Delve into the mind of Critical Role’s most charming villain in this original novel that chronicles Lucien’s early life and his fateful meeting with the Mighty Nein. Written by New York Times bestselling author Madeleine Roux, Critical Role: The Mighty Nein—The Nine Eyes of Lucien explores the meteoric rise and fall of one of Critical Role’s most notorious and tragic figures.
Here’s the summary…
Lucien has always been able to spin a bad situation to his advantage. From his childhood on the dangerous streets of Shadycreek Run to his years living off the grid and learning blood magic from the Claret Orders, the charismatic blood hunter will find a way to get the upper hand.
When Lucien is on a job in the frozen wastelands of Eiselcross with his fellow mercenaries, a rough-and-tumble crew called the Tombtakers, fate leads him to a mysterious journal in the ruins of an ancient city. The book speaks of the Somnovem, nine beings who can grant Lucien power beyond imagining—if he is able to find them and free them from captivity.
Intrigued by this opportunity, Lucien pores over the journal—but the more he reads, the stranger things become. The nine whisper to him in dreams and waking visions. Time slips away, along with Lucien’s grasp on reality. And tattoos of red eyes begin appearing on his skin. . . .
With the ability to reshape the world within his grasp, Lucien ignores all warning signs. He has always bent fortune to his will, and nothing—not even death—will stop him now.
Yes, the Critical Role machine keeps chugging along it seems, leaving no commercial avenue untouched as it looks to expand across the globe. Its aim you ask? Why, world domination of course.
Obviously, I’m being a little cheeky but it’s quite impressive how the web series has risen to such heights in a relatively short period of time. Going from the podcast to graphic novels/comics, animated TV series, art books, toys, tabletop games, and just about anything else you slap a name on. And with no signs of slowing down, it feels like Critical Role will be in our lives for a long time to come. This speaks not only to the enduring built-in fanbase that Dungeons & Dragons has, but the quality of the product as well. Yes, Critical Role is pretty good, and like a tomacco, refreshingly addictive.
A more recent venture, and the reason we’re here, is novels, starting with 2021’s Vox Machina – Kith & Kin by Marieke Nijkamp, a book I very much enjoyed. It did a great job of giving these fan favorite twins the gold character spa package, fully fleshing them out, making them vital, full of life, and most importantly three dimensional. Seriously, check it out if you haven’t, it’s good stuff. With this second novel, the team reached out to bestseller Madeleine Roux (Asylum series) and handed her another Critical Role darling, albeit a more baleful one, but certainly no less compelling. Yes, Roux got to get down and dirty with the Astral Sea dweller himself, Lucian, the big heavy of the second campaign.
For her part, Roux is no stranger to IP (Intellectual Property) work, having previously written books for World of Warcraft, Dungeons & Dragons, and Star Wars. I particularly liked her Shadows Rising (WoW) novel, and her short story ECLIPSE, part of the Star Wars anthology, From a Certain Point of View, was excellent. The point here is that Roux has proven she’s more than trustworthy when it comes to handing over the IP keys, having successfully played in other people’s prominent sandboxes. It also proves, her original works included, is that she’s diversely adept when it comes to challenging the material, making readers suspend any notion of a foregone conclusion. Translation, she’s good at making you give a shit about the preamble.
So yes, if the second campaign left you wanting as far as Lucien goes, then you’ve come to the right place. The Nine Eyes of Lucien gives us a backstage pass to his inner machinations, his descent into madness, expeditiously turning this once forgivably hardened libertine, into a singularly focused sociopathic forgivably hardened libertine.
“There is no more wisdom in order than in chaos.”
As the summary states, Lucien and his extemporaneously named Tombtakers, are hired by the enigmatic and felicitous Lady Vess DeRogna, aka, the Archmage of Antiquity, to search some fairly hard-to-find ruins for some fairly hard-to-find magical items. One of those items is the journal of a long-lost mage who himself, delved deep into these ruins, Aeor, and who got into some weird shit. Sounds like fun except for the fact that the more Lucien reads, the more things start to change, and thus we have our origin story and a closer examination of his shenanigans post-resurrection, becoming a major player in The Mighty Nein’s final arc. Think “Ring of Power” and you’ll get an idea of the type of insalubrious relationship that forms between Lucien and this journal, and not unlike the bond between me and my iPhone, Lucien’s willingness to allow other’s viewing access to the journal becomes dubious at best.
Obviously, that is a pithy oversimplification of what amounts to a pretty good read overall and one that should please Lucien-ites, and more broadly, fans of Critical Role. I’m not going any further into the plot because of spoilers, many of which you can already discover thanks to the aforementioned second campaign should you choose. But if you’re looking for a re-characterization of whom and what Lucian represents, I’m afraid you’re out of luck. That doesn’t stop Roux however from cranking out a slew of memorable scenes, all adding up to like I said, is a mostly good, sometimes great, origin story.
The book starts off nice enough, giving you a pastoral, if not harmless introduction to a young, down-on-his-luck Lucien, scraping his way through a meager existence in Shadycreek Run with bestie Cree Deeproots. But if you know Critical Role at all, even at a cursory level, then you’ve come to expect shackled truths and darkness, so it’s doesn’t take long for this seemingly arcadian yarn to go from Milne to Grimm pretty damn quick. You’ll understand what I mean when you get to “Sock Brother”, and as Lucien goes from the Claret Order, to forming the Tombtakers, to unfettering the Somnovem, things pretty much stay that way, bleak. Yes, The Mighty Nein—The Nine Eyes of Lucien may be avant-garde and wildly entertaining, but don’t kid yourself, it’s not the feel-good story of the year. Lucien may have been blessed with a few things, but a life free of pain and hardship wasn’t one of them.
I’ve already mentioned DeRogna and Cree, the Mighty Nein, and the remaining Tombtakers are present and accounted for, but it’s a new character I’d like to talk about quickly. Roux manages to add some muscle and soften some hard edges at the same time with Brevyn Oakbender, Lucien’s other BFF (besides Cree) and who, for my money, brings a payload of wonderful exposition and sensibility to the story. For starters she’s a romantic interest for Lucien, but that really takes a backseat to their kinship, both thinking the sun rises and sets with each other. More than capable in her own right, Brevyn is no slouch, providing not only brawn, but brains as well, and who was the one who got them into the Order to begin with.
She’s an important emotional anchor for Lucien, someone who is able to keep him grounded and focused, likewise, he helps her through some tough times as well. The less I say about her the better your reading experience will be, since her path is tied to so much of what happens in the book, and also, being a new character, and with so much of the book already spoilable, let’s leave some element of discovery for you. But of all the new additions and flavor added by Roux, this is the best.
As for our lavender-skinned bad-boy, for someone whose hubris precipitates chaos and ruin, Lucien, is paradoxically a pretty cool dude, right? I mean, sure, he definitely makes some choices that hurt those he claims to care about, and there’s bodily autonomy issues abound once he gets his groove on, but pre- Nonagon, he was simply a brooding tiefling with an ugly past, and who doesn’t love a brooding tiefling with an ugly past? I know I do.
So anyways, the better part of the back half of the book is spent on his transmutation, experiencing fragmented visions, bizarre all-to-real dreams, and a chorus of auditory Somnovem stiffs who all want Lucien to fulfill his/their chosen mandates. Roux has a bit of fun here when it comes to the work on the page, using erratic schizophrenic type of layouts (and pretty great interludes), depicting a person nimbly transforming into a madman. As a practicality and favor to us, she also uses different fonts to show the 9+ voices Lucien hears, letting us in on the madness that lies just beneath the surface. One of the benefits of being told in the first person I suppose. Notice that little “+” sign there? Well, that’s reserved for someone special who I won’t mention in case you’re unfamiliar with them, but it’s a bit of a fan pleaser.
Listen, Roux never shies away from the unavoidable fact that Lucian is a bad dude, who does bad things. Does he do so with a certain amount of pizzazz? Sure. What’s nice is that Roux never once, despite some rocky roads and emotional beat downs, paints Lucien as a sympathetic character, at least not for me. So, does that mean redemption is completely off the table? Let’s see what the author had to say in an interview with Polygon…
“He’s not a good guy. That was actually one of the best challenges of the book. How do you flesh this person out and how do you explain their life without excusing their behavior? How do you build in these steps where he has all these opportunities to do the right thing, change for the better, self-reflect in a way that might move him down a better path?”
I’ll leave the redemption question for you to answer, read the book and you decide. As for me, I know where I stand on it.
So, what’s the bottom line?
Good IP writing is just as much a product of the author’s imagination as any constraints applied by the IP itself. And a good character backstory should be an extension of the character’s time in it, as well as a comprehensive overview of their history. It’s a precious thing after all, not every character gets their time in the sun, and when done effectively, a backstory will generate greater meaning and understanding of their existence. Formative experiences, emotional memories, all things relevant are welcome as long it doesn’t bog the story down and hopefully evokes an emotional response.
So, the best compliment I can give The Mighty Nein – The Nine Eyes of Lucien, is that despite all the knowables, despite the unavoidably foreseeable nature of the book, I found myself anticipating and enjoying what was happening next, page after page after page. It’s a bit of story-telling alchemy as you’re placed into a brief state of amnesia, and she does so with an absorbing and abstract origin story about one of Critical Role’s most infamous characters, like him or not. And she does all of this with very little, as this breezy read (including front/back matter) clocks in around 300 pages.
As far as the timeline is concerned and where this book lands on it, when asked about the reading order, before or after the second campaign (which ended June 2021), Madeleine’s answer was…
“It will spoil some of the most climactic aspects of Campaign 2, including major character deaths–it’s a better idea to wait to read it until after finishing that season of the show.”
So, if you’re new to Critical Role and wish to remain spoiler free, avoid Critical Role Wiki at all costs and check out the second campaign HERE!
To order The Mighty Nein – The Nine Eyes of Lucien, click HERE!
Cover art by Matt Hubel.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
…AND COMING SOON FROM DARK HORSE BOOKS!
Critical Role: The Mighty Nein Origins – Fjord Stone…
Fjord Stone’s early years to life in this all-new hardcover Critical Role graphic novel!
Kevin Burke and Chris “Doc” Wyatt, writers for the Amazon Original animated series Critical Role: The Legend of Vox Machina, join fan-favorite artist Selina Espiritu, colorist Diana Sousa, letterer Ariana Maher, and Matthew Mercer and Travis Willingham from the cast of Critical Role to bring Fjord’s early years to life in this all-new hardcover graphic novel!
More than just an orcish face!
Growing up in an orphanage on the Menagerie Coast, Fjord Stone has never been comfortable with the assumptions people draw from his half-orc heritage. But his sweet, sensitive nature will do him no favors in Port Damali. Luckily, a chance encounter on the docks lands Fjord with a job, a mentor, and more adventure than he could ever dream of on the path that will eventually lead him to the rest of the Mighty Nein!
The Mighty Nein Origins – Fjord Stone releases Dec. 13, 2022…click HERE to pre-order now!