In the shadows between the living world and the land of the dead, the night's terrors lurk…
For as long as anyone can remember, the mountain village of Haven has been under the protection of an ancient warlock known as the Old Stargazer. But after countless years spent deciphering the mysteries of the night sky, the old man is starting to slip. Now, a dark figure controls the forest with minions of kenku marauders — crowlike humanoids that menace the villagers with violence and mayhem.
If the Old Stargazer cannot or will not protect them, the villagers will have to find someone who can. Nergei, an orphan raised by the warlock, is chosen to find help. Since Nergei has nothing to offer potential mercenaries, his task seems futile until he meets Sten, a battle-weary adventurer whose sense of justice is stronger than his desire for gold.
Together they recruit an unlikely band of heroes to protect Haven from the ever-threatening incursions of the kenku minions. When the group flushes the marauders into the light of day, the shadows cast by the crow-men are like none they had ever imagined.
Sometimes, pure escapism is all I ask from a book. When The Last Garrison by Matthew Beard arrived at my doorstep, I knew this was what I needed as a brain break from the difficult texts I was reading for my MA degree courses. So I set to reading it in my few spare moments. One the one hand, I was pleased the book asked little of my over-weary brain. On the other, I was able to see how the straightforward story may disenchant a reader in a day and age when Game of Thrones is the bestselling fantasy novel.
Beard’s debut novel is a sword and sorcery set in the Dungeons and Dragons universe. In the tale, the reclusive town of Haven is besieged by kenku (raven-man) marauders. Formerly protected by an ancient magician known as the Old Stargazer, the town had known no strife for centuries. But the old man’s powers are weakening and the kenku are attacking and killing villagers. The town council, sensing the danger, sends a small band of adults and young people to recruit defenders. They do so, heading into the city down the mountain from their village. Successful, the town representatives bring the adventurers home. The story culminates in a final battle between the kenku, the adventurers and the townspeople.
The Last Garrison reads like (and probably is) a novelization of a D&D adventure for which Beard was dungeon master. For characters, we have a clear cut evil villain, whose perspective we read in hints and asides ready and waiting for the hero of the hour to take on in hand to hand combat in the final battle scene. There is the ostracized orphan boy, Nergei, servant of Old Stargazer; Kohel, a bully, son of the chief of the village; Luzhon, the almost-raped love interest and battleground for the aforementioned boys who discovers her warrior femininity over the course of the novel; the aging warrior and his companion dwarf; a female monk-warrior-artist; a mage and his archer sister; and a giantess they pick up when returning to Haven. Beard perhaps bit off a little more than he could chew with so many characters and their corresponding perspectives. None of the characters gets more than a cursory back-story, and each follows a predictable, stereotypical path that their natures and their occupations destined them to from the moment the reader meets them. Nergei, Luzhon, and Kohel are ostensibly the characters the reader is meant to identify with, but Beard only relies on tropes instead of storytelling depth to gain audience sympathy for the characters and so ends up with caricatures rather than real people.
For plot, the story is clear-cut. From the outset, the goal of the characters is to protect the town of Haven from a threat the like of which they have not seen for centuries and, if lucky, find out who is responsible for setting the kenku onto the village in the first place. Though I found the characterization to be flat, I did enjoy this aspect of the tale for its ease of reading. As I mentioned before, I was working on MA homework, and so reading Beard’s simply constructed plotline was a welcome relief in the hours before sleep. However, in the clear light of day, I can observe that such a simple plot will likely deter readers. I will mention, however, that there is a plot twist at the end, not wholly unexpected, but it does make for some good battle scenes after the reader thought Beard had already entered the dénouement. I have to say I liked it, even if the characters were a little flat and the writing workmanlike.
And the writing is workmanlike. Beard has obviously worked hard to write this novel, and I would not gainsay the achievement unreservedly, but the flat characters and straightforward plot coupled with a tendency to overuse passive voice in an attempt to sound mythic gives Beard’s writing a stodgy quality. Beard uses the traditional third-person for telling most of the story (some perspectives do fall into first) and likes to construct his sentences to ensure the story feels suitably mythic. For example, take this early scene the introduces the three primary characters:
Kohel was afraid, something he never was inside Haven; where his father reigned over everything important; where, by his father’s hand, Kohel ruled over everything else.
Nergei allowed himself a smile at his bully’s shame, but his happiness was short-lived, the smile fled his face, the feeling turned to skin-crawling fear when from behind him he heard Kohel’s voice.
And in front of him he heard the voice.
And from the east, and farther off to the west.
And from above, in the treetops, where he could not see. Kohel’s voice surrounded them, hemmed them into the clearing in a way that a dozen real Kohels never could have.
Luzhon cried out, begged Kohel to explain what was happening.
Notice the overuse of commas and semicolons to combine sentences. Sure, this is something any good writer should do on occasion, but Beard does it all the time. Entire paragraphs are made of just one sentence. Notice also the past tense forms of the verbs. Beard uses “begged” instead of “begs”, “never could have” instead of “could not.” The lack of active verbs, while initially great for getting the mythic tone of the novel, eventually began to grate on my nerves. The whole story read one of those scenes in a movie where the story segues into sepia, a device meant to indicate some past event that is outside the primary plotline. Give Beard props, he is consistent in his use of this style, and as a gamer playing D&D this is exactly the way I would want my dungeon master to relate the tale, but in a novel form, it frustrates after a while.
Thematically, the The Last Garrison is as you might expect. It is a story of bravery against overwhelming odds, a young girl finding her true calling as a warrior apart from men’s influence, the dangers of magic, and the heroism of an orphan boy. Nothing new here, just the good old comfort food.
Overall, I cannot recommend The Last Garrison except as shallow escapism. The story has potential, as does Beard as a writer, but it and he are not quite there yet. This had all the potential to be a really exciting story that uses familiar tropes and themes with just enough of a twist to be really entertaining. But the overuse of mythic tone, coupled with lack of depth in characters and plot make for a easy-to-read but mostly dull novel. Had Beard pared down the number of characters, given the story a more active voice, and added a few more twists and turns to his plot, he would have had a really good novel. As it stands The Last Garrison is decent reading for after you have turned your brain off for the day. At any other time, it is just annoying.
Starting off, I have to say that The Last Garrison was a fun, enjoyable read. While it ended up taking me longer to get through, than a book of this size normally would have, the times I was able to crack it open, I often found myself putting in one last chapter. Matt does a solid job setting the mood, and setting to the story. It did not take over description (commonly found in many other writings) to get a visual of Haven, its community, and the challenge that faced them. I liked the pacing and writing style of this story. Often times I find myself winding down at night looking for an easy, “mindless” adventure read that I can be brought along on. Often times in the past, I find myself getting stuck up in over-narrated combat scenes, or long winded descriptions of a local, and found that the scene flow, both in battle, and character dialog in this novel to be a smooth read. From the stand point of being a player of the game, there was a larger number of characters for the book size, but I felt the characters that needed to be fleshed out, were given enough detail to do so. This may be a different story for those not familiar with the game, or a first time reader of the novels who may not make the connections, may be looking for more back story on some of the lesser “Heroes” of the novel. Removal of a few characters or the addition of a few pages may have given the opportunity to dig deeper in to some of the classes presented for those unfamiliar with the game.
My only big complaint with the book would be getting the opportunity to find out more on Nergei and Luzhon. The story to me personally, had me focused from the beginning on Nergei, growing as a character. I hope down the line that there is an opportunity to revisit them, without it, this part of the original story feels a bit “unfinished”. While we are left with the option to dream up what may have come to be, the time spent growing with them on this adventure makes me want to see what else Matthew may or may not have had in store for them. It almost makes this feel like the end to a table top game where we may not ever know what happens to him. What I liked:
• Pacing & writing, it was a nice easy read. Enough was given to keep the story flowing. No scenes were overly drawn out. • Any questions I may have had during the read were all answered by the end of the book (The mystery of “The Old Star Gazer” and his lack of appearance throughout most of the book coming together.). • The “avenger” type villain character. The end of the book had me going back to rethink what would have happened has things gone differently for him.
Things to improve on: • My main gripe would be seeing where the evolvement of Nergei leads him in the future. The story wraps things up for Haven, but not for him, which could have been addressed in an epilogue (now hopefully in another novel or short story collection in the future).
If you want a quick, enjoyable read, I would recommend checking out “The Last Garrison”.
Readers of other novels in the Dungeons and Dragons line will find another excellent author to follow in Wizards of the Coast's growing catalog of excellent authors. Matthew follows the standard format of the genre well and yet manages to keep the story and the characters interesting. My only complaint would be that they cast of characters might have been too large for Matthew to handle and develop adequately, but the most important characters are well fleshed out and provide excellent hooks for future novels.
If you have never read a book of this genre, I think that you will find an interesting and exciting entrance to the worlds of Dungeons and Dragons.
Set in the world of Nerath, the novel follows an unlikely band of heroes on their quest to protect the remote mountain village of Haven from Kenku marauders, ravenlike humanoids.
After the Kenku make themselves known by attacking some villagers, the decision is made by the village council to send a small group of villagers, comprised mostly of teenagers, to find mercenaries in “the city.” There they find an aging, former captain of the fallen, human empire of Nerath, who agrees to help them in finding more warriors to free Haven from the winged threat.
The plot will be very familiar to readers of other books in the genre, young inexperienced characters are paired to find help, discover older washed-up heroes/mentors in unexpected forms, discover more unexpected allies, fight original threat, discover additional previously hidden threats, book ends with the potential of further novels. It is a format that Wizards of the Coast (the book's publisher) is great at especially in the Dungeons and Dragons game line. This book follows the format while providing enough character development and plot twists to keep the reader interested.
The characters were a mixed bag though. Many readers will easily identify with the main character, Nergei, a young apprentice/servant of the village's powerful warlock protector. Nergei doesn't have the talents or skills others in the village value and being isolated in the Warlock's tower has caused him to have low self-esteem. He feels powerless and inconsequential to the village around him, even though he fantasizes of a better future with Luzhon, a beautiful, young, and strong girl, who is outside of Nergei's social status. While many of the characters are developed well, we are often told about the characters' back stories and drives rather than shown. This method of development was necessary with the huge cast of characters, as the “adventuring party” ranges from four to fifteen, but leaves a lot to be desired.
The novel is pretty good. It wasn't a break-out best seller type of novel, but I suspect that Matthew will only improve as an author and story teller. The action is well-written and kept me turning pages, staying up far too late several nights. I kept wanting to know how the heroes and the village would fare.
This is Matthew Beard’s first (published) novel and it shows a bit in the writing early on, but as the novel progresses, there are many details and plot surprises that make this a worthwhile read. The beginning of this novel shows the most growing pains for the new author, with some clunky writing as the story gets going. The book doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be, feeling like a YA fantasy book in parts, but tossing in some R-rated bits and pieces that might not be appropriate for younger readers. I think the intent is for this to be an adult fantasy, but perhaps with broader appeal to teen readers.
The main character, Nergei, is a dumpy warlock’s apprentice who stumbles through much of the novel focused on his infatuation with a pretty young lady from the village. To me, the character seems to stereotyped – we’ve seen this character many times before in fantasy (think Samwell Tarly from George R. R. Martin) – and the cast of minor characters that come on scene after the first 100 pages or so are far more interesting. The story really picks up some steam at this point, after Nergei and a contingent from his village are forced to enlist the help of a group of adventurers from a nearby city. This group does seem like your typical D&D party at first (human fighter, dwarf cleric, elf archer, elf wizard, human monk), but they each have interesting histories that are developed over the course of the novel that make them different and interesting. In fact, one of the greatest strengths of this book is that is veers away from a focus on one main character (Nergei) and spends time developing much of the cast before the end.
A literary agent once said to me, “all that matter in a new fantasy are the details,” and this book does a good job of having just enough different that it’s an interesting read for both D&D fans and people who might want an introduction to the D&D core world. You’ve got Kenku (bird people), Goliaths, assassins of the Raven Queen, and the Old Stargazer – a starpact warlock who is finally close to paying his due to the extraterrestrial forces that have granted him his power his entire life.
I was disappointed at first that the book did not connect in any obvious way to the other D&D core world novels. I feel like some effort could have been made on this end, and even the city they visit is kept intentionally generic so it’s difficult to place this adventure on a map of the world. Still, I was surprised by the additions and connections to the old empire of Nerath at the end of the book, so there are bits of history here for those interested in that type of thing.
The print in this novel is fairly large and it’s a quick read, so if you’re looking for something to read on a plane or over the weekend, this is your book. It’s a fun adventure with enough interesting details to satisfy fans that have read a lot of D&D novels (like myself), but a good introduction to those who haven’t.
I had a lot of fun reading The Last Garrison. It is a great introduction to Dungeons and Dragons novels and requires no previous knowledge of the game or setting.
The descriptions and imagery were very good, I had no problem visualizing the scenes in perfect detail. Some scenes were so well done that I could actually see and feel the action. A few of the characters really stood out, particularly Nergei, Luzhon, and Sten. I felt a sense of attachment to these characters, Nergei and Luzhon especially, as theirs was a sort of coming of age story. But of all the characters, the one I liked the most was the "villian' of the story, Temley. He had the most interesting backstory and I found myself impatiently turning pages in order to read more about him. Veteran DnD players will also be pleased to see a reference to the basic set module "Keep on the Borderlands."
The only negative thing I have to say about the book is that there were almost too many characters to keep up with for a novel of this length. If there had been 50 or so more pages maybe they could have been fleshed out a bit more. This caused some of the supporting characters to feel a little flat and one-dimensional.
The final battle was what pushed it from a 3 star to a 4 star review. It was so vivid that I could feel the tension of the battle and it was as if I was right in the middle of it.
This was Mr. Beard's first book and I think he has a bright future and will only get better. I hope to read more from him in the future.
The Last Garrison is author Matthew Beard's first published novel and it shows, the plot is predictable and the characters range from generic to painful.
At the start of the book we're introduced to Nergei, one of the worst protagonists i've ever read. Nergei is so painfully awkward and self doubting that i found myself groaning and rushing through any section he was featured in. I would have honestly rather had the obnoxiously cliche bully, Kohel for a primary character.
The actual plot of the book is the time-tested "invaders vs. village" scenario featuring Kenku raiders besieging the secluded village of Haven. The village's longtime protector is losing himself to his strange magic so the village leaders send Nergei and several teenagers into the city to search for help.
The best part of the book is in the middle where we meet several new and interesting characters in the mercenaries Sten and Spundwand. Sadly, we also get a handful more generic secondary characters who seem only in the story to fill out the "striker" or "defender" rolls.
The antagonists are marginally better than their counterparts but still aren't memorable in the slightest. The Kenku have one really good scene where they actually seem fairly terrifying but that's one of few bright points in the entire novel.
Overall this book was just bland, the third act sort of floats by, things that were meant to seem threatening early in the book end up being so easily overcome that i almost felt cheated by
Overall this novel by Mr. Beard was very enjoyable. At times it was a page turner but I did feel it fell short with some character development.
Through the coarse of reading I found myself wondering if there would be additional novels to delve into some of the stories eluded to by the characters as well as a continuation of what happened in Haven after the resolution beyond what the epilogue explored. I felt left hanging at the end, wanting to know more of Nergei and Luzhon growth and possible relationship.
All the action scenes were very well written. I visualized what was going on. At times it did feel like descriptive writing for an actually D&D game scenario with game terminology thrown in as descriptors. I don't know if that is actually a bad thing, I liked it personally as it was written well. It may of stood out to me because of my gaming experience.
In the end it was a very enjoyable story and well written. It does feel somewhat rushed at the end to close out the story where I believe more could of been developed for either additional chapters or a series of books. I suspect this was due to publishing constraints and/or requirements on length, which I do not fault Mr. Beards writing for.
I hope to enjoy more books by Mr. Beard in the future.
Overall the book was pretty good but I felt it took too long to move the story forward. The story ideas were good and I enjoyed the unique ideas with this. However, I really felt like I was talking to a gamer about how cool their game was. The characters felt a little flat and did not offer much development.
The story was long in the early stages and felt rushed at the end. I would have liked to have had more character development especially for the main character.