December 20, 2007

Book Review: Crypt of the Moaning Diamond by Rosemary Jones

* Genre: Fantasy, Shared World Fiction
* ISBN: 0786947144
* ISBN-13: 9780786947140
* Format: Mass Market Paperback, 320pp
* Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
* Pub. Date: November 2007
* Series: Dungeons Series

What happens when an writer who works for an opera company turns to writing fantasy? Does the story take on qualities of the epic? Do people take forever to die? Or does everyone just walk around singing loudly and wearing funny costumes? If these are questions you have asked yourself (or even if they aren’t) you ought to turn your attention to Crypt of the Moaning Diamond by Rosemary Jones. An opera writer and first time novelist, Jones has created a dungeon delving story both humorous and out of the ordinary set in the Forgotten Realms mythos.

Ivy is the leader of the Siegebreakers, a small band of sappers who hire themselves out to armies needing to have walls come a’tumblin down. Ivy’s crew consists of a 300 year old dwarf who loves dogs, the dog Wiggles, two sisters with very different mothers, and a goat footed thief. Additionally, they have a tag along, a Procampurian knight whose rigid sense of honor provides a great deal of humor to the pragmatic Siegebreakers. When the group falls into a vast and ancient crypt during one of their siege breaking attempts, they are forced to find a way out. But it isn’t all that simple. The crypt is vast, and a crazy wizard is down there with them, in search of a treasure with a great deal of power. In the meantime, the water level is rising beneath their feet, even as the heroes move deeper into the ground.

Unlike the other stories in the Dungeons series, Crypt of the Moaning Diamond is humorous rather than serious. In fact, it reminds me a lot of Jim C. Hines’ Goblin Quest in that way. The humor is different though. Where Hines chose a strange character and made him into a hero, thereby providing humor at the ridiculousness of the situation, Jones’ humor is more relational. Ivy and Sanval (the Procampurian gentleman) flirt with each other, albeit unconsciously. Since Ivy chooses to be pragmatic and dresses comfortably, whereas Sanval is all spit and polish with a strong sense of honor, the attraction of polar opposites provides great humor. The two sisters in the Siegebreakers fight like family always does, yet step to the plate when the protection of each other is needed. And then there is Wiggles, the bone loving white ball of fluff, who sees undead as a snack. Add to that love poetry writing bugbears (“a good thump-thump beat is necessary” apparently) and you can’t help but snicker each time you turn the page.

Jones also never lets up on the action. Moving through the crypt, the Siegebreakers encounter enemy after enemy, all with the knowledge that if they don’t hurry, they’ll drown in the rising water. This pacing keeps the novel interesting and never bogging down in detail. Her battle scenes are innovative, often finding unusual or pragmatic solutions where other authors tend to over do it in order to add to the “epic” nature of the narrative. (i.e. it is easier to break a trap than try to solve it.)

Jones would do well to vary her word choices a little bit. In a battle scene where one character is wielding a shovel, she kept repeating the word “shovel” to describe the weapon. If she had tried a little harder, she could have found other words to use in her sentences. In the span of two pages (pages 74 and 75) she used the word “shovel” 8 times when it would have been possible to use “weapon” or “makeshift bludgeon” in its place. In a fight scene, an author ought to use synonyms more often, since the reader’s reading pace often picks up at such points, and the overuse of a word becomes more obvious. This detracted from some of the action scenes.

Since each of the novels in the Forgotten Realms: Dungeons Series is a stand alone novel, it is relatively easy for the reader to pick up this novel. Add to that the fact that Rosemary Jones doesn’t rely heavily on the mythos of the Forgotten Realms, except to give setting and background to her story and any reader can easily enjoy it, even if he or she rarely read novels in shared world fiction. Of all the debut Forgotten Realms authors that have come out in recent years, I think I enjoyed Rosemary’s writing the best. She reminds me a lot of Elaine Cunningham in writing technique. Both writers create relationships between their characters, as well as writing sword and sorcery action, and those relationships make the novels all the more fun to read, as the reader becomes invested in the people he or she is reading about.

So in answer to the opening questions, I would say that yes, a writer with a familiarity with opera has some knowledge of the epic, and that when such a writer turns to fantasy, she is able to bring that knowledge into her story. There was some loud singing in Crypt of the Moaning Diamond but it wasn’t pretty and the characters weren’t wearing funny costumes. But Jones understands narrative, and knows how to make a story interesting, skills she seems to have refined as a writer surrounded by music. I think Rosemary Jones is an excellent addition to the cadre of Wizards of the Coast writers, and I hope she continues to write stories like Crypt of the Moaning Diamond for the Forgotten Realms.

Posted by John on December 20, 2007 05:13 PM | Posted to Fantasy | Forgotten Realms
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Comments

Thanks for the thoughtful review. I think I should add that I write for an opera company (press releases, artist bios, and lots of bits and pieces for our publications and website) and I have never written an opera. I also really can't sing -- a bit daunting when the rest of the staff can and does break into three-part harmonies for "Happy Birthday."

I love to hear suggestions from readers and hope people will contact me through my website, www.rosemaryjones.com, or My Space.

Posted by: Rosemary Jones on December 20, 2007 10:14 PM

Thanks for clarifying Rosemary. I made an assumption. I modified the review slightly to reflect that you don't write opera. But I don't think you can deny that anyone surrounded by that type of music cannot be affected by it. I think you have been. (Ivy is a little bit of you, I bet.)

Looking forward to more from you.

Posted by: John on December 21, 2007 09:24 AM

John, thanks; this feed is much better!

Posted by: Tia on December 21, 2007 04:46 PM
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