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City of Towers
Keith Baker
Wizards of the Coast, 384 pages

City of Towers
Keith Baker
Keith Baker left the computer game industry to focus on a career as a freelance game designer. He is the designer of the Eberron campaign for Dungeons and Dragons. Before that, he worked VR1 in Boulder, Colorado and Magnet Interactive Studios in Washington DC. While at Magnet, he created some of the very best levels in Icebreaker. Before going to work at Magnet, Keith graduated from Bates College. He lives in Boulder, Colorado.

Keith Baker Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Craig Shackleton

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I approached City of Towers with some trepidation. I've never been a big fan of Dungeons and Dragons-inspired fiction. Not only have the ones I've read been generally uninspired, but as a long-time gamer, I've often had trouble reconciling story events with the nature of the game. This may be more of a problem with me than the books themselves, but somehow it always weakens my suspension of disbelief. Add in the fact that this is Keith Baker's first novel, and I could be buying into disappointment.

In this case I was already sold on the setting. I've been eating up Eberron products since the first online previews were made available. I decided to give the novel a go. True to form, I ate it up. I read the novel in a single sitting and enjoyed it entirely, even though I could feel a part of me trying to not like it.

Baker's characters are solid and believable, with real personalities and personal stories. They have barely survived a devastating war, and the mental scars it has left are presented realistically, as is their lack of direction now that the war is over. Early in the novel, some of the inter-character friction seems a bit stilted, but as the characters develop, all of their interactions become more natural.

The novel lends a new grittier edge to the setting. It's refreshing to see a fantasy world in which the impoverished underclass is truly downtrodden and living in filth and misery. Racism, class conflict and post-war tension abound, right alongside vice and corruption. The stark contrast of the opulence of the wealthy and their blind indifference to those (literally) beneath them serves to reinforce this picture.

The story is a compelling mystery with a hard edge. The heroes are run ragged as they try to unravel a web of intrigue that puts them in danger at every turn. The elements of the mystery pile up at a frantic pace, and no one's motives can be trusted. The action is well written, and I'm inclined to believe that Baker actually knows something about sword-combat. Every once in a while I found myself thinking things like "characters in D&D don't get disarmed this often," but I never felt that something that happened in the novel could not happen in a game.

There are lighter moments and even humor in the novel. Baker does a good job of balancing the level of humor with the tone of the scene, and keeping it consistent with the personalities of the characters.

While I enjoyed City of Towers a great deal, I don't want to give the wrong impression; it is not deep art. It's a fun, fast-paced adventure with interesting characters and setting, and enough grit and dark tone for me to take it seriously. I was a little disappointed in the editing, which seems to have mostly been done with a spell-checker. There were a few of incorrect words (like here instead of her), and sentences that had obviously been changed, with an extra word left from the original sentence.

I was a little surprised when I reached the end of the story because there were still a good fifty pages left in the book. This turned out to be a brief overview of the setting and Glossary. This section turned out to be the best introductory information package for Eberron that I've yet seen, and I've made it a permanent resource at my game table.

I am also encouraging my gaming group to read the novel, because it will give them a better understanding of the Eberron world. I certainly got this out of it myself and would highly recommend that anyone who is playing in an Eberron game read it. Even if you aren't playing an Eberron game, I would still recommend City of Towers as a fun read.

Copyright © 2005 Craig Shackleton

Craig Shackleton tries not to let real life interfere with his role-playing games or his historical sword-fighting any more than it has to.


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