast, interesting story-lines, and an informative, yet entertaining look at the world of Athas, Death Mark was a great read. Aside from the rushed ending, which I still believe would have worked better if this was a multi-part series, there is little that really holds Death Mark back. The story is wonderfully complex and understandable, along with showcasing a lot of depth and intrigue of the world. The characters are just great and you'll soon find one that you will attach yourself to. There is not much more to say about Death Mark other than go pick it up. If you were on the fence or even remotely interested in the world of Dark Sun, I would say this is an excellent place to start.
This is what Dark Sun novels should be like. All of them. 23 May 2014
By Paco G. Jaen - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This D&D novel was published by Wizards of the Coast in 2011 and was written by Robert J Schwalb in 2011. Yeah… I’m a bit late on this one. I should have got hold of it a long time ago.

I absolutely adore Dark Sun. It was the first D&D setting I actually got to master and it was so far out from anything else that was going on at the time – and the time is 1994 when is was released in Spain – that I was captivated from the moment go.

I read the Prism Pentad novels avidly and I re-read them not four years ago. Then I read the newer novels. I wasn’t impressed, I’m sorry to say.

You see, Dark Sun is meant to be a truly horrible and brutal world. One that would make Westeros a cozy place. The novels I’ve read didn’t convey that. They offer a rather sanitised version of Athas that I felt belonged more in a Disney production than an HBO, if you know what I mean. So when I found this novel, I bought it out of inertia more than anything else. Yes, the author’s name was encouraging, but then that’s never any guarantee.

When I started to read, though, I started to change my mind pretty much as soon as my eyes hit the pages. Much to my surprise!

The plot takes place one year after the events in the Prism Pentad. King Kalak has been defeated and Tithian has been crowned king in Tyr. The city is in turmoil as it tries to shift from slavery to a free society and the merchant houses, unsettled by the loss of earnings and the threat of invasion from Urik, decide to take matters into their own hands and various plans are conceived to take over the commerce and government of the city, including the tremendously profitable iron mines, now closed. The roles of the characters introduced throughout the novel and the seemingly disconnected actions of all the parts slowly come closer together.

It is difficult for me to tell you much about the plot without giving away key clues and I really don’t want to spoil this one. It’s too good to do that, so please bear with me. Also I can’t help but comparing this novel with the previously published ones. Sorry. Can’t help it because Death Mark is miles ahead from any other novel published before.

The characters, without going into any existentialist essays in the book, are actually really, *really* well crafted. Most of them have perfectly credible motivations and great personalities; they are congruous. That is, they react as you’d expect a character like them to react. The former gladiator is a killing machine; he might not like killing, but he does so, does it well and has the reactions you’d expect from a gladiator brutish, to the point and struggling to keep up with mind-games. The self-centred defiler works to better his plans and status and will step over anyone to achieve that goal, even if his actions put the health of the city at risk.

The best way I can think to describe how the novel is structure is this: most novels feel like they narrate how an adventuring party is out and about on missions and tasks, just like your gaming group does when you get together to play. There is one group of people and they drive the plot. This novel, though, takes several adventuring parties and sets them away from each other, each one with their own adventure to follow. Slowly, as time advances and events unravel, their paths start to converge and, eventually, most of them come to see they were all going in the same direction from different starting points.

The cast of characters is well balanced and there are villains and heroes in both genders. There are strong women and weak men. There are ruthless men and women and there are weak women and strong men. Schwalb doesn’t hold back on that front. Or any other, for that matter.

The novel is pretty hefty at 304 pages with fairly small font, and no description is spared. The fabrics in the markets, the leather armour worn by warriors, the tunics of wizards, smells, textures, spells… Everything is looked into and everything is given to the reader uncompromisingly.

Also no compromise is reached when is about the brutality of the land and its people, though, and that is a good thing. Unless you don’t like graphic descriptions of gore, violence and the unpleasantness of human (and other races) nature. Make no mistake; this novel could give any of the Game of Thrones series a run for their blood. From the quick death by beheading to the struggle to kill another gladiator in the arena with multiple blows, if a detail needs to be there, the author makes sure is there in exquisite detail.

Same goes for the ways of the land. Halflings are unpleasant and untrustworthy – at last a proper Athasian halfling! – and elves are far from the noble race we’re used to; just as they should be in Athas. And magic is lethal; properly and really lethal. And yet, there’s so much of it!

This is possibly the only thing about this novel that has taken me aback a bit. There’s barely any psionic activity. The Way is almost absent. Although I can understand it would add yet another element to follow, add even more material to the book and make it even more complicated to follow, leaving behind something as inherent to the Dark Sun universe feels strange.

One worrying thing, though, is that there’s no editor listed in the credits. The reason I find that worrying is because this wouldn’t be the first novel published by Wizards of the Coast that leaves the printers without any editing. “City Under the Sand” suffered from that oversight, which I consider unforgivable.

Everything else is absolutely fantastic, though, and if that were indeed the case and the editing had been omitted, that only turns the author awesometer a notch higher, because this novel is excellent as it is.

One of my friends complains that D&D novels suffer from a big problem, either they are written by great writers who have no understanding of the D&D universe, or they are written by mediocre writers who do understand it. There’s no doubt Schwalb understand Athas and the Dark Sun universe better than any other writer before him. And that is saying quite a lot. Thank goodness he’s also vey talented as a writer and manages to convey that understanding also better than anyone else. As far as I’m concerned, he’s the perfect storm D&D novels need. Badly.

By now you would have guessed I truly love this book and will be one I read again. I would go as far as to say anyone who’s ever run a game of Dark Sun in any of its editions should give this one a serious go. Even with the near absence of Psionics, this is the true Athas.
Disappointing writing. 5 Jan 2014
By Chris Rone - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The characters could have been fleshed out more. I read it because it was part of the dark sun campaign setting only.
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