Weeding Womb

I, Strahd: The War Against Azalin

I, Strahd: The War Against Azalin by P. N. Elrod. Now this is interesting. A sequel to I, Strahd: The Memoirs of a Vampire, it's written in the same successful Van-Richten-finds-a-diary-of-Strahd's format. It's also a very good book, if anything better than the first one.

The funny thing about this book is that it covers some of the same timeframe as King of the Dead, only in much finer detail and from Strahd's point of view. It also does an excellent job of keeping to the continuity of King of the Dead, even if it's from Strahd's hand and assumed to be a slightly twisted version of the truth.

The major difference I found between King of the Dead and The War Against Azalin was Azalin's motivations for parting company with Strahd. To be honest, I preferred this version. Azalin finally gets sick of being stuck around Strahd and marches off into the mists. Doing that usually just dumps you back a few feet out from where you entered, even if you walk in a dead-straight line. It's never worked before, but Azalin's just so sick of things he has to try it. And it works, landing him into his own domain of Darkon. In King of the Dead, it felt more like "Azalin hears a sound and follows it, winding up in Darkon." The two aren't mutually exclusive, but Elrod has done a much better job of getting the hatred these two people have for each other across. (Strahd was little more than a subplot in King of the Dead. Here, Strahd is only incrementally more important than Azalin.)

There is one major continuity flaw carried over from King of the Dead. In official Ravenloft lore, a lord of a land gains a curse (that he can never have what he wants the most) when he gains his lordship. Strahd lost Tatyana, Azalin lost his ability to learn new magic (the worst punishment a lich - an undead arch-wizard - could ever suffer), etc. King of the Dead asserted that Azalin lost his ability to learn new magic when he entered Barovia, decades before he was lord of Darkon, and that flaw is carried on here.

But even that logic flaw is improved here, as it becomes much more integral to the plot and forms a very good reason for Azalin's behavior that I don't think could have been done any other way. If he had his full magical ability, he could have raided Strahd's magical library in a few weeks then set about dry-roasting Strahd in the midmorning sun - he was a far more powerful mage and a harder-to-kill form of undead. Without his magical ability, he's sort of in a corner that he needs another spellcaster/mage - namely, Strahd - to get out of.

On to the plot. Strahd learns, thanks to the Vistani (gypsies who have a knack for precognition) that a powerful necromancer is coming and will challenge his rule. Failure against this threat means death. Success? Well, that's still up in the air, but it's better than the alternative. Strahd prepares as best he can, and before long Azalin shows up. They strike an uneasy bargain (Strahd knows Azalin isn't human despite his outward appearance, but doesn't know the truth of Azalin's nature) and Azalin teaches Strahd powerful magic in exchange for access to any information and materials that might help both of them escape from Barovia.

After a particularly disastrous attempt to escape during which Azalin is almost obliterated and his magical illusion of humanity wiped away, Strahd learns that Azalin is a lich, one of the most powerful forms of undead in existence. This is a great moment, where Strahd fakes unconsciousness so Azalin figures Strahd didn't see his actual form. Afterwards, Strahd rages in private, justifying his own nature as a "hunter of humans" as showing he's still "normal" while Azalin's necromantically-supported nature is some vile aberration that should be destroyed.

There's a few more artfully-described failed attempts, one of which pulls the pair into a place called Mordentshire in a wonderful nod to one of the two D&D tabletop adventures that spawned Ravenloft. (It was called The House on Gryphon Hill, where a vampire named Strahd von Zarovich and a lich named Azalin amongst others invade a quiet place called Mordentshire and attempt to take it over, as Strahd tries to destroy a kind human alchemist who has the misfortune of being Strahd's long-dead better nature given a life of its own.)

Soon after, they part company and Strahd learns that Azalin now has his own domain - Darkon, a behemoth of a land that has vastly greater resources than Barovia does. Now that Azalin has the resources, he intends to invade Barovia and wipe it out. Now comes the war mentioned in the title, which is the shortest portion of the book. It's mostly for the dramatic climax, with the preparations for the war being longer and more as buildup.

One complaint I see is that Azalin comes off as being too whiny, while Strahd is seen as a hero. Hey, it is Strahd's book (not only in that he's the main character, but also in that he's the one "writing" the bulk of it) so you have to expect that he's going to make himself look better. His ranting on vampires vs. liches being one example of how he has a self-aggrandizing world view. (Another is how he started both I, Strahd books by saying that there were "many false versions" of his past going around in such a way that gives you the feeling that one of those "false versions" is close to reality.:)

The most jarring problem is three typos later in the book, within about 20 pages of each other. From the amusing (Strahd von Zarovich misspelling his own name!) to the ooh-the-typesetter-was-asleep-here error (one line is nothing but the word "an" - with the "a" at the left margin, the "n" at the right).

Another great book, if anything slightly better than both King of the Dead and the original I, Strahd. I wouldn't have any problems with buying Elrod's books in the future. It might be nice to see what she can do with a setting that's her own, now that I've seen how well she can handle taking someone else's setting (and someone else's story!) and working it into its own more cohesive yarn.

The Archon

(Return to top of index, no frames.)
(Return to top of index, frames.)

Go back! To the index of titles with thee!
Run along home.
This site and everything on it are Copyright (C) The Archon 1999 - 2006, unless otherwise noted. So there.
Current URL: http://www.archonrealm.com/reviews/istrahdthewaragainstazalin.htm
Main URL: http://www.archonrealm.com/reviews/istrahdthewaragainstazalin.htm
Tripod URL: http://archonrealm.tripod.com/reviews/istrahdthewaragainstazalin.htm
Backup URLs: http://s91291220.onlinehome.us/reviews/istrahdthewaragainstazalin.htm http://archonrealm.cjb.net/reviews/istrahdthewaragainstazalin.htm