Every kid grows up questioning their life, their past and whether or not they fit. Most kid grow-up feeling like they don’t fit in. What if you were right? What if you were different? What if you didn’t belong? Venom in her Veins by Tim Pratt tells the story of Zaltys, a young girl adopted into a rich business family and instantly made trade royalty. She travels with her mother’s caravan into deep jungles in order to harvest plants, herbs and specific addictive drug from which the family’s empire is born. Here deep in the jungle, where she was found as a child, is where she feels most at home. She is an excellent tracker, a crack shot, and a wonderful ranger. She is also a monster.
As the veil of her past is lifted Zaltys learns the truth about her past. Her teenage angst was true, she doesn’t fit, and she doesn’t belong. She isn’t like the rest. Zaltys is a pure blood Yuan-Ti. So what do you do when you discover the truth? You go to the underdark. Makes sense to me.
I am a big fan of the Forgotten Realms series since I borrowed Elfshadow from a friend. It is a shared universe that spans dozens of authors. Like many other shared universes, Dragonlance, Star Wars, and Warhammer just to name a few, you have good books and your have poor ones. Venom in her Veins falls somewhere in between.
The book has solid setting and a wonderful premise. The concept of the trade family is well thought out and executed, like a fantasy-world’s version of a mob family. The characters show Pratt’s familiarity with the subject matter, both Faerun and 4th ed, and also illustrate the uniqueness of the 4th ed character classes and races. The dragonborn fighter and Eladrin wizard, both clichés but still well executed are joined by a min wiping Tiefling Psion, Humans Blade Master and Shaman and the Pureblood ranger. The ranger and psions are both classes that have appeared in previous books based on previous editions but Pratt’s writing makes so that one in the know could read the book and know what edition it is based off of without drawing away from the story.
The book has a decent start but sadly the plot starts the trail off. The incursion into the Underdark is spontaneous and unplanned. In Faerun it is common knowledge that the Underdark is a subterranean labyrinth that is insanely dangerous. It’s not something that can be entered easily; it is something that for even for the most seasoned adventures takes weeks of planning. These two teenagers descend into the horrors beneath on a whim and a prayer. The final threat simply stands there and monologues her plan and the ending feels rushed and forced.
Had the book kept the strength and momentum from the earlier chapters it would have been a strong book. Instead this feels like a pre-constructed adventure that was decided to adapt into a novel in very little time.
I have high hopes for Faerun books. The Forgotten Realms series has been risen by exceptional authors like Elaine Cunningham, R.A. Salvatore, Paul S. Kemp, Richard Baker, Mark Sehestedt and creator Ed Greenwood. Tom Pratt’s book, while still enjoyable, falls a little shorts of Faerun’s heavy hitters.