This sourcebook expands on material in the Loremaster's Guide, providing a wealth of detail about the lands of the River and the Forest - the Vales of Anduin along the banks of the Great River and the trackless forest of Mirkwood to the east. Its main purpose is to serve as a gazetteer, whether you are running a campaign based on The Darkening of Mirkwood or one of your own devising in this part of Middle Earth. If you are using The Darkning of Mirkwood this work will greatly enhance your game and is highly recommended on those grounds alone. Timewise, material herein is set at 2946, but the Loremaster should take into account the passage of time between then and whatever the date is when the company arrives at any given location. Oh, and this is primarily a book for Loremasters. Players have no business reading about places their characters have not visited yet!
The first chapter traces the course of the River Anduin all the way from the Misty Mountains to the southern edge of the wild, using the same regions as depicted on the Loremaster's Map in the core rules. For each region, we read about its general geography, interesting flora and fauna to be found there, notes on the inhabitants (if any) then lists of notable individuals and locations that may be encountered there. Sometimes there are ideas for things to do in either the Adventuring or the Fellowship Phase.
The history of this area is one of migration, and that mainly of Men rather than any other race. Much of it is uninhabited, but those who have passed through have left their traces. Even where there are not overt suggestions, just reading through these details spawns plenty of ideas for adventure!
Next, following the same pattern of contents, there's a look at the forest of Mirkwood itself, running from the thickets of Northern Mirkwood to the very gates of Dol Guldur. Mirkwood is indeed an enormous forest - its northern border faces the steep slopes of the Grey Mountains and its southern edge is near the Brown Lands, a distance of more than four hundred miles, whilst it is about two hundred miles wide. The elves were the first to live here, but their time is now long past although some still remain. A few men have wandered here, but generally only on the fringes, while darker souls such as orcs are found within. It's dark in there, and airless... hunting and foraging are a chancy business and not everything you find is fit to eat or drink even once you've got it. And it is very easy to get lost! Tread warily if you must go there at all.
Finally, there's an extensive Bestiary. This covers a lot of critters that you probably don't want to meet, complete with all the information the Loremaster needs to run them when you do... and illustrations, which unfortunately are not arranged in such a way as to facilitate showing them to your players. An appendix provides a detailed overview map to supplement the individual regional ones scattered throughout the text.
Overall, the wealth of detail here really makes the place come to life, and should help you provide the same service to your players as their characters travels take them through these parts. And if anyone wants to come from here, there are a few appropriate Heroic Cultures from which to choose. Highly recommended, especially if you are running The Darkening of Mirkwood campaign arc.
[5 of 5 Stars!]