I, Strahd: The War against Azalin

Rating: 
5
A version of this review will appear in The Vampire's Crypt 18 (Fall 1998). The Vampire's Crypt web site is: http://members.aol.com/MLCVamp/vampcrpt.htm

P. N. Elrod. I, Strahd: The War against Azalin. (Ravenloft) Renton, Wash.: Wizards of the Coast/TSR, 1998; ISBN 0-7869-0754-1; $5.99/$6.99.

It's taken five years, but Strahd von Zarovich is back -- in P. N. Elrod's more-than-capable hands. I, STRAHD: THE WAR AGAINST AZALIN returns us to Barovia, the land separated from the rest of the world -- from the rest of the universe -- by mists through which few ever enter ... and none escape, not even mage and vampire Lord Strahd himself.

Azalin would like to change that -- in his own interest, of course.

Lord Strahd's first warning of an unwelcome newcomer to his land comes from a Vistana gypsy seer who foretells the coming of a necromancer more dangerous than Strahd himself. Strahd's first real news of Azalin takes the form of a note from the usually staid Zorah, Baroness Latos, written in a blotted and shaky hand. She appeals to Strahd as lord and protector of the land after a visit from a stranger whose very presence inspired fear and who left her husband with burned books of magic, scorched hands ... and no recollection of the bizarre and decidedly foreign visitor.

Trapped in Barovia, Azalin takes up residence in an abandoned house ... one with disquieting memories for Strahd. When Azalin's initial challenge does not kill Strahd and Strahd realizes that Azalin's magely powers likely are greater than his own, the two arrive at an uneasy truce: Azalin has knowledge, Strahd has tangible means, and both wish to escape Barovia. (Strahd in fact wishes to reunite it with the lands it once adjoined.) For decades they cooperate in magical efforts -- an uneasy collaboration, for the two have little in common besides that one goal. As time passes, their discussions more often end in bickering and displays of temper.

But although Azalin and Strahd's best efforts do not send them elsewhere or replace the mists with Barovia's old boundaries, *something* changes. Lands begin to appear at Barovia's borders. Strahd finds that he cannot himself cross into them -- he is first vampire, he *is* Barovia, and he cannot leave it: even using his powers to scry beyond the boundaries of Barovia is an effort. And what is even stranger is that the lands at Barovia's borders keep changing as other realms accrete to Strahd's.

The day comes when Azalin vanishes from his usual haunts; Strahd cannot find him in all of Barovia. Using a crystal to search in the newly neighboring land of Darkon, however, Strahd sees a castle pointedly grander than his own: that of Azalin, who has made himself absolute ruler of the land. At last removed from Strahd's sphere of influence, Azalin releases the pent-up frustrations of forty years by declaring war -- even though he can no more cross the border to lead an army from Darkon than Strahd can depart Barovia.

Magic and gypsies and zombies, oh my: the only Ravenloft element not much in evidence is Strahd's love interest Tatyana. And probably just as well -- Strahd has enough to deal with, between his spy-counterspy activities with Azalin and his efforts to explore Barovia's new neighbors. In the process of telling a story, Elrod introduces Ravenloft realm history: Strahd's agreement with the Vistani, the gypsies who can travel the mists; the appearance of realms adjoining Barovia; and Azalin the lich, complete with attitude. And speaking of attitude, Strahd's is what makes this one worth reading whether you like fang and sorcery or not. I've missed Strahd's stylish, slightly sneering wit, his almost incongruous and ever-delightful candor regarding even his own failures and shortcomings. The plot has enough ins and outs and action to maintain interest, but Strahd's distinctive voice is the star of this show.

I hope I don't have to wait another five years for my next dose of it. (Hint, hint?)

The Mad Bibliographer
Cathy Krusberg

Fanged Films

From the Library

As the 20th century evolved, rational man turned to science to explain mythology that had pervaded for thousands of years. How could a man be mistaken for a vampire? How could someone appear to have been the victim of a vampire attack? Science, in time, came back with answers that may surprise you.Anemia
A million fancies strike you when you hear the name: Nosferatu!N O S F E R A T Udoes not die!What do you expect of the first showing of this great work?Aren't you afraid? - Men must die. But legend has it that a vampire, Nosferatu, 'der Untote' (the Undead), lives on men's blood! You want to see a symphony of horror? You may expect more. Be careful. Nosferatu is not just fun, not something to be taken lightly. Once more: beware.- Publicity for Nosferatu in the German magazine Buhne und Film, 1922  

Drawn to Vamps?

Vol. 7 No. 7
The Witch's Horror
Vol. 3 No. 1
Vampire