Gaming News

Published: April 3, 2024

Jules-Pierre Malartre

The Fallbacks – A Spoiler-Free Review

The Fallbacks Bound for Ruin—A Spoiler-Free Review


The late ’80s, ’90s and early 2000s were the heyday of D&D novels with hundreds of novels published under the Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance and Greyhawk banners. For D&D players who also like a little prose fiction with their tabletop role-playing, those were great days. Those novels were also a godsend to fantasy readers who were starving for more after reading Tolkien, Eddings, Brooks, etc. That period saw the birth of Drizzt Do’Urden and a number of other fictional characters still popular today. There are book clubs exclusively devoted to rereading and collecting rare and out-of-print Forgotten Realms/Dragonlance novels.


The Good Old Days of D&D Novels Were Over… Until Now!


Wizards of the Coasts (WoTC) seemed to be completely out of the novel publishing business for a while, but they eventually published other series and stand-alone novels, including the Abyssal Plague series published between 2010 and 2012. It included seven novels and one novella featuring an arc that spanned many D&D world settings, including The Forgotten Realms and Eberron. It was followed by The Sundering series released through 2013 and 2014 that coincided with the release of 5e D&D. The Sundering was a series of six loosely related stand-alone novels taking place during the SecondNew D&D Novel: "The Fallbacks: Bound for Ruin" Review | D&D Books Sundering, a world-shattering event introduced by WoTC to partially reboot the Forgotten Realms and use it as the setting for 5e D&D. WoTC went all out on this series, bringing back popular characters such as Elminster, Vasen Cale, Drizzt Do’Urden and the rest of the Companions of the Hall. WoTC recruited some of the best D&D authors from the past, including R. A. Salvatore and Forgotten Realms creator Ed Greenwood, to pen the series. It was a great success, but it would also be a long time before we saw a new series of D&D-related novels hit bookstores—except for an occasional Drizzt Do’Urden series by R. A. Salvatore or stand-alone novels by Ed Greenwood or Erin M. Evans.


Dragonlance Opening the Door to New D&D Novels


Lately, WoTC seems to have rekindled its interest in fiction with a series of books for young readers, and the publication of the first new Dragonlance novels in decades with the release of the Dragonlance Destinies series written by original Dragonlance creators, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. Last year, a novelization and two prequel novels were also published before the release of the D&D movie, Honor Among Thieves.


Introducing Jaleigh Johnson


WoTC is on a roll with the recent release of The Fallbacks Bound for Ruin, a new D&D novel set in The Forgotten Realms and penned by New York Dungeons & Dragons: The Fallbacks: Bound for Ruin See moreTimes bestselling author Jaleigh Johnson. The book appears to be the first in a new series, which should please new D&D readers as well as older ones who still remember the heyday of the Forgotten Realms novels.


Johnson is no stranger to Dungeons & Dragons novels. She is the author of the Honor Among Thieves prequel novel, The Road to Neverwinter, which was very well received last year. It set up the scene for the movie by introducing some of the main characters, and it left readers looking forward to the movie even more. Johnson was a natural for more D&D novels.


The Fallbacks Bound for Ruin at a First Glance


The first thing that struck me about The Fallbacks Bound for Ruin was how similar the cast of characters was to a D&D adventuring party. This is good, because it allows readers to slip into the same comfort zone they enjoy around the gaming table. It’s a well-rounded, diverse cast of characters, just like a D&D adventuring party ought to be. There is Tess, the female elf rogue who is also the party leader; Anson, the male human fighter who wields a broken sword; Cazrin the female human wizard eager to learn more magic; Baldric the male dwarf polytheistic priest; Lark the male tiefling bard who can’t seem to follow orders; and, last but not least, Uggie, the pet Otyugh who turns out to be the most endearing character of the party. A number of extraordinary pets have appeared in D&D games over the years, including a huge bear in Vox Machina and even an owlbear in Dice, Camera, Action, but Uggie wins the prizeDungeons and Dragons: the Fallbacks: Bound for Ruin for the weirdest and most endearing pet monster. He loves hugs and eats trash. He’s also handy in a fight.


The novel is short, not even 300 pages long. It’s a page-turner at times. It launches immediately into action with the protagonists attempting to retrieve a legendary spellbook in an abandoned temple and running into unexpected opposition from staple D&D monsters. The adventurers are successful in their mission, but it gets complicated from there. The Fallbacks is a mix of present-tense chapters and flashbacks used to introduce the main characters. I dare not say more about the story in fear of spoiling it.


Honoring D&D Mechanics and Forgotten Realms Lore


From the first few pages, Johnson goes through great length to honor D&D rules and Forgotten Realms lore. The different classes work just like they do in the game. There is great respect for the geography, places of notes and NPCs of the Forgotten Realms. Luckily, this is where the resemblance to an actual D&D game ends. A novel is a different thing. In that respect, The Fallbacks Bound for Ruin could be a story set in any world. It’s a very good story on its own, and it does not necessarily read like a D&D game would play out. The story goes through the normal three parts of a novel: The setting where the characters and the situation are introduced; the conflict or denouement where things get harder; and the resolution where, for good or ill, the story ends. Great care also goes into character development. The characters become very endearing quite rapidly (especially Uggie—Lark, not so much). They all have flaws.


Character Development Vs. Action


The Fallbacks is not heavy on action, although it dishes out quite a lot of it. It’s more character driven with moments of character development that grab you much more than the action does—except for the big showdown with the Big Bad at the end and the very first chapter that very quickly launches into action. The pace feels uneven at times, but I liked that whenever I picked up the book to continue reading it, it grabbed me immediately.


The Forgotten Realms Never Get Old


The book has everything to please avid D&D novel readers; it’s set in the Forgotten Realms, one of the most popular D&D world settings. The Forgotten Realms don’t feel tired yet, even though they have been in official use since the release of the original campaign boxed set in 1987. The Realms have been in use for decades in everything from tabletop RPGs to CRPGs, MMOs, novels, board games and comic books, yet I find there are still roads in that world that I haven’t trodden. There are still stories from that world to be told, new characters to meet, new monsters to fight. That’s why all the Forgotten Realms features mentioned in The Fallback feel familiar and comforting rather than tired and faded.


There have been hundreds of D&D novels published since the ’80s. It’s a tall order for any author—even one as experienced as Jaleigh Johnson—to come up with a story that feels at once both refreshing and familiar. Maybe everything old is new again, but I feel that Johnson managed to write a great D&D story, thanks in great part to her storytelling talent and knack for creating interesting characters and writing dialogue that feels real. I was ecstatic at first when I heard about this upcoming book, but I was also dubious that it could capture the same excitement that the old D&D novels managed to evoke. I’m happy to write that my fear was unfounded. I’m looking forward to the next book in the series.