Gaming licensed fiction is hit and miss. For every Dragonlance Chronicles, you get a bunch of Darkwalker on Moonshaes. With the AD&D campaign setting of Ravenloft, which was born out of an adventure by Tracy & Laura Hickman, one would think that the novel focusing on the character from whom the setting was born would be written by the creator of that character – particularly when Tracy Hickman had gone on to co-create Dragonlance with Margaret Weis and would go on to co-write a bunch of New York Times bestselling novels. Instead, they went with a writer who also had also worked with TSR, and who had a strong track record writing gothic horror vampire fiction – P. N. Elrod.
I admit I’m not familiar with Elrod’s other work – only by reputation. Still, if she nails her other books the way she nails this one, then I’ll have to hunt down the rest of her bibliography. The premise of the story is that it is the memoir of Strahd Von Zarovich, the Vampire Dark Lord of Barovia, telling how he became a vampire, and the early days of his live as a vampire – explaining why he made the choice to become a vampire, along with the nature of his curse – not only in terms of his curse as a vampire, but his curse as a Dark Lord.
The tricky bit about telling a story about a vampire in first person – particularly when dealing with one who has been heavily established as an antagonist as Strahd was in Ravenloft, is you have to balance a character who is clearly a hero of their own story, but who is also a character who is not not only doing terrible things, but who is willingly becoming monstrous.
It mostly works. Strahd, as a lord, is a figure who is harsh and can be cruel, but as he is a Lawful Evil figure (except when his beloved is concerned), if you don’t screw with him then he won’t mess with you. The problem is we don’t see, really, how the people see Strahd. This is in part due to the fundamental nature of the story’s perspective – the people don’t badmouth Strahd where he can hear them. Similarly, we don’t see Strahd particularly feed on his community – he has a “larder” which he keeps in his dungeon, but those are people who have wronged him, and who have generally demonstrated evil tendencies as well. However, as Strahd is a somewhat unreliable narrator, this could theoretically be something that he’s omitted himself.
However, that said, that really speaks for how well Elrod gets the voice of Strahd, where as a reader, I find myself asking more whether an omission is one that was made by the narrator, more than if it was made by the writer. Even if you know nothing about Ravenloft, as a setting or as a module, this is a really enjoyable novel to read, and I’d say it’s definitely worth my time.