Good Books: Christine Morgan’s Curse of the Shadow Beasts

With autumn here and cooler temperatures coming with it (the recent 85+ degree days in central Montana not withstanding), it’s getting more and more tempting to spend a day curled up on the couch with a blankie and a good book. But which book? There are so many to choose from…

In my quest to help geeks everywhere find good stuff to read, I present another novel that I consider to be a very Good Book – Christine Morgan’s Curse of the Shadow Beasts, the first book of her MageLore trilogy.

Christine Morgan is a fantasy and horror author from the Pacific Northwest, with about a dozen novels (including a kids’ series) and as many short stories under her belt. She’s written for the GURPS RPG and is the author of my favorite adult gaming reference, Naughty and Dice, which she wrote with her husband Tim. One of her short stories, Dawn of the Living Dead, has been nominated for the Origins Award for Best Game Related Short Work of Fiction in 2002, and was awarded an honorable mention in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror 2001. Curse of the Shadow Beasts was her first novel, released in 1998.

About The Book

Curse of the Shadow Beasts introduces us to elven wizard Arien Mirida, a librarian in the city of Thanis. In his 87 years working there, he has read every single volume on the library’s shelves, searching desperately for information that will help him remove a curse from his family. If he is unsuccessful, he will be the last of his line, and the family name and heritage will die with him.

With the library’s resources exhausted, Arien looks to another possibility for the answers he seeks: Castle Selbon, a ruined archmage’s tower to the northeast of the city. It is said to be a place of dark magic and treasures galore, and has lured many an adventurer over the years. Word has reached Thanis that it now houses some rather cruel individuals, who are all too eager to imprison those who come to explore.

Arien recently had the good luck to be rescued from a robbery by a mysterious elfkin (half-elf) named Cat Sabledrake. Elfkin are considered an abomination by most elves, and he had never known of one to live to adulthood. Cat, on the other hand, had never known of an elf to show her any kindness. After their fated encounter in the alley, neither had thought they’d ever see the other again, and tried to put each other out of their minds. But when Arien walked into the Inn of the Golden Lion and overheard talk of Castle Selbon – and found Cat to be in on the conversation – it seemed that fate had brought them together once again.

Cat’s improbable best friend, Sybil Narrin (a priestess of Talopea, the Goddess of a Thousand Pleasures), brings word from another priest of her order who was lucky enough to escape his captors at Castle Selbon. The priest overheard the guards speaking of a troublesome elf being held there. Cat fears the elf in question is her long-lost mother, who her father has been searching for many years. She decides immediately that she must go, and Arien offers his assistance, eager to both help Cat and hopefully find the key to breaking his family’s curse.

The party journeying to the castle also includes (reluctantly) Sybil; Alphonse Bugbedead, an orckin priest of Steel, a warrior god; Jessa, a straight-laced ranger who can barely stand to be in the same room as Sybil; gnome Greyquin the Short and his riding dog, Bear; and Rayke, a strapping sword-for-hire. Along the way, they meet up with another gnome, named Solarrin, and his minotaur servant, Bostitch. Solarrin claims to be the greatest of mages, also seeking knowledge at the castle, and insists that the party could use his magic and Bostitch’s strength in their mission. The party isn’t sure if they’re making the right decision, but they agree that extra magic could be useful, and allow him to join them.

As the party travels toward the castle, Arien and Cat find themselves drawn to each other, but Arien insists that they can be no more than friends, for if Cat knew the truth of his family’s curse, she’d never want to see him again. Cat has no experience with men, and with Sybil on one side urging her to pursue her desires, and Jessa on the other warning her that men are no good, she has a hard time reconciling her feelings for this handsome elf with the haunted past.

What is the Mirida family curse? Has Cat’s mother been imprisoned at Castle Selbon all these years? Can Solarrin be trusted? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

Why Should You Read It?

Curse of the Shadow Beasts (and its sequels, Dark of the Elvenwood and Archmage of the Universe) is ripe with personable characters, high magic, a page-turning plot, and a strong romantic element (you all should have known that I’d be all over a book with a priestess of a pleasure goddess!).  In fact, I think it’s one of the best examples of seamlessly working love and sex into a setting that I’ve ever seen. The MageLore trilogy is “game fiction”, with a heavy GURPS influence, but don’t worry that you need to know GURPS to enjoy this book. I’ve never played GURPS in my life, and I loved it. I bought all three books of the MageLore trilogy (and the subsequent ElfLore trilogy) at MisCon last May and devoured them all in a matter of months.

The MageLore books are currently out of print, but never fear, they can still be found! The best way to get your hot little hands on them is to buy them directly from Christine, either by finding her at a con (and she’s a lovely lady to talk to!) or through her website. You can also find a few copies on Amazon.

Curse of the Shadow Beasts is well worth the effort to track down. The only problem is, you’ll just want more of the story…

About c

By day, Connie Thomson (aka Ariel Manx) is a mild-mannered shoe salesgirl, geeking out about insoles, outsoles, and shanks. But when night falls, she takes her turn at the helm of 4 Winds Fantasy Gaming, where she writes, edits, and does layout for table-top RPG products. Regardless of her persona, C is always a fangirl, bookworm, and craft diva. (Email C or follow @arielmanx on Twitter.)

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