While preparing to run the new campaign I went ahead and picked up the old "Pool of Radiance" novel too, from 1989. I'm not going to do a full review of it because it is not worth it - it's not great. There are a few interesting bits here and there but it fails my main test of game fiction - does it faithfully recreate the world it is set in? This isn't a huge problem until the end, during the climactic battle against the dragon. The Dragon, a bronze, thinks to itself that it can't hit one character with it's breath weapon because He's "too close". A paragraph later the magic-user realizes she can't hit it with a lightning bolt -her favorite blasting spell up to now - because it's a bronze and since they breathe lightning her spell wouldn't hurt it. Then a short bit later the dragon's breath is reflected back at it and severely injures the dragon! A bronze dragon damaged by its own breath weapon? Even if a decision was made to ignore the immunity thing for purposes of the story, then why would the wizard girl think to herself that she couldn't hurt it? Just trim that one comment and then even if the story deviates from the game universe the novel is at least internally consistent - as it is, it doesn't follow D&D as we knew it AND it doesn't make sense within the novel either! This was a pretty big disjunction coming in the climactic fight of the book and I was disappointed as it wasn't as bad as I had expected up until then.
A few other nitpicks -
- One character is a Human Ranger Thief. This novel was written during 1st edition and I'm not even sure how that would happen. I suppose he could have been dual classed but even then it's pretty rough with the level requirements. Oh, and he uses dual shortswords - this is pre-Drizzt pre-2nd edition, and pre-decent rules for dual-wielding. Maybe some playtesting for 2nd edition had been going on and so they worked it in. Regardless, two weapon use was looking cool even back then.
- One character is an apprentice wizard and her master goes off to Phlan first to help a colleague fight off a monster attack. He leaves her a) his familiar, which is a horse - I don't remember that being an option under the "Find Familiar" Spell and it effectively serves as a fourth party member during the book b) his Wand of Wonder - OK I don't have a problem with this. Hell I've handed out a wand of wonder at the beginning of a cmapign myself just for the funny factor c) his STAFF OF POWER ?! WTF?! Can you see any wizard going into a big fight leaving an item like that behind? Maybe if he had a Staff of the Magi?! Even then wouldn't you let your buddy mage use the Staff of Power to help keep your hide intact? I can tell you none of my player's would ever do that - they tend to be of the "my items die with me" school - so I found this to be a pretty obvious sore thumb.
Anyway the story is pretty much an abbreviated run-through of the adventure by 3 characters of differing backgrounds who grow significantly in power during the tale. It's not the worst D&D fiction I've read, but it's not great. For what I'm doing it wasn't a waste of time as there are some names and things I can steal but that's about it.