Unclean: Excellent sword and sorcery romp

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsForgotten Realms book review The Haunted Lands 1. Unclean Richard Lee ByersUnclean by Richard Lee Byers

What happens when a young bard returns home to find the lover he left gone? What would you do if you saw your entire regiment slaughtered by the undead? If an undead lich made a grab for control of your country, even if that country is the notoriously self-serving Thay?

It is these questions that Richard Lee Byers’ attempts to answer in Unclean: The Haunted Lands. Byers continues to show his writing prowess in the shared world arena by tackling a difficult topic in the Forgotten Realms world: the undead. Traditionally seen as evil through and through, represented usually as vampires, zombies, skeletons, ghosts, and ghouls, Byers has developed their characters, added some new creatures, and moved beyond the hack/slash utility of the traditional monsters.

The story follows two characters. Braeris is a bard of Thay, just returned from making his fortune, only to find his true love has sold herself as a slave to pay her father’s debts. Aoth is a griffon rider with magical ability serving in the army of one of the tharchions of Thay. He is the sole survivor of the first attack of the army of undead that appears out of the Sunrise Mountains. The story moves between these two characters as they pursue separate quests that will eventually lead them to each other. Braeris seeks his lost love, and Aoth seeks to serve his tharchion (a selfish and stupid person) while also attempting to destroy the army of undead. Meanwhile, Szass Tam, lich and zulkir of Thay, seeks to use the events to his own advantage.

Unclean is an excellent sword and sorcery romp. Byers is one of the better authors in the Forgotten Realms and his experience in writing horror fiction for other publishers serves him well here. One flaw is that Byers lacks the ability to make the love story subplots truly empathetic; they seem tacked on and lack any real emotion. But the plot is fast-paced and rarely sits still. There is an excellent build-up of events that lead to a climax that, while expected, doesn’t fail to excite. The ending, while good, doesn’t complete the story, and the reader will be anxious for the next book, Undead.

If you are looking for emotional depth, shy away from this one. But if you are a Forgotten Realms fan, or if you enjoy vampire and/or undead novels, or if you’re looking for a quick sword and sorcery romp for a little escapism, you will enjoy Unclean.

FanLit thanks John Ottinger III from Grasping for the Wind for contributing this guest review.

Forgotten Realms: The Haunted Lands — (2007-2010) by Richard Lee Byers. Publisher: Good. You understand now. I’m not your beloved anymore. I’m Unclean — foul, and a slave to creatures fouler still. Please… please… destroy me if you can. The realm of Thay has long been ruled by the uneasy peace of an alliance of wizards, but all along there has been one who believes he is the true master. And when that one wizard finally moves against his former allies, his homeland could be only the first of his conquests.

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JOHN OTTINGER III, a guest contributor to FanLit, runs the Science Fiction / Fantasy blog Grasping for the Wind. His reviews, interviews, and articles have appeared in Publisher’s Weekly, The Fix, Sacramento Book Review, Flashing Swords, Stephen Hunt’s SFCrowsnest, Thaumatrope, and at Tor.com.

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