Review of R. A. Salvatore’s Companions Series

Companions Series Review Cover Image

Welcome to another installment of Ogre’s Book Club. This time I’ve got a review of R. A. Salvatore’s Companions Series for you. The First book in the series is The Companions, The Sundering, Book I which is the also the first book in the six book The Sundering series. The remaining three books in R.A. Salvatore’s storyline are oddly subtitled The Companions Codex I, II, and III. The books I’m reviewing in this article are:

R. A. Salvatore’s Companions Series Clarification

Wizards of the Coast, publishers of the current, 5th Edition, of Dungeons & Dragons created The Sundering event timeline to explain changes in the game world/universe. This series consists of six books by six authors. The first book, by R. A. Salvatore begins the series and then spins off into The Companions Codex books.

Discovering R. A. Salvatore

I haven’t read any of Salvatore’s work in some years. I originally discovered his work in the late eighties when I found a copy of The Crystal Shard on my local bookstore’s shelves. This first discovery of Bruenor Battlehammer, Regis, Cattie-Brie, Wulfgar, and the now legendary Drizzt Do’Urden sucked me in right away. If you haven’t read it, I recommend it! Over the years, I drifted away from from Salvatore’s writing as my tastes changed and my interest in Dungeons & Dragons and other role-playing games flagged.

My recent discovery of the Critical Role Podcast and the resurgence (and unprecedented) popularity of D&D piqued my interest in the state of the game and the game world, in this case Ed Greenwood’s Forgotten Realms. I’ve not kept up with the happenings in the game and the changing of editions and publishers and owners. So, I decided to read the The Sundering series to get caught up. At the end of the first book, I realized the storyline doesn’t continue in the second book of The Sundering series, instead spinning off into other books. So, I followed the storyline through Vengeance of the Iron Dwarf.

I should note that I’ve already bought the second book in The Sundering series, The Godborn, The Sundering Book II, by Paul S. Kemp. However, I haven’t read it yet because I got sidetracked with Salvatore’s novels (and a handful of other books). I previously enjoyed reading Paul S. Kemp’s Erevis Cale books (years ago) and hope this book lives up to those. I’ll publish a review in the future.

A Note About Spoilers

In this review of R. A. Salvatore’s Companions series, I’ll do my best to avoid serious spoilers, but some detail will inevitably leak out when writing a review of a four book series. I will do my best to keep spoilers to a minimum an if in doubt, I’ll make it obvious so you can skip it.

The Companions, Sundering Book I Cover Image
Cover. Artwork subject to copyright.

The Companions, The Sundering, Book I

The Companions, The Sundering Book I is a refreshing dive back into R.A. Salvatore’s work. I hadn’t read any of his work in a while and enjoyed this book. This book takes place during the time where magic in the Forgotten Realms has gone haywire and after the death of Drizzt’s companions. For those folks that read earlier books where Bruenor Battlehammer makes peace with Obould Many Arrows orc tribes, this book takes place a century later.

I think what I liked best about this book is that it has little to do with Drizzt Do’Urden. Sure, he’s a very central character, but he’s not a big player in this book. Instead, his companions take center stage (for once) and their new lives are interesting and entertaining reading.

I can’t really spoil the book, so this will sound vague, but this book is about Drizzt’s companions, an offer from a god to be reborn and to return to aid their friend, Drizzt, in a time of need.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Nigh of the Hunter, Companions Codex I Cover

Night of the Hunter, Companions Codex I

Night of the Hunter picks up immediately after The Companions. For long-time fans of Drizzt Do’Urden, the fact that the Drow goddess Llolth is constantly plotting his demise and rules her domain by fostering chaos and intrigue won’t be any surprise. For new readers, this book will take you deep into the drow underworld and the plotting and scheming of arch wizards and and matron mothers.

Meanwhile, on the surface old companions reunited find new adventures and a few old enemies. This is a stage setting novel for the following two books.

Rise of the King, Companions Codex II Cover Image

Rise of the King, Companions Codex II

There is no interruption or gap between Night of the Hunter and Rise of the King. The story continues as skies darken and the plotting and scheming of drow, frost giants, orks, ogres and gods begins to take shape on the surface. The action picks up here and the drow intrigue is thick.

Vengeance of the Iron Dwarf, Companions Codex III Cover

Vengeance of the Iron Dwarf, Companions Codex III

Vengeance begins exactly where Rise of the King left off. The companions are separated and struggling. War and destruction are thick. Dwarves and other surface races are in disagreement and the evil armies are everywhere. This book is great fun and fans of Salvatore’s style of describing fighting won’t be disappointed. Without spoiling anything, this book wraps up this portion fo the story arc, but it doesn’t end the story. Salvatore has been writing Drizzt Do’Urden stories for 30 years, why stop now?

Conclusion: Review of R. A. Salvatore’s Companions Series

Final thoughts on R. A. Salvatore’s Companions series. I’m glad I read these four books. It was nice to read about characters that I loved when I was much younger. I know that most folks that read Salvatore’s stuff really like his Drizzt Do’Urden character, but he’s never been my favorite–I’m at the point where I skip the short ‘journal entry’ chapters in Drizzt’s voice. I always appreciated Drizzt’s supporting cast much more. Regis, Wulfgar, Cattie-brie and Bruenor were fun to read about again. And in many ways, they’re the star of these recent books. That was a treat. Of course, you wouldn’t know it–all the covers feature Drizzt.

I am not a big fan of the Drow underworld in the Forgotten Realms. I think Salvatore has become the de facto expert in D&D Forgotten Realms Drow world building, but for me it’s just not that entertaining. For that reason, I’m skipping the next three books in the series. Who knows, maybe I’ll pick them up down the road, but right now it’s not on my list of things to do. If you’re curious what comes next, The Homecoming Series picks up where the Companions Codex Books leave off. The books in the series are:

What’s next?

I’ve been reading Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels for the first time. After reading books based on a game world that are required to comply with game rules so fans can emulate the stories, it’s refreshing to read something unhampered by any of those concerns. Frankly, I’m not sure what’s taken me so long to pick up a Discworld novel, but I’m hooked. Pratchett is hilarious and inventive. I’ll post my impressions fo Pratchett’s richly imaginative and often hilarious stories in another blog post.

Oh, and I also read other things. When I’m not reading science fiction or fantasy, I do read other books. Here’s a short list of what I’ve ingested in the past couple of months:

Thanks for hanging in this far and reading this long review of R. A. Salvatore’s Companions Series. I hope you enjoyed it. See you next time.

Bloody Rose Book Review – Ogre’s Book Club

Kings of the Wyld Book Review Cover Image

Welcome back to the second installment of Ogre’s Book Club. This time I’m doing the Bloody Rose book review I promised when I published the review of Kings of the Wyld.

Here’s the note about spoilers: I will try to avoid spoilers as much as possible in these reviews. I don’t want to ruin suspense or surprises for the readers. However, a bit of a plot summary is necessary and I’ll be honest, there are some spoilers in this review. I will start those paragraphs with a spoiler warning.

Bloody Rose is OK

I’ll get right to it. Bloody Rose is okay. Kings of the Wyld was much better. As with the previous book, it’s about 500 pages and an easy read. I finished it in a couple of days.

Richard Anderson’s Cover Art is Fantastic

Richard Anderson illustrated the covers for both Kings of the Wyld and Bloody Rose. As I mentioned in my previous article, his cover of Bloody Rose is what caught my eye at my local book store and the reason I wound up buying both books. Since this is an art focused blog, I would be remiss not to point you to his excellent portfolio.

Discovering Eames

If you haven’t read my review of Kings of the Wyld, you should read that post now. Kings of the Wyld is amazing and fun and precedes Bloody Rose.

What I liked about Bloody Rose

Here’s what I liked. Bloody Rose has the same fun, rollicking, non-standard fantasy thing going for it that Kings of the Wyld had. Mercenary and adventuring bands are patterned after rock stars. They “tour” when they go out and adventure. They “perform” in arenas, and they have groupies that follow them from venue to venue. The old “bands” are better than the new “bands” and old people and young people argue about it. There are lots of parties and other shenanigans that you might find backstage or at a music festival. It’s a very refreshing take on the fantasy novel.

What I didn’t like about Bloody Rose

I finished Bloody Rose a week ago and I’ve been sitting on this review for a few days now. I had to let it marinate because I want to be fair about the parts of the book that I didn’t like, or at least that didn’t live up to it’s predecessor, Kings of the Wyld. So, take this with a grain of salt. It’s just one person’s opinion, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t publish the bad as well as the good in a series of book reviews.

It felt hurried.

I didn’t find that any of Bloody Rose was as well developed as Kings of the Wyld was. It felt rushed and I had the impression that there might have been pressure to put out a sequel after the success that Kings had.

A lot of things take place in the first 200 pages of Bloody Rose, but nothing happens. Overall, I think this book should have been two books. The story has enough material for two books. There’s even a place where I felt the book should end and the remainder saved for another book. If you read it, I’m sure you’ll know exactly where that spot is. It would have allowed a similar level of development and depth as Kings of the Wyld. For me, Bloody Rose just skims the wavetops from start to finish and all the character development and world building and tension is missing. I might not notice it as much had the previous book not been so much better.

Everyone has daddy issues.

All of the characters in Bloody Rose’s band, Fable, have daddy issues. Each and every one of them is built on a series of cliches and tropes and none (except maybe Rose herself) have them addressed well enough in the story telling to make you feel for the characters.

Definitely not Wonder Women

Cura, the “ink witch” is perhaps the worst example of a character that could have been great, but isn’t. The concept of the character is absolutely bad ass. A summoner that breathes life into her tattoos and through them fights battles alongside her mates. Wow.

However, after reading the book you find that Eames has balled this great concept into a crumpled mess and basically thrown it away in favor of this cliche: Goth girl dresses in all black and hurts herself (tattoos) and is very sexually promiscuous because mommy didn’t pay enough attention to her and daddy sexually abused her. Really? What a missed opportunity.

I’m sure any female reader that might have been attracted to the book because the cover makes it look like it’s about powerful female characters with starring roles will be sorely disappointed. All of the female characters are written poorly and are paper thin caricatures of women. His character development in Bloody Rose is shockingly different from the predominantly male characters in Kings of the Wyld.

Spoiler: At the end of the book Cura suddenly lets go of her pain and fears and all her tattoos vanish, but you never learn why and nothing in the story builds to it. What a completely wasted opportunity.

Bloody Rose Book Review – In Conclusion

Well, that’s probably enough. I’m sure its obvious that I’m disappointed in Bloody Rose. It doesn’t live up to Kings of the Wyld at all. Should Eames write another book in the series, I will probably buy it and see if he can recapture that which made Kings of the Wyld special.

Thanks for reading my Bloody Rose book review. I’m churning my way through RA Salvatore’s Companion’s Codex and I’m also going to post the art book review of Frazetta: Icon soon.

Kings of the Wyld Book Review – Ogre’s Book Club

Kings of the Wyld Book Review Cover Image

This article may contain affiliate links.

I’ve decided to start Ogre’s Book Club, a series of book reviews of books I’m reading and would like to recommend (or tell you to avoid). I’m kicking this segment off with the Kings of the Wyld book review–and it’s definitely a recommendation.

First, a note about spoilers: I will try to avoid spoilers as much as possible. I don’t want to ruin the suspense or the surprises for readers. However, a brief summary of some events, plot, or premise is necessary. I’ll do my best to make it less revealing than a modern movie trailer.

Kings of the Wyld is Pretty Great

I’ll get right to it. Kings of the Wyld is fantastic. I read it in a day and a half, including the epilogue and author interview at the back.

Discovering Kings of the Wyld

A week ago, I meandered through my local book store and a book cover, featuring a twin-sword-wielding red-head, caught my attention. I picked up Bloody Rose, by Nicholas Eames, read the back cover and some of the first few pages, and decided to buy it. However, just to make sure it wasn’t a sequel, I looked for other books by Eames and sure enough, his first book, Kings of the Wyld, was also on the shelf. I bought both.

Cover Art by Richard Anderson is Striking

Book covers are important. They are the single largest factor that converts people browsing books to people that buy a particular book. In this case, Richard Anderson did a great job capturing my attention with the cover art of both books. I particularly like the style of both illustrations. Richard Anderson has a sort of blotchy, or sloppy, style with broad brushstrokes and very little fine detail. However, the details he chooses to draw or paint in are well placed. I can say with certainty that the only reason I stopped to look at Bloody Rose on the shelf is because Anderson’s cover art caught my eye. Since this is an art blog, and I imagine you might be an artist interested in art processes and such, you can check out Anderson’s work at flaptrapsart.artstation.com

Kings of the Wyld – Medieval Rock Stars

Nicholas Eames takes a huge departure from the typical fantasy novel. There are thousands of fantasy novels featuring adventurers and mercenaries and monsters, but after a while, many get very formulaic. That’s definitely not the case with Kings of the Wyld. First, Eames patterns mercenary bands after rock stars. The ‘bands’ act like bands. They ‘tour’ when out seeking glory or riches or both. Old ‘bands’ are better than new ‘bands’ and young people and old people argue which is better. It’s refreshing and hilarious.

This book is both serious and funny at the same time. The characters are serious, deep, and well developed. I found myself liking all of them, even the villains. In parts of the book, you’re really not sure who to root for. Would it be so terrible if the ‘bad guy’ won? For me, that’s the sign of a well done villain or antagonist.

And it’s funny. You will laugh out loud. Some of the shenanigans are exceptionally amusing, as is the dialogue.

The Wyld World

The world is also well realized. Eames paints a picture of a world dominated by human civilization but surrounded by a very wild Wyld. The beasts, monsters, and other characters the protagonists face throughout the story are also very well done. Nature itself is the adversary in many ways and as the characters traverse their many challenges, you feel the tension of the environment. You get a little on edge when the characters are plunged into an unpredictable wilderness. There were several ‘wild things’ that I wanted to read more about because I thought they were so cool, like the troll witch doctor.

Not everything is completely new. There are plenty of fantasy staples both in environments and monsters, but these are treated with a refreshing approach. I won’t spill any details here, but I promise you’ll really enjoy reading about Gregor and Dane.

I’m Looking Forward to Bloody Rose

I enjoyed reading Kings of the Wyld so much that I’m really excited to read Bloody Rose and I’m glad I bought both at the same time. If Bloody Rose lives up to its predecessor, I’m in for a treat. I will post another review when I finish the book.

Kings of the Wyld Book Review – In Closing

Thanks for sticking with me this far. If you enjoyed this Kings of the Wyld book review, take a look at some of my other book reviews. And if you think you might buy the books, please consider doing so through my Amazon links. It makes this site possible. Thanks!

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World Movie Poster

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I went to see How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World last weekend. This movie, the third (and final?) film in the series, wraps up Hiccup and Toothless’s adventures fighting dragon hunters and blending viking and dragon lives. I’ll say right up front that I loved the movie.

The first film remains my favorite. There was a loose energy to the film that the subsequent films don’t have. It probably has something to do with the first film being done very quickly with a comparatively low budget. The second film was visually pretty great, but the story was choppy and not spectacular. Fortunately, the third film brings everything together nicely. As you might expect with advances in CGI and animation techniques, this most recent film is visually spectacular. Without spoilers, lets just say the dragon breath, slobber, and other visuals are outstanding. Oh, and go see it in Real D 3D on a big screen. It’s worth it.

The movie picks up where the second left off. Hiccup and his clan are still living peacefully with dragons, but as Hiccup and his crew work to rescue more dragons from hunters, Berk is near bursting with dragon overcrowding. Things get complicated quickly when a new villain shows up on the scene intent on catching and killing Toothless. That’s all I’ll say about the story because I don’t want to ruin it for anyone, but if you’re not sure about it, just watch this trailer:

Of course, animated films usually come with an assortment of toys and other products that capitalize on a film’s popularity. I don’t usually care about any of those things, but this particular film series does have an “Art of” book dedicated to each film. The insights in these books are fascinating to me.

I enjoy getting a glimpse at the concept work that went into these movies. I particularly like the dragon designs and animation. Toothless for example acts a bit like a dog, a bit like a cat, and who knows what other mannerisms blended into the character. I also like that the dragons come in many shapes and sizes. Some are comical, some are big and hulking, some are relatively tiny, but all of them are original. I’ve kicked around drawing many of the dragon concepts in a more ‘serious’ or ‘menacing’ style. It’s a project on the to do list. You can check out the art books for yourself here:

Frank Frazetta Book Review – Rough Work

Frank Frazetta Book Review Lead Image - Rough Work Interior Art

Frank Frazetta Book Review – Rough Work: Concept Art, Doodles, and Sketchbook Drawings

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It’s been a while since I published a book review and I thought I’d do another Frank Frazetta book review. This time, I pulled Rough Work: concept Art, Doodles, and Sketchbook Drawings by Frank Frazetta off my shelf. I have a bunch of Frazetta art books, but this one ranks high among my favorites. It’s a great look into Frazetta’s process. Most artists, myself included, enjoy looking at other artists’ sketches and doodles. This book is our chance to do that to Frank Frazetta’s sketchbooks.

Introduction

Frank Frazetta Book Review - Rough Work Interior Title Page
Rough Work Interior Title Page

The book is about 128 pages and a smaller format than some other Frazetta booksat 6 x 9 inches. It has a padded soft-touch cover that features one of the more famous paintings of Kane, a legendary character from Author Karl Edward Wagner. (If you haven’t read the Kane stories, check out this eBook collection or click here if you want used paper books. Sadly, much of the Karl Edward Wagner stuff is long out of print. )

Frank Frazetta Book Review Lead Image - Rough Work Intro Pages
Rough Work Intro Pages

Almost the entire book is just pictures. The introduction consists of about 8 pages of text. After that, it’s all artwork. Most pages are a combination of full page illustrations or roughs, to random sketchbook pages and doodles, to more finished drawings.

The Good Stuff

Frank Frazetta Book Review Lead Image - Rough Work Intro Pages
Rough Work Intro Pages

I really like Frazetta’s ink drawings. Here’s an example of a great, dynamic male with a typical, voluptuous Frazetta style female.

Frank Frazetta Book Review Lead Image - Rough Work Intro Pages
Rough Work Interior Pages
Rough Work Interior Pages
Rough Work Interior Pages

These color roughs are fun to look at. For Frazetta these amount to basic sketches, but for many of us they’re complicated examples of light and shadows and palette choices.

Rough Work Interior Pages
Rough Work Interior Pages
Rough Work Interior Pages
More Interior Pages–I particularly like the pen and ink drawing on the right

Thanks for reading this Frank Frazetta book review. Rough Work is a fantastic addition to any Frazetta fan’s collection. I’ll review Icon: A Retrospective by the Grand Master of Fantastic Art next time. If you liked this review, check out my other book reviews.

Alita: Battle Angel

Alita: Battle Angel

I went to see Alita: Battle Angel over the weekend and it’s fantastic. Go see the IMAX 3D version. Robert Rodriguez did a fantastic job adapting Yukito Kishiro’s manga series into a live action feature film. In case you haven’t heard of it, watch the trailer below:

I’ve been an fan of the series in comic/manga for since the 90s. Kishiro is a highly regarded illustrator that rose to prominence at the age of 17 when he released his first manga series. The Alita series is his best known work and if you want all of it in one sweet box, you can buy the collected deluxe edition here.

Great Find: Tales From The SpacePort Bar

talesfromspaceportbarcover

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I stumbled into my local used bookstore yesterday and found this little gem of a book: Tales From the SpacePort Bar, by George H Scithers and Darrell Schweitzer.  is a collection of short stories. Each short story involves bar patrons spinning tales. The entire collection has a science fiction theme, as you’d expect based on the title.

The author list is a veritable who’s who of science fiction authors and includes: Larry Niven, Henry Kuttner, Isaac Asimov, Darrell Schweizer, Roger Zelazny, Spider Robinson, Janet O. Jeppson, and others. There are 22 stories in the book. You can pick up a used copy here. Unfortunately, it is not available as an e-book.

I ordered the sequel, Another Round at the Spaceport Bar, this morning–also used and unavailable as an ebook. If you like classic science fiction, I’d recommend picking up both while you can.

Amazon Links: Tales From The Spaceport Bar, Another Round at the Spaceport Bar

At Eternity’s Gate is OK

At Eternity’s Gate Movie Poster

I’ll start by saying I really like Willem Dafoe and the roles he usually picks. Some may remember him as Paul Smecker, the detective in “Boondock Saints.” He’s been in a lot of films and has over 126 roles and credits on IMDB. So, I was looking forward to this film about the artist, Vincent van Gogh and went to see it in my local little indie theater–you know, the small ones with chairs instead of recliners and a small stage that might be used for burlesque shows as much as watching movies.

I’ll get right to the point. I found the film ok. Yeah, just ok. The storytelling was really well done. The imagery, scenery, background settings, and acting were all really well done. So why just OK? Because the director made some choices in the way he shot it that just sucked. For example, there’s not a single stabilized camera shot in the film. It has that Blair Witch vibe with tons of camera shake. Scenes that would otherwise be gorgeous are hard to watch. The second point is the score. I’m not sure if the intent was to show the distress in van Gogh’s mind or anxiety, but there are segments of the film where the score consists of someone beating on a piano. It’s distracting to listen to and kills parts of the film. I recommend you watch it on Netflix if you’re going to watch it at all.

I’m bummed about how I feel auto this movie. I really wanted to like it more than I do. I like the actors in it and thought it was beautifully acted. The vehicle that brings us the story, however, the camera and the score seem to have been driven by someone under the influence.

If you’re a Van Gogh fan, check out his complete works–this 700 page book is pretty great. Van Gogh liked to paint quickly and was prolific. And if you like the poster, which I really do, you can get it here.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is AWESOME!

Official Movie Poster for Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse

Update: This film won the Oscar for best animated feature! It is available in 4K, Blu-Ray, DVD combo now!

When I saw the preview for this movie at the end of Venom, it didn’t really make me think I’ve got to see that. Instead I thought it was a bit of a contrived mash up, but I did like the style of the animation. 

Fast forward to the film’s release date and I started noticing a lot of comments on social media about how great it was. Really?  

So I went to see it. IMAX and Dolby style–with reclining seats that move with the sound. Holy shit. It was AWESOME!  I’m pretty sure it’s the best Spider-man movie that’s been made thus far.  I love the characters. I love the diversity and that it’s a modern story. You can tell that this isn’t the same story from 1962. Instead, the story stays true to its roots, but it’s been thoroughly updated for a modern audience.  It really deserves that Golden Globe nomination

Oh, let’s not forget the soundtrack! It’s pretty fantastic and consists of multiple collaborations that are woven into the film beautifully.  For example “Sunflower” by Post Malone and Swae Lee, “Familia (feat. Bantu) by Nicki Minaj & Anuel AA, and “What’s up Danger” by Blackway & Black Caviar to name just a few.  Although, I have to admit, after buying the soundtrack I like some of the songs much better in the context of the film.  Other than “Sunflower” and “Elevate” much of the album will likely not make it into a playlist I listen to regularly. 

Titan has even released a deluxe collector’s edition book.  Spider-Man: into the Spider-Verse The Official Movie Special. Look for a review here after I get it. Here’s the IMDB link so you can check out the whole cast, crew, etc. You can come back after you run out to the movies and watch it if you haven’t already! 

IMDB Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Out of the Forests Book Review

Out of the Forests … The Art of Paul Bonner

The Art of Paul Bonner Front Cover
The Art of Paul Bonner Front Cover

INTRODUCTION

Paul Bonner is one of my very favorite artists. I’m excited to post this Out of the Forests book review. In the fantasy genre, he’s right up there with Frank Frazetta. In many ways, I prefer his work to Frazetta’s–mostly because of his style and the way I discovered Bonner’s work.  

The first time I recall seeing Paul Bonner’s work and begin dumbstruck was during my table-top wargaming days.  The game Warzone was just released and the cover art was stunning.  After picking up the book and leafing through it, I realized all of the interior art was equally stunning.  All of it was Paul Bonner’s work. His artwork created the feel of the game, gave life to the universe, defined the factions and forces, and made it feel much more “real” than most games at the time of release. My friends and I devoured the book, the artwork, and until an ill-advised second edition played the game often.  The second edition story is probably reserved for a wargaming blog, so I’ll stick to discussing Bonner’s magnificent art book Out of the Forests…The Art of Paul Bonner here. 

This book is amazing.  Bonner works in watercolor and his vision is simply gorgeous. He has created the backdrop and characters for many fantasy games and adventures. The book is broken into sections in accordance with the company for which work was created.  

RACKHAM

The first section, Rackham, is the thickest section and draws on work created for the company’s Confrontation series of games and cards. The best part about this section of the book and the artwork is that it is definitely not the stereotypical fantasy world suffering from heavy Tolkien influence. Don’t get me wrong. I like Tolkien, but his original ideas have been copied so many times that a new variation on the fantasy genre is very refreshing.  Rackham’s designs give each faction its own identity and look. Once you see the artwork, you won’t mistake it for any other game or fantasy universe.  The Confrontation game never really took off in the United States.    Confrontation the Age of Rag’narok is still available on Amazon and deserves a look if for no other reason than the artwork is fantastic.  You can still find models and cards on Amazon, auction sites,  and in hobby shops. The early models, when they were still pewter miniatures instead of plastic were beautifully sculpted. The goblin sorcerer below is a fantastic example of the fresh approach to character design that made Rackham’s universe so appealing.  

The Art of Paul Bonner - Rackham
The opening pages of the Rackham section of the book 

While there are a lot of images in this article, I’ve only photographed a small sampling of the pages in all of the sections of the book. You really need to hold a copy of it to appreciate the amazing paintings.  Bonner is incredible at illustrating fine details–things like the sun-dappled branches in a forest. Look at the image below and appreciate the shadows on the ground that imply the forest canopy.  Or scroll back up and really allow yourself to drink in the amazing cover painting of the minotaur chained in place to guard a passage. Appreciate the play o flight and shadow and imagine the foresight and skill required to paint it.  

The Art of Paul Bonner - Rackham
The Art of Paul Bonner – Rackham

In addition to two-page spreads, there are full page plates and sketch pages as pictured below. I absolutely love the creativity and humor Paul Bonner infuses in his paintings. Look at the lancer and the dog in the image below. 

pages from the Rackham section featuring great character illustrations 
Dwarf sketch pages
The aftermath of an Orc & Dwarf battle

Orcs and dwarves.  Many fantasy games and stories feature orcs and dwarves as mortal enemies. Few, however, manage to capture the conflict the way Bonner does.  In the image above, both orcs and dwarves are fully realized and appear as though they may step off the page. You can appreciate the conversation the orcs must be having and at the same time you lament for the unfortunate dwarf in their grasp.  They’re all so well done that you don’t know who you should root for.  I root for them both. The spectacle of the battle is just great! 

MUTANT CHRONICLES

The next section of the book features Bonner’s art for the Mutant Chronicles universe.  Again, the work is magnificent. Take a look at the creature clutching the woman in the image below.  Look at her expression and the gesture in all the figures, including the injured soldiers on the ground. You can hear them groaning in pain the same way you can appreciate the inquisitor’s intent as he levels the weapon at his target. The monster, whose name I have forgotten, looks almost smug as he defies his enemies.  This is one of my favorite mutant chronicles illustrations. 

The opening pages of the Mutant Chronicles section of the book 
Detail of previous painting
Plates featuring factions from the Mutant Chronicles universe. Imperial – left; Capitol – right

In the pages above, Paul Bonner’s work defines the theme for factions in the Mutant Chronicles world and games.  When a reader or player sees these paintings they show him what each faction looks like–how they are realized. With art like this, there’s no wonder the game took off as rapidly as it did! 

A two page spread featuring characters from the Warzone factions

NORTHERN WANDERINGS

This section of the book features a series of independent illustrations Bonner painted after traveling Scandinavia during his early years as a working professional.  In the open pages of the section Bonner describes his inspiration for the paintings and his effort to create “[his] own epic little folk tale.” The resulting images are a treat. 

Opening pages of the Northern Wanderings section of the book 
Two pages from the Northern Wanderings section of the book 

While each illustration is an independent scene, the viewer can begin to see Bonner’s style develop and his love for forests and their creatures.  This , combined with a touch of fantasy is present in each painting. 

RIOTMINDS

Bonner’s work for RiotMinds illustrated the world of Trudvang.  Theodore Bergquist opens the section with a discussion of Paul Bonner’s impact on the RiotMinds team and describes Trudvang as a fantasy setting “not about streaming fireballs, or knights in glimmering armour and flaming sword, its [sic] about down-to-earth heroes trying to battle nature as much as trolls and other fabulous beasts taken from Scandinavian myths.” 

The image on the right page above is one of my favorites from this section. The play of light on the dwarf and goblin battle is fantastic.  You’ll also notice the dwarves and goblins are rendered in a more traditional style. Comparing this image to characters featured in the Rackham section illustrates how different a fantasy setting can be despite having similar foundations. 

Bonner’s work is marvelous and, for me, it’s the detail and consideration he puts into his work.  The pages above illustrate this well. You can feel the panic in the dwarf as he bolts for safety with an arrow clenched between his teeth! 

Let’s talk about scale.  Look at the size of this beast compared to the goblins. Now appreciate the lighting of the scene.  Magic.  The mood and emotion of the painting is palpable. 

GAMES WORKSHOP

The next section takes us back in time to Bonner’s early days as an illustrator and to the era where Games Workshop’s Warhammer universe was rapidly expanding.  John Blanch comments…

“What has fired my imagination is not the guns nor the snarling maws, but something that is intangible which I can only describe as Dickensian or Shakesperian. It has something to do with character, for Paul is unmatched in his ability to create a cast of motley individuals, each one with his origins in a mythology that harkens back many generations to ages of superstition and conflict.”

Yeah. There you have it. Couldn’t have said it better myself. Bonner breathes a life into his illustrations that you just don’t get with many artists. It’s uncanny.  For me, his early work on Warhammer was significant. I didn’t realize who the artist was at the time, but his illustrations of Games Workshop’s Orks influenced my appreciation of the game and started a slide deep into the world of tabletop war gaming. I’m still in recovery. 

Old Warhammer 40K players will immediately recognize the Shokk Attack Gun featured on the right page.

The Freebooter Orks had a great style. Bonner’s illustration defined them for many players.  I love the expression and detail present even in his early work. 

FASA

The intro to this section is written by Jim Nelson of Fasa and he begins with a comment on Paul Bonner’s humility and relays a story about Bonner’s doubts on whether or not he should enter work into the 1999 juried annual, Spectrum: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art.  He went on to win multiple awards. 

Bonner worked on multiple games for Fasa. He did amazing work for Shadowrun, a role-playing game combining modern, sci-fi, and fantasy elements–currently in its fifth edition.  The image below, of the pirate troll and dwarves boarding an airship is one of my favorites. 

The dynamic movement, accuracy of the anatomy, lifelike expression, and overall character details keeps me engaged with this image.  It never gets old. 

Bonner also illustrated work for the short-lived game VOR.  The box art for the first edition of the game, featured above, convinced me to buy the game. I didn’t hesitate. Had to have it. The game didn’t last long, but the illustrations and paintings are as cool today as they were in the mid-1990s. 

The above pages show both VOR concept designs and a scene from Shadowrun. 

DINOSAURS

In the penultimate section of the book, Bonner invites us to join him in his appreciation for dinosaurs.  He recounts early influences and how his father introduced him to museums and exhibits and films that fueled his fascination with dinosaurs and other creatures.  He recounts how the 1986 book, The Dinosaur Heresies by Robert Bakker, full of wonderful illustrations, inspired him to create similar and high caliber work featuring the great, extinct beasts. 

Dinosaurs - Paul Bonner Out of the Forsests
Dinosaurs – Paul Bonner Out of the Forsests

Again, look at how dynamic the work is. There’s always something happening. Bonner’s paintings are never still. 

Dinosaurs - Paul Bonner Out of the Forsests
Dinosaurs – Paul Bonner Out of the Forsests

I didn’t include a photo of the sculpture pages–this review is already getting long enough, but they are in the book. Bonner created beautiful dinosaur sculptures in various sizes throughout the years. 

AFTER COLLEGE

After talking a prehistoric stroll through Bonner’s dinosaur work, the book shifts gears as Bonner discusses getting an agent shortly after graduating from art school and having hopes of taking “London’s commercial art world by storm.” But it didn’t work out that way. It so rarely does. Instead he discusses the impact of his early adjustment to the demands of the market and how they influenced him to “stick with what made [him] happy.” This section is short and I chose not to include any images in this review from those pages since it’s already long enough. Plus, I think the next section is a treat and I’d rather spend the time there. 

CREATIVE PROCESS

If all the eye candy in this book wasn’t enough, in the final pages of the book Paul Bonner invites you into his studio and discusses his process and the way he thinks about his paintings.  As an artist, I love when I can learn how another artist, particularly one I admire so much, thinks and works. 

Remember the humility I mentioned earlier.  In this section Bonner says: 

“I really don’t look forward to drawing. I don’t consider myself good at it, one of those fortunate souls who seem to conjure up exquisite drawings with just a few deft flourishes of the pencil. It is a laboured struggle for me to translate my imagination on to a piece of paper…”

I absolutely love this.  He’s being real. It gives the rest of us hope. Art is work. It’s hard work. It requires dedication and time and energy and commitment.  (By the way, if you haven’t read Stephen Pressfield’s The War of Art, you should) 

Bonner goes on to discuss how he thinks about his work and how he goes from concept to finished painting. It’s a section worth reading multiple times and coming back to now and again for inspiration and as a reminder that it takes real effort. Even our art heroes have to grind at it.  It’s why they achieve such high quality work. 

And that's the end of the book. Out of the Forests...The Art of Paul Bonner back cover
And that’s the end of the book. 

That’s the end of the book.  Thanks for sticking with this article for this long.  It’s difficult to capture the beauty and wonder the 176 pages of the book contain. I hope this article has introduced you to Bonner’s amazing work if you were not already familiar with it.  If you knew about him but were on the fence about the book, get off the fence and buy it.  It’s a great and necessary addition to any artists (or fan of great fantasy art) library!  

If you enjoyed this Out of the Forests book review, be sure to check out my other book reviews as well.

Paul Bonner Resources

Paul Bonner on Facebook

Paul Bonner’s Website — sadly this link (www.paulbonner.net) seems to have expired.  His FaceBook page is alive and well, however. 

Muddy Colors — Paul Bonner often contributes to the Muddy Colors art blog