What is The Verdant Passage?
Return to the apocalyptic deserts of the Dark Sun world as unlikely heroes spark a revolution against an evil sorcerer-king
For thousands of years, the devil sorcerer King Kalak has used vile magic to drain Athas of its precious life-force. Now, his reign is coming to an end—though the city of Tyr, like the rest of the world, is nothing more than a magic-blasted ruin and a desolate place of dust, blood, and fear. All that’s left is desperation—and revolution.
Leading this revolution against Kalak are a maverick statesman, a winsome half-elf slave girl, and a man-dwarf gladiator bred for the arenas. But if the people are to be freed, the mismatched trio of steadfast rebels must look into the face of terror and choose between love and life.
First introduced in 1991, Troy Denning’s post-apocalyptic world of Athas remains one of the most talked-about and fan-requested settings in the Dungeons & Dragons universe. Now, a new generation of readers can discover the magic-blasted deserts of the unforgettable Dark Sun . . .
THE VERDANT PASSAGE by Troy Denning is the first installment of the Prism Pentad series for the now-defunct DARK SUN campaign setting for TSR (later Wizards of the Coast). The premise was that it was meant to be a blasted arid wasteland where magic has destroyed the world that was half-planetary romance as well as half-Mad Max. It was a post-apocalypse setting that had a strong influence on my CTHULHU ARMAGEDDON series and still holds an important place in my heart.
The book is fairly simple and could easily be read as a standalone if you wanted to just have an enjoyable read for a time. The evil sorcerer king, Kalak, is building a massive ziggurat for reasons unknown with the entirety of the city-state of Tyr being forced to help. Slaves are being confiscated from the plantations of the city’s nobility, the resistance against him is prepping for a major offensive, and there are plots afoot. The half-dwarf gladiator Rikus, called a mul, is the perfect person to carry out an assassination plot against him. Unfortunately, Rikus has no interest in politics and just intends to win his freedom at the games.
Rikus is just one of an ensemble of interesting characters for this group of misfits, though. There is also Sadira, a half-elf sorceress who is willing to experiment with black “defiler” magic in order to get the job done but is also romantically interested in Rikus. She’s also romantically interested in Agis, a nobleman who deludes himself into believing that he is a benevolent slave master when there is no such thing. Finally, there’s Neeva, a beautiful female gladiator who has reluctantly tolerated Rikus’ many affairs.
Neither hero nor villain or, perhaps, villain but not our heroes’ enemy is Tithian of Mericles. The leader of King Kalak’s templars or state priests, he’s a cowardly and scheming scumbag. However, Tithian recognizes that Kalak is not the kind of guy to reward loyalty. As such, it is his goal to do whatever it takes to survive as well as prosper. It makes him an unusual sort of character in Dungeons and Dragons fiction and all the more entertaining for it.
The book contains a strong anti-slavery and pro-environmental message. The former may not seem like something that was important but I grew up in the Deep South in the Nineties where Confederate apologia was still a thing. Agis’ belief that one can be a “good” slave owner’s values is called out and every other slaver is treated as complete scum who needs to be murdered with no attempt to soften the blow like A Song of Ice and Fire seems to do when the latter books appear. I support that strongly.
The book isn’t particularly accurate to Dungeons and Dragons with the fact that Rikus, Sadira, and the others are able to take on a Sorcerer King (which were 41st level at the minimum according to the original 2nd Edition boxed set). However, I don’t believe that being accurate to that overpowered crazy bunch of ideas is a good thing and our heroes being able to smack down the evil tyrant is pretty much the “point” of D&D.
In conclusion, The Verdant Passage is an enjoyable epic fantasy story. It is also fairly self-contained and while it is part of the larger Prism Pentad, everything is wrapped up enough that you could stop after reading this without much difficulty. I also like the book has an unusual take on romance with Sadira simply dating whoever she desires and saying that anyone who has a problem with it to stuff off.