Dungeons & Dragons: The Fallbacks – Bound for Ruin | Review

Dungeons & Dragons fans can return to the Forgotten Realms with an all new party in The Fallbacks: Bound for Ruin. Here’s our review of the new novel from Jaleigh Johnson.

Dungeons & Dragons: The Fallbacks: Bound For Ruin
Written By: Jaleigh Johnson
Published By: Random House Worlds
Release Date: March 5, 2024
Purchase [Affiliate]: https://amzn.to/42Pqz03

Starting off in Dungeons & Dragons can be tough even for the people within that world! At least, that’s the idea presented in the latest D&D novel from Random House Worlds. The Fallbacks puts the focus on a nascent team of adventurers as they embark on their first mission together in the hopes of making a name for themselves…They’ll have to actually survive it first, however.

The novel puts together an all new cast of characters, and isn’t connected to Johnson’s previous D&D novel (which ruled) that was connected to last year’s film. While the characters are all new, they still fall into line with the traditional roles fans of the fantasy RPG are familiar with; just with their own unique quirks.

There’s Tess, who serves as the leader but is also the party’s Rogue. Anson, the Warrior who wields a busted sword. The Wizard, Cazrin, is entirely self-taught. Baldric, who serves as the Cleric, but isn’t beholden to any single god, and instead barters with all of them. Then there’s Lark, a tiefling Bard. It’s a motley crew to be sure, but each brings a set of skills to the table that Tess feels is needed to complete their first mission, and possibly become legends.

Their first task is to recover an ancient spellbook, known as the Ruinous Child, that’s been hidden away in a forgotten temple, for an enigmatic wizard. Success means not only a hefty reward, but an instant boon to their reputation. Getting their hands on the book, however, turns out to be the easy part of the job.

In trying to get the tome to their client, they discover other sinister forces are also looking to acquire the book. Suddenly finding themselves on the run for a murder they didn’t commit and hunted by a powerful Lich, the team must decide if their group is worth keeping together…oh, and maybe save the world while they’re at it.

In an effort to avoid spoilers, I’m going to keep the story points just to that. Quite a bit happens in the story, which balances the ongoing tale while also showing how the team came together earlier on. There’s plenty of action to go about and fantasy adventure, aplenty. Jaleigh Johnson is excellent at writing characters that feel alive on the page, with interactions that manage to feel humorous and heartfelt all at once. It’s what impressed me most with her previous D&D book. She has a snappy style that keeps the story moving along at a fast pace, conveying all the necessary info, without bogging readers down in exposition.

At a glance, The Fallbacks has everything I like/want in a fantasy story (and I breezed through it relatively quickly). For some reason, however, it didn’t fully click for me. I’ve thought long and hard about this since putting the book down and think I’ve narrowed it down to a couple things.

For one, this book is VERY much steeped in Dungeons & Dragons lore. As a filthy casual myself, there were plenty of times the verbiage and overall setup of things completely threw me off. I had to Wiki quite a few things in the first quarter of the book just to not feel lost.

Maybe because of that, the second issue was more apparent/prominent to me. Her previous D&D novel, The Road to Neverwinter, felt like I was reading a story about characters within this world. But The Fallbacks feels like I’m reading a story about people playing in this world. It’s easy to imagine the main story as a group of nerds gathered around a table and playing through a campaign.

Events just kind of happen, like a Dungeon Master changing things up on the fly, and the character backstories feel like the exact kind of dramatic flair players would craft to make their characters feel more in depth/interesting. It’s not that they aren’t interesting, but the result makes them feel like people placed into the story rather than coming off as characters who’ve lived and breathed in this world; and we’re only seeing this small part of it.

In some ways, this isn’t necessarily bad and makes certain aspects of it more accessible (even for casual D&D fans like me). The problem, is it doesn’t seem like an intentional approach. But again, perhaps it all comes back to me not being as immersed in this universe, and long-time fans will find exactly what they wanted out of it.

Regardless, there’s no denying Jaleigh Johnson’s impressive writing skills, which kept me reading even as I realized the story wasn’t quite working for me. If you like Dungeons & Dragons, or looking for a quick fantasy read this Spring, The Fallbacks is an easy recommendation. If you’re not as into D&D…well, it’s a harder sell.

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Jordan Maison
Jordan Maison
Lover of all things nerdy, Jordan's passion for books began at an early age and simply never stopped.