I, Strahd, A review

*Not to readers: I’m presenting this review as spoiler-free as I’m able.

Few things conjure up the fantasy genre quite like Dungeons & Dragons. The game has had a number of best-selling novels, and a few selections have (debatably) made their way into the canon of genre fiction. Yet, there’s more than dragons and elves to the game. When D&D embraced horror some pretty fantastic content came out of those efforts.

One such example, was the iconic character, Lord Strahd von Zarovich. Ruler supreme of Castle Ravenloft, the land of Barovia, and synonymous with the gothic horror setting that takes its name from Strahd’s home, Ravenloft. Most people know Strahd only from the game world, but author P.N. Elrod’s work of fiction, I, Strahd: The Memoirs of a Vampire is an excellent vampire novel featuring the infamous monarch.

The distinction between vampire novels and D&D novels is essential. Elrod created a book for the famous TTRPG, but the novel stands on its own as a vampire story. Actually, an open-ended memoir as Strahd was still working on it in the story. It is a throwback to the gothic horror of classic tales about nosferatu. Ruined castles, shadowy threats that loom large everywhere, the supernatural is a presence throughout, as well as themes of power and isolation. Elrod ticks off all of these boxes, and does it deftly. Still, it spins those ideas for D&D. What results is a great read, a surprise treat for genre fiction, and more importantly, for novelizations of D&D. It doesn’t even matter that the book was first published decades ago.

Plot-wise, the story sets the stage nicely for any adventurers wanting to venture into Castle Ravenloft. As a work of fiction though, it’s easy to pick it up without needing any knowledge of D&D. This is the sign of an adaptation done well. Fans of the game will get the references woven into the tale. Casual readers probably won’t notice all that stuff, and will just enjoy the narrative of how the well-known vampire became what he is.

Strahd is introduced, and the story becomes increasingly dramatic, with the protagonist becoming more and more inflamed by his darker emotions. This all comes to a head at a critical point in the story, and Strahd, as well as Barovia, become what we know of them in the Ravenloft game setting.

Elrod makes a strong effort to resist the urge to turn the story into an action/adventure tale. While those elements are present at various points, and she doesn’t shy away from incorporating violent confrontations, the focus is is firmly on drama. Intensely emotional relationships between the main characters are what move this tragic story, and this is exactly the way it should be. All of the deep connections that the cast has with one another are what make possible the deceit, heartbreak, and catastrophe which allow Strahd to linger on in darkness for eternity. Despair can be made to last forever for some beings.

There is one addition to the book that felt a bit unnecessary, and that was late in the story with a girl named Tatyana. I found myself wondering if there wasn’t more to this interaction than was made clear to the reader as if her presence wasn’t some part of a curse, but it wasn’t explained. Perhaps it was some consequence of the deal that turned Strahd into what he became? This wasn’t sufficiently resolved and was the one time I caught myself thinking, “maybe this is resolved in a source for D&D.” It’s likely something a casual reader or a non-gamer might be confused by.

Overall, the tone and execution of the story are good. Elrod’s writing style fits the content perfectly. It never tried to be anything other than a vampire story. There were no literary overtures, no obvious allusions to classic texts, and very steady pacing. Nothing ever dragged on and the story was fleshed out, despite all of the undead, in a way to make Strahd into a viable character in his own right.

When people think of iconic D&D characters, many throw out names such as Drizzt Do’urden, Vecna, Raistlin, but also, Strahd Von Zarovich. These characters represent, in their own way, the worlds that they are a part of. For his part, Strahd looms large over the gothic horror realm he inhabits. His name is synonymous with the darker tales told at D&D gaming tables, and this book is his story.



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