My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I don’t tend to expect a great deal from shared-world fiction in general as they often sell based more on the popularity of the setting than the quality of the writing, and past experience has taught me not to expect a great deal from fiction based on Roleplaying properties such as Dungeons and Dragons, as the properties that make for a good game environment don’t often easily make for good fiction.
However past experience has also shown me some exceptions to this rule, such as the Forgotten Realms novels of R.A. Salvatore, and recent experience has left me quite impressed by some of the Shadowrun novels (such as 2XS).
With this in mind I picked up Realms of Infamy, a short story anthology set in the Forgotten Realms with the running theme of evil characters. Some of these stories reaffirmed my original belief (don’t expect too much) but despite the tendency towards turning these stories into simple moralistic tales (bad guy gets his comeuppance), some of these stories were actually much more, turning themselves into character studies of rather complex, well-developed villains and near-villains.
Despite the fact that this anthology contains some big names, such as an Elminster tale by Ed Greenwood, and the origin story of Entrieri himself by R.A. Salvatore, the real hidden gem in this collection is a little story called “And Wringing of Hands” by Jane Cooper Hong. This is a wonderful story about a sympathetic alchemist (of a sort) who comes across both as a little simple and a little bit morally damage, who acts as a servant to a famous and highly-paid assassin. This is a sad story and, moral fable qualities aside, an engrossing one.
There are also some nice action stories, such as the previously mentioned “The Third Level” by R.A. Salvatore and a very interesting look into Goblin philosophy in “Vision” by Roger E. Moore.
On the whole it’s an entertaining collection that has something to offer even for non-realms fans of fantasy, though on the whole it is obvious who the intended audience for the stories are. It falls short of attaining a great status, but it’s worth a read for fans character-based sword and sorcery.