One of my least favorite fantasy adventure tropes is the tournament arc; often there’s virtually no plot, no character development, just a lot of fights with miraculous and/or unexpected power-ups. About half of Drew Haye’s Noble Roots, books 5 of the Spells, Swords, & Stealth series, goes here. I suppose it was kind of inevitable that this happen since the series is based on two premises: what happens when you focus on the NPCs in a D&D-style game and their lives when they aren’t interacting with the players, and the possibility that the world of the game and the world of the players, that is our world, might be somehow connected. A classic, or at least riff thereon, fantasy narrative like this was bound to go to a major trope. Thankfully, the boredom and lack of movement for a long period of time was not an issue; sorry to have doubted you, Drew!
Backing up to the first half of the novel, the former NPC adventurers are sent on a quest, partially in their own interest. They’ve previously gotten on the bad side of the evil trickster god Kalzzidar, and now they’re potentially getting into some of his personal background to try and save themselves, but first the quest to help them get the info and probably objects to help them do that. There is some mystery but not too much if you can read through the not very hidden lines that the quest will both help them free the long imprisoned enchanter Rogglin might also give them the boost they need to save Madroria (Thistle, their gnome paladin’s wife) from Kalzidar who has not that long ago stolen her soul from it’s rightful afterlife and imprisoned her. This actually starts as a series of individual quests that group has to split up to achieve, each part almost designed for the individuals. Gabrielle, being now an undead barbarian, gets sent into the realm of the god of death where the living cannot go. Eric (human rouge) and Timuscor (terrible, yet mildly funny D&D riff name) the paladin end up finding Rogglin, the bit where those not connected to a god stand a chance, and Grumph (half-orc wizard) and Thistle end up in a library. Various quests dispatched with, but also the potential for both plot and character grown are set up in all cases, some of which is pursued through the tournament for the Astafrond (magic tree seed that grant the user something special). Throughout the questing and the tournament almost everyone of the adventure party starts to gain some new skill or understanding, and the plot surrounding Madroria’s rescue makes some interesting progress, at least on the Kalzidar front.
The other thread of the series also makes some major progress; having previously experienced some real magic in the mundane realm during a game session, Russel (game-master) and his group are still investigating the game company and how much they know about the magic and the game. They get invited to a special Spells, Swords, & Stealth gaming weekend, and this promises a good chance to see if fellow gamers have experienced the magic and maybe get more info on the Broken Bridge Publishing company; but the twist is that Russel and his sister Cheri have to ask their mom, Marsha, for permission, and she apparently has a personal issue with that game. Marsha surprisingly allows the kids to go, but she goes with. This part actually works well since there’s enough backstory suggested where it both works story-wise but also character, and the twist about her reasons I did see coming a mile away, but the NPC connection is super intriguing. The convention/NPC tournament does not mesh quite as smoothly as I’d like, but overall the back and forth still works out. The only actual complaint I have is that the cliff-hanger ending while I didn’t see it coming, actually isn’t going to keep me counting the moments until book 6 comes out.