The Adversary, by Erin M. Evans

The Adversary, by Erin M. Evans
Forgotten Realms: The Sundering Book 3
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
ASIN: B00DACWB16
352 pages, Kindle Edition
Published December 2013
Source: NetGalley

The stand-alone Forgotten Realms novels that loosely tie together into the series called “The Sundering” seem to get better with each addition. I enjoyed this enough that I plan on going back to read Evans’ previous novels. Having mostly read Salvatore prior to this, I was a bit shocked at how more developed and complex the characters in this series are, and Evans’ voice is so unique and refreshing that at times I forgot I was reading a media-tie in, shared-universe genre novel. This is simply a good fantasy.

Evans writing is strong, often evoking a Medievalesque vocabulary and style of dialogue that places the story squarely in a high fantasy world without it seeming ridiculous. The style of her language is not artistic in a high literary sense, but it is fluid and unique, suiting this story well. Her plotting is also spot on, moving the story at a brisk pace without resorting to any tired troupe of merely moving heroes from one action sequence to another, overcoming each and every challenge in relative ease of a daily routine. Here victories are bittersweet, exacted with a price, and the most succulent bits of the story are not the physical clashes but the verbal and psychological battles.

Getting into the novel was a bit slow to start due to my unfamiliarity with the characters, and Evans does place a wide variety of settings and characters (basically those from her first two books) into the complex intersections of the plot here. Things therefore do get a bit jumbled now and then, particularly in the second portion of the novel. Nonetheless this story stands far better as a stand-alone novel than others (say Salvatore’s entry). While “The Adversary” sets up future directions, the whole point of “The Sundering series”, a full story arc is still covered here, and in-depth knowledge of the previous books, while helpful, isn’t necessary. The next volume of the series is already in my queue to read, but I’ll be really surprised if any can top what Evans accomplishes here.

Five Stars out of Five

The Godborn, by Paul S. Kemp

The Godborn, by Paul S. Kemp
Forgotten Realms: The Sundering Book 2
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
ASIN: B00C8RZHLU
400 pages, Kindle Edition
Published October 2013
Source: NetGalley

This is the first non-Salvatore book I’ve read in the Forgotten Realms universe, and for a book in this shared-universe genre I found it quite good with writing superior to what I typically would see even in the best of Salvatore’s or similar. As a stand-alone novel in the loosely tied “Sundering” series, I found that Kemp managed to keep this novel far tighter and less mysterious than Salvatore’s “The Companions” despite my being utterly unfamiliar with any of the characters here.

My unfamiliarity with Kemp’s characters may be partially why this novel felt nicely fresh and new compared to the well-tread tales of Salvatore. There are fewer cleanly good, upright moral characters in this compared to Salvatore’s, and Kemp doesn’t turn aside of moments of discomfort, horror or vulgarity when necessary. I also appreciated that this novel by Kemp is a proper story in completion. Though it obviously sets the stage for future adventures of the characters, it stands on its own with a sense of completion and payoff.

The only weakness I saw in this was Kemp’s handling of action sequences. They are often related in a straightforward manner, one event listed after another, each sentence with similar construction and flow, almost as a dry summary. I don’t think anyone would look at this expecting some amazing piece of literature, it certainly isn’t. But it is an enjoyable, easy fantasy read with enough complexity and style to make it worthwhile. In the end I don’t know if I’ll read the remaining novels in the “Sundering” series, but I’m glad I had the opportunity to be freely introduced to Kemp’s work, it provides a welcome alternate to the over-familiar quaintness of Salvatore.

Four Stars out of Five

The Companions, by R.A. Salvatore

The Companions, by R.A. Salvatore
Forgotten Realms: The Sundering Book 1
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
ASIN: B00BE24W0W
384 pages, Kindle Edition
Published August 2013
Source: NetGalley

Prior to this I had only read up through the “Legacy of the Drow” series of Forgotten Realms books by Salvatore and am fairly unfamiliar with the universe of Forgotten Realms as a whole. Jumping ahead in the stories of Drizzt, Bruenor, Catti-brie, Wulfgar, and Regis (The Companions) was therefore slightly harder to get into. Additionally, this is the first book of a multipart series of novels that are related primarily only in describing an event called “The Sundering”. Having no idea what this was, no clue what the “Spellplague” is, and no introduction to many of the groups and settings featured at the start of the novel additionally made it hard to start without doing a bit of research on background. So if you are coming into this new, I would say don’t, unless you are fine with a lot of aspects of the story being not entirely clear. Start elsewhere, or be prepared to look up background info. If you are familiar with the setting and characters then I imagine you would probably be already eager to read this. If you were like me and somewhat tired of Salvatore’s simplistic novels and mediocre writing, then you might want to give this a try.

I had decided to read the remaining Drizzt novels I owned at least, but wasn’t sure if I would continue. Reading this I am impressed with how far Salvatore’s writing has progressed since his earlier novels. This is the best I’ve seen of his work, and partially that may be from a plot that allows him to ‘reboot’ the characters in a way as they are reborn into new lives. Contrary to the cover, Drizzt and his magical cat are not really in it other than a few pages. The focus instead is on Catti-brie, Bruenor, and Regis as each struggles with the consequences of their choices to be reborn into new bodies with all their previous memories in an attempt to help Drizzt face a future danger. Rather than having the character’s each revert back to their usual well-known and now clichéd behaviors, Salvatore nicely has them struggle with their rebirths as they try to work out how much their previous lives will influence their new ones, and how involved they wish to become with their new families and opportunities for a second, perhaps different life.

In these ways the book is outstanding for the genre. The downside to it all, however, is that it doesn’t end up concluding like a true complete novel or story. Instead its entirety is merely setting up the varied protagonists and antagonists on the chess board. Thus, it ends up being like one big prologue with the only resolution being will they come back together and honor the agreement to help Drizzt or use their new lives to do something different. Despite the attempt to make things conflicted for each character, this all goes predictably for all the characters, re-raising the specter of limitability in Salvatore’s work. Whether caused by his own faults or by the unreasonable demands of his fans or publishers, Salvatore is incapable of closing the coffin lid on big, popular characters – good or bad. With this the book falls into children’s fare, simplistic hero stories with entertainment, familiarity, and predictability. While it is nice this has strong entertainment and improved writing, I wish Salvatore could take these tales into something a bit more complex and less obvious, not just a rebooted ‘twist’.

Three Stars out of Five