TSR, $4.95, ISBN 0-7869-0062-8
Fantasy Horror, 1994
Mark Anthony puts a dark and perverse stamp on Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame in Tower of Doom. While it is not the first book in the Ravenloft series to pay tribute to (or bastardize, depending on how you look at it) classic stories, it is one that goes the extra mile in ensuring that its Quasimodo-type character is unmistakably a villain.
Set in the domain of Darkon, we meet Wort, a gentle hunchback who lives in Nartok Keep. Unknown to him at that time, the bells of the Keep are cursed, tainted with evil. At first Wort is just a sad but gentle soul, but he becomes open to the taint of the bells when he rescues a little girl only to be beaten savagely by the locals for daring to “attack” that girl. Not even his love for a local healer can stop him as he begins his downward spiral. Meanwhile, the local villain has a plot to get rid of Wort and gain control of Nartok Keep – let’s just say that there is more than meets the eye to Nartok Keep. Sensing that something is up, the lich King Azalin sends Lady Jardis, a werepanther, to scout out and report to him on the strange going-ons in the neighborhood.
As part of the Ravenloft novel line, Tower of Doom certainly delivers its share of putrid gore and pointless violence. However, it is a trainwreck of a read because the story never comes together well even by the last page. It’s just gore, gore, gore, and more gore. The author seems more intent to shock me than to entertain me. How else can I explain that scene where Jardis has sexual congress with Azalin, who is nothing more than a moldy skeleton? Disembowelment, amputation, gore, and let’s not forget the hungry zombies – all that is missing here is tentacle rape. I’ve seen fans of the setting call this book “Gothic”, but there is nothing subtle about this story. It is as Gothic as those Saw movies.
Despite the abundance of gore and body fluids spraying everywhere, the story is lacking in so many ways. There are too many subplots here, none of them resolved in a satisfactory manner, and the ending is pretty much a version of deus ex machina in action. But most damning is how mindless this story is. It is as if Tower of Doom were written by some kid who has forgotten that good horror stories need some degree of subtlety as well as atmospheric build-up of fear and tension. Spraying the story with gore from start to finish in a monotonous manner only leaves me feeling bored out of my mind after the first few chapters.