The Ruby Guardian: The Scions of Arrabar, Book II Mass Market Paperback – Nov 1 2004
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The book keeps a pretty brisk pace, never dwelling any too long on any particular character. This works both for and against the characters, because the Vambran, main character, is very boring, very poorly developed, and seems to fall into bed with female characters shortly after meeting them despite having no discernible personality aside from being very loyal to his family and to his fellow mercenaries. He never says anything particularly charming, witty, intelligent, or even insightful, nor do I remember any description of him that suggested he was particularly handsome. He seems to be somewhat resourceful, as well capable fighter, and it's good that he is, too, because that's pretty much all he's doing from start to finish. He's a very flat character that almost comes off like a Mary Sue/Gary Stu character that the author once played in a D&D session of his own. He is basically this book's Wesley Crusher. The only 'reason' to even feel like Vambran is remotely sympathetic is because the bulk of the people he's fighting are portrayed in a less flattering way than Vambran himself tends to be, and his segments often had me thinking "I don't care if he succeeds/fails, lives/dies." He does things your average good guy is supposed to, but he lacks depth and it isn't difficult to guess what he will do or say from one moment to the next, and his motivations seem practically nonexistent. He wants to survive, which is understandable, but the desire to save his home city and the people he encounters seem more like he's doing it just to push the plot forward than because of anything the reader is given to help understand why he feels the way he feels or does the things he does.
By contrast, the other 'main' character, Vambran's younger sister, Emriana, is largely incompetent in terms of taking care of herself, but makes up for it by having some spark of a personality, being a bit of the stereotypical spirited young noblewoman who wants to be an adventurer like other members of her family. Unfortunately, this zest for adventure seems to manifest itself most often in very stereotypical ways, such as blundering into one trap after another as she tries to help, usually ending up making things worse. She can be a bit of a "self-rescuing princess", thankfully, but even she is written with just barely enough of a compelling personality to make her a character I wanted to see live to the next page, whereas I was actively hoping Vambran wouldn't after a while.
If it weren't for the parts involving Emriana and the political maneuverings of the key players/villains in the home city which shape the overall plot, this book (and the series as a whole) would be borderline intolerable. No character really develops much depth from start to finish, and the rare attempts to actually have Vambran show anything but his stereotypical, largely unexplained, main character blind loyalty to his teammates come off as incredibly hollow because there's never any time taken to build up relationships between Vambran and any of the other mercenaries to show why he'd care about the fate of any of them, or why the reader should either; we're just supposed to assume he does and we should because the author says so. Emriana at least establishes some semblance of relationships with her aunt and her grandmother, both of whom show more personality in their comparatively short times in the limelight than Vambran throughout the entire book, and when events in Emriana's part of the story start to happen you can at least feel for her just a bit because you have reason to understand her attachment to her aunt and grandmother, but even she starts and ends as pretty much the same person.
The broad strokes of the plot, as well as the segments involving the various villains and Emriana were enough to keep me reading. The big, overall plot itself is rather interesting. It has a bit of a Game of Thrones-y, Machiavellian mixture of political maneuvering and intrigue to it. It's just a shame that more than half the book is taken up by a character who could be called "Generic Hero" and it would have almost no noticeable effect on the story. It makes me wonder how many (if any) of the novel's attempts at developing the characters were edited out to keep the book from being too long.
The upcoming summary may have spoilers to The Sapphire Crescent.
A few weeks have passed since the events of The Sapphire Crescent, and Vambran Matrell, along with his uncle Kovrim, have been shipped out of Arrabar to deal with problems the distant city of Cimber are having. During the voyage across the sea, the company of the Sapphire Crescent, who is led by Vambran, is waylaid by pirates and destroys the ship. The company manages to escape, do to some handy potions. They land on a beach, which is swarming with mercenaries who are waiting for them, and the groups only chance to escape is through the forest called the Nunwood. Most of the company, along with Kovrim, gets captured, but Vambran and a few others manage to evade capture. Back in Arrabar, the rest of the Matrell family is vacationing in a summer home recovering from the events of The Sapphire Crescent. We learn that Grozier Talricci and his mage Bartimus have escaped from their cell in the church of Waukeen (the goddess of coins and wealth), much to the dismay of the Matrells. Xaphira Matrell, the thought to be missing and presumed dead aunt, is on a mission to discover who Junce Roundface is to stop Grozier from his plans. Xaphira takes Emriana with her to give her a few lessons of how to be 'sneaky', and it all goes terribly wrong. Finally, the Grand Syndar (the head priest) of the temple of Waukeen is dying and his servant, Pilos finds out something is odd with the Grand Trabber (a high-ranking priest) Lavant. Will Vambran rescue his company and save his uncle? Do Xaphira and Emriana survive the information gathering on Junce? Does Pilos find out what really happened with the Grand Syndar?
1) Bad Dues Ex Machina. This may spoil something but there is absolutely no way I can work around this. Early in the story, Vambran is being pulled into a kraken's beak when he somehow drives it off. However, Vambran is slowly running out of air and he won't be able to make it to the surface to get some air. But wait! A sea elf comes to his aid. Wait what? A sea elf just suddenly appearing to save him? Not only that but after the sea elf kisses him (transferring some air into Vambran's lungs), it isn't acknowledged at all. It was a huge cop-out. But wait, I'm not done. Emriana gets in a similar situation later in the story and what happens? A sea elf comes and rescues her. To be honest, this isn't as 'cheesy' or simply stupid as Vambran's rescue, but the fact that the same thing (or relatively the same) happens in the story twice painful and lazy. At least Emriana's rescue wasn't as detailed and unintentionally funny as Vambran's, but is still is lazy and makes me yell the question of "Why?"
2) Protagonists. I don't know what it was, but I just didn't care about Vambran, Kovrim, Emriana, or Pilos at all. They weren't bad, but they just weren't as interesting as Vambran and Emriana were in The Sapphire Crescent. Vambran and Emriana in this story were shades of who they were in the previous book. That being said, they weren't terrible characters. They seemed to be more of the same and don't develop any further until the last few chapters. With Kovrim, he just seemed useless. Sure he was tied up and unable to do much, but I just didn't think he added much to the overall story except for giving the reader knowledge of what is happening to the captured company. Pilos is just weak. He only appears a few times throughout the story so there isn't much there, but enough to make him one of the main characters. He just seemed to be there to move the story along a little more and to become a love interest for Emriana. Basically, it just seemed that the characters from the previous story just didn't develop any more, and that was a let down.
1) Antagonists. I have to say that the villains do carry this book. While in The Sapphire Crescent, they were laughable and pathetic. In this part, they are just down right cruel and scary. What makes a good antagonist? Someone who is evil and has little to no morals, right? At least that's one way to make a good villain. Well, that's what these villains are. They are plain evil and it seems they have little to no morals. There were times when I just was plain frightened by them. I can't really get into too much detail, because if I do, I would ruin some great moments. If you compare The Sapphire Crescent's villains with The Ruby Guardian's it's like night and day. The best way to explain this is if you take a sitcom (let's say Seinfeld) and suddenly turn it into something like The Silence of the Lambs. Or let's use some characters from The Sapphire Crescent. We have Grozier and Bartimus who were a joke in the previous book. Every time they came up in The Sapphire Crescent, I couldn't help but laugh. But now, Grozier turned into Patrick Bateman from American Psycho. He's that frightening. The sudden change in antagonists was jarring, but in a good way. I'm just plain impressed.
2) Plot. The plot of The Ruby Guardian was pretty interesting. Finally we see why Grozier and Lavant wanted to take out the Matrells (or at least 'win' them over) to help fund a war. I didn't really expect the reason to be what it turned out to be and seeing how the antagonists go about what they were doing was interesting. The overall reason is a little 'cheesy', but somehow it worked. The other points concerning the protagonists were interesting as well. I can't really name specifics, but everything just tied nicely together and everything fit.
3) Humanizing Protagonists. Now I did mention that the protagonists weren't all that interesting, but I thought that there still is one major quality about them. They are human and they act like it (mostly). It was nice to see Vambran being unable to do anything outstanding and amazing to save himself and his company. Then you have Emriana's inability to do anything competently. At first it was frustrating, but as the story progressed it started to make sense. It just was nice to see more human protagonists.
1) Xaphira. Is it me or does she seem to be superhuman? Take her fighting in this book and her acrobatic abilities in The Sapphire Crescent. She seemed to be like some Kung Fu movie hero, and I have to say it was annoying.
2) Frustrating. I have to say, going right into this book after reading The Sapphire Crescent and it's frustrating scenes made me a little frustrated at The Ruby Guardian for the first one hundred pages. I'm just glad that the story did get better as it progressed.
3) Cover Art. I really like it. It isn't like The Sapphire Crescent's romance novel-esque cover, it actually is interesting. I really like how the color red stands out and it draws your eyes to Emriana. Not to mention that something like that is reflected in the story! That always gets bonus points. To put it simply, I like it.
The Ruby Guardian was an improvement over The Sapphire Crescent. The villains weren't a joke and they were frightening scary and sadistic. They made the story entertaining and worth it. The major problem is the horribly bad dues ex sea elf. Seriously, why? I would rather have seen the characters drown, it would have made everything so much better. The protagonists themselves were not that good. There was little to no character development, but I did enjoy seeing how human they were. The Ruby Guardian is better, and I'd say it's worth the read.
Again, the plot is brilliant. Just when I thought Reid has exhausted all of the twists in the first book (as it tends to happen in trilogies), he finds a way to weave in a whole heap of new ones. Excellent.
The author gives us even more insight in Chondath, clergy of Waukeen and relations between rivaling merchant Houses than he did in the first novel.
That is where the similarities between the installments end.
Reid greatly improves his storytelling, and stays away from unexpected rescues and rigid dialogues that troubled the first book. The reading is much more entertaining this way.
The characters, which were in my opinion the weakest part of the first novel, do get fleshed out a bit more in this book, but there is still much space for improvement. Reid also introduces a fair number of interesting new characters and some of the old ones get much more space, especially the villains. Usually, if the antagonists get much space in the book, the readers tend to like them more than the often cheesy protagonists. It is not the case with this book. Although the "goodies" are a bit cheesy, the villains are so sadistic and disgusting that you can't really get to like them.
A very good second book. If the author keeps this rate of improvement, we are going to have a fantastic third novel. You should check this one out.