Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/12/31/book-review-rites-of-renown-when-will-you-rage-ii-werewolf-the-apocalypse-20th-anniversary-edition/
It’s been a very good year for gaming fiction anthologies, even though full fledged gaming novels (like The Sundering series) have been a bit lackluster. Shadowrun Returns, The Strix Chronicle Anthology and Tales From the Ninth World have all been pretty solid. Now, Werewolf: the Apocalypse gets its own anthology to boot. I’ll admit, Rites of Renown has me wishing for a V:TM fiction anthology, but this particular book came about only because of the abundance of funds raised in the W:TA 20th Anniversary Edition Kickstarter. There are nineteen stories contained in this collection by as many authors, which is a lot compared to other White Wolf/Onyx Path anthologies. Like any anthology, the quality of the pieces are all over the place, from so bad I’d be embarrassed to be the person who approved the publication of the piece to worth the cost of admission alone. Of course, the problem is defining which piece is which. No two people will read through an anthology with this many stories and like the exact same ones, but as this is my review, we’ll have to go with thoughts and opinions on the specific pieces. Just remember one man’s opinion (no matter how well respected) is not the word of God coming down from on high, so pieces I utterly hated you might love and vice versa.
1.) Throated. Wow, this was really bad. I mean really bad. The worst way to start off an anthology is with a piece so utterly horrible in style, tone and flow that it makes you want to stop reading the entire book right then and there. Unfortunately, “Throated” is just such a piece. I really wanted to give it a chance because it was by Devin Grayson, who is one of the most maligned comic book writers of all time. Just bring her up to a collective of Nightwing fans and you’ll see a level of hate usually only reserved by X-Men fans for Chuck Austen. However, I’ve missed Ms. Grayson’s comic run and I really liked Chuck Austen’s run on Exiles, so I wanted to give her a chance, especially since the only thing I’ve read of hers is her novel Inheritance, which, admittedly, is not very good. In her defense, DC Super Heroes are very hard to write in novel form. Even Alan Grant, who I love, wrote a slight stinker with Last Sons, and the only DC novel I’ve enjoyed is by Roger Stern.
But I digress. Back on topic with why “Throated” is so terrible. Basically it reads like it was written by a person who has only ever flipped through the first edition W:TA handbook and is pulling out buzzwords left and right to prove they know something about the system. Throw in a very bad narrative style told by an extremely unlikeable and annoying narrator and a very implausible plot about a Kinfolk teenager saving his sister from Pentex, and you have a story that hits all the bases. Unfortunately, it was all the negative bases; this was just chock full of every one of my pet peeves wrapped up into a short story. “Throated” was so bad, I had to constantly put it down to groan. I really wanted to be positive here, but when I was done reading it, I couldn’t imagine a worse story for Werewolf: the Apocalypse. 0 for 1
2.) Unwind. Well, unfortunately for this anthology, they followed up the worst W:TA thing I’ve ever read by something EVEN WORSE. I guess that’s a feat in and of itself, because I didn’t think it was possible to get worse, but “Unwind” accomplished it in spades. You know a story is bad when you could take it out of the anthology and no one would realize it was a story about a Garou’s first change. Honestly, if one were just given this thing, it would come off as nothing more than an extremely disturbed and horribly written tale about a teenager running around killing people in gruesome fashion simply because they were insane. This is like the type of story someone writes in Middle School simply to freak out the teacher and get a chuckle out of their friends. Sadly, “Unwind” has the writing quality and narrative style of someone in that age group as well. It’s truly just terrible on all levels. At least with “Throated,” you could tell it was a W:TA story. “Unwind” is just someone’s extremely uncreative (and poorly written) ode to torture porn. Honestly, it’s so awful that I think we have a winner for the worst piece of RPG fiction that someone actually was paid money for. I’m honestly embarrassed that there are people at OPP that thought this was quality, and doubly so that someone got a paycheck for this. For shame. Seriously. There has never been a worse 1-2 punch to start of an anthology that I have encountered. 0 for 2.
3.) The Lost. Thank Nyarlathotep the entire anthology gets better from here. “The Lost” is a fine story about three homid Garou who underwent their first change by themselves and have found each other without any knowledge of the culture and history they are a part of. Together, they find their place in the world and come to terms with their new bestial side. It’s very well done. 1 for 3.
4.) Scar Tissue. This is a story about how nasty and subtle the Wyrm can be. The main character discovers she is a Garou… again. How does that work? You’ll have to read to find out. The entire affair is a pretty entertaining read, with some great descriptions of the Seattle area and a possibly unintentional reference to Twin Peaks. There are some extremely memorable characters here, and even though the entire tale wraps up nicely, I wouldn’t mind reading further adventures of Indria and Dr. Editon. 2 for 4.
5.) Why Old Wyrm Devours His Tail. I think this might be my favorite story in the collection. It’s a story about stories and their importance in the world. As a folklorist, I loved this piece. Aeden MacGowan is a Fianna trying to collect stories from all the tribes in an effort to keep them preserved. It’s a beautiful piece in all respects. There are some definite sad moments, but also some brilliant ones as well. The author is one of the few to actually get Black Spiral Dancers RIGHT. The vast majority of writers use the Dancers as poorly as V:TM writers use Malkavians – as nonsensical annoying loons. We get a really strong look at how sane, cunning and even noble a Dancer can be. It just happens that they’re on the Wyrm’s side. Corruption isn’t akin to madness, and it was a breath of fresh air to see that. This is definitely one of the jewels of the collection. 3 for 5.
6.) Hairshirt. The winner of the weirdest title in the collection, “Hairshirt” is a fun look at the old trope of multiple people telling the same story about a cub’s first change, a battle with Weaver spirits and the origin of the pack’s name, but from a radically different point of view. It’s a well told, and often times funny, look at how just because you are in a pack, it doesn’t mean you are bosom buddies. I also found that I loved the character named The Unlidded Eye… although he did seem more Hakken than Shadow Lord. “Hairshirt” was a really fun story, and it was great to see a W:TA take on an old classic setup. 4 for 6.
7.) The Magadon Job. The flow of this story is similar to “Hairshirt,” but slightly different. Instead of five retellings of the same story, it’s five different Garou telling one story in parts. The job in question involves a team of Garou being hired for a snatch and grab operation inside one of Pentex’s branch corporations. The catch is that the grab is the sister of the Black Fury that hired them. The story doesn’t have a happy ending by any means, but it’s a well told piece of fiction, and each of the five Garou are very clearly defined. You really walk away with a sense of who each one is. Another thumbs up here. 5 for 7.
8.) Tears on a Tainted Blade. I just didn’t care for this story. It was extremely cheesy on all levels, and I can’t say I cared for any of the characters in the slightest. The story is about three different sides of Garou all after the same item – the very first Klaive ever created. I hate when people go that route, as the end result is never satisfying and revealing the origins of the first ANYTHING is always underwhelming, not to mention forces everyone else to shoehorn in a badly done piece of canon. The Silver Fangs come off as more psychotically evil than slightly crazy aristrocrats. The Shadow Lord is more Hakken (a trend in this collection), and the story ends about as stupidly as it is abrupt. “Oh no, Wyrm! Let’s instantly put aside an entire tale of HATE to team up and fight them. The End.” Not very good on any level. 5 for 8.
9.) Straw Death. This is the tale of a Get of Fenris Garou near death and her decision to fight and die or run away to fight another day. The main character is not very likeable, but the author does a good job of showing her thought process, complete with her reasons for wanting to flee or fight. Although it’s not my favorite piece in the anthology, it’s well done. It’s also another piece that actually gets a Black Spiral Dancer correct. I know – two in one collection. I’m as shocked as you are. 6 for 9.
10.) That Kind of Kin. This tale is told from the point of view of a Kinfolk that doesn’t really like being Kinfolk. No, she has no plans to become a Skinwalker. She’s loyal to Gaia – she just hates the attitude and personality of Garou. This tale takes place at the tail end of a fierce battle between a pack and some Black Spiral Dancers, and gives you the aftermath of the event. The story is pretty dark and there is no happy ending to be seen here, but it’s really quire enjoyable. It’s also nice to see someone take a look at how shabbily a lot of the Garou treat their Kinfolk – almost similar to how Kindred treat their Blood Dolls. They are a means to an end and little more. A definite read, especially if you plan on ever playing a Kinfolk. 7 for 10.
11.) Moonshine. I just couldn’t get into this story at all. The plot of a Garou pack breaking up a wacky Wyrm conspiracy is fine and all, but I just didn’t care for any of the characters or the narrative style. If I want a tale about a hillbilly furrie jugband collective, I have Emmit Otter’s Christmas Special for that. I just couldn’t get into this piece at all. I had to keep putting the story down because my eyes were glazing over from boredom. 7 for 11.
12.) Rhymes with Food Truck. This was a very funny piece about a Garou (Bone Gnawer from the description) that drives a food truck, the Pentex scheme he uncovers and the Glass Walker he has a feud with. All these things come together in a pretty ridiculous but well written and highly entertaining story. It’s nice to see a light comedy piece in the bunch, as you rarely seem something like that in a WoD anthology. Even in the World of Darkness, not everything is overly angsty gloom and doom. 8 for 12.
13.) Gryphon, in Glass and Steel. A Garou stops what appears to be an everyday mugging, which of course turns out to be anything but. It’s a nice set up, but the end story not only ends abruptly, but without any real resolution. I liked the two main characters, but the story definitely felt like it was missing a few pages or that editorial made the author shorten things. I could go either way on this one, but I’ll be nice and count this in the positive column. 9 for 13.
14.) Tatters of Honour. The Shadow Lords and the Wendigo end a centuries old blood feud. It’s a nice look at how the Garou often hurt themselves worse than the Wyrm ever could. Are these two ancient but proud tribes able to stop the cycle of mistrust and violence between them? A fine read indeed. 10 for 14.
15.) Cleanup. I just didn’t care for this one. I think some people will be surprised to learn that the story’s description of immigration centres in England are actually more accurate than people want to believe (save for the WoD aspects like Garou after all), but the story just didn’t seem to gel together very well. A pack of Garou breaks into an immigration detention centre to help save a cub on the brink of first change, and it all goes to pot. The story is fine up until you get into the centre, and then the narrative just breaks down big time. It’s like two different authors are telling the story. The twist that comes at the midway point just doesn’t hold up, and the story never recovers. 10 for 15.
16.) Things Seen. This is a fun story. It’s W:TA meets The X-Files. A group of parapsychologist Garou track down a mysterious creature they identify as a Wog, but what is it doing in Pickens County, GA (A lot of the stories in this collection are set in GA and WA BTW…) and what does it have to do with the Croaton tribe? This was one of my favorite stories in the collection. You see the heel turn coming pretty easily, but not the other swerve the story throws at you. Really well told, and the author does a nice job clinging to the core tropes of W:TA while also giving us a more unique story. 11 for 16.
17.) The Stone is a Mirror Which Works Poorly. Another stinker. This story has an amnesiac protagonist – always a red flag that the tale will be uninspired drek. The author tries to present multiple chapters of dreamlike imagery and Dubliners style stream of consciousness, but it never ends up being more than chaotic, confusing babble where more of the story is between the lines and outright off the page than actually written down. Yuck. 11 for 17.
18.) Eyes Towards Heaven. This is a hard one to judge. The first five chapters of this story are exceptionally well done. The author does a great job of defining all the characters, giving them a surprising amount of background and personality for the page restraints, and it’s a really fun read… up until the W:TA aspect of the story shows up. Then the entire thing goes off rails and just falls apart. This is another story where it feels like the author combined two very different stories into one, hoping to make them work, but instead of a juxtaposition of Wyrm and Wyld, you get totally abrupt and almost nonsensical personality changes for the two main characters. The entire story loses that wonderful sense of imagery it had contained up until then, and you lose the entire suspension of disbelief. From a late blooming first changer and his friend taking down an entire pack of Garou to the really terrible portrayal of the Black Spiral Dancers, in the same way a lot of bad writers take the Sabbat and make them little more than psychotic Satanists, I found myself going from loving this story to just being utterly disappointed by it. I respect and like what the author was trying to do here, but it just didn’t work. 11 for 18.
19.) Vigrid. Although this collection started off really poorly, I’m glad it ended well. It’s the tale of Karl, a Garou Elder at the end of his lifespan, and how he spends the last bits of his existence. Of course, as a member of the Get of Fenris clan, you can pretty much guess how that goes. The story is a pretty touching one, which is all the more impressive considering the level of violence in it. You get a really great look at the family structure of this Get sept (perhaps even a full Caern by the size of it) and it’s one of the most balanced and in-depth looks at Garou structure and thinking that I’ve seen in a piece of W:TA fiction. A really excellent read, and while not my favorite story in the collection, it is definitely the best way to end things. 12 for 19.
So a thumbs up to twelve stories and a thumbs down to seven. That’s a sixty three percent quality rate, and the good obviously outweighs the bad in this one. While Rites of Renown won’t be a contender for our “Best Tabletop Related Fiction” award this year, it’s still worth reading through and picking up if you’re a fan of Werewolf: The Apocalypse. Again, my opinions on each of these stories are just that, and the ones you like in this collection may very well differ from mine. The one thing that is for sure, though, is that there are some very good stories to be had in this collection, and that WoD fans will have a fun time reading through this one.