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Thursday, April 9, 2020

Completed Series: Sembia: Gateway to the Realms

Sembia: Gateway to the Realms is a large series, and the largest to date that I've read. There are seven books, including an anthology and then six novels written by five different authors. Each novel focuses on a different character, though they all deal with House Uskevren; either members of the family or house servants. While technically being standalone novels (and they even jump around a little) I would recommend reading them in order. Each book is exciting in its own right, and Sembia is a highly enjoyable series, a hallmark of the Forgotten Realms.

I started the series in early March with the second book, and in the middle of the month I went and read the rest in order, finishing in early April.

These are the reprints done a couple years after the initial releases.

The Halls of Stormweather by various authors and edited by Philip Athans (2000) - Acceptable
Shadow's Witness by Paul S. Kemp (2000) - Exceptional
The Shattered Mask by Richard Lee Byers (2001) - Acceptable
Black Wolf by Dave Gross (2001) - Good
Heirs of Prophecy by Lisa Smedman (2002) - Exceptional
Sands of the Soul by Voronica Whitney-Robinson (2002) - Mediocre
Lord of Stormweather by Dave Gross (2003) - Exceptional

Sembia: Gateway to the Realms is apparently what WotC wanted as an introduction to those interested in the Forgotten Realms. From the blurb on the back of the first book reads: “This anthology of seven stories introduces not just one realm of good and evil, not just one family of troubled heroes, but the whole of the remarkable Forgotten Realms world. Their adventure, and yours, begins here.” Each of these stories acts essentially as a prologue to the succeeding six novels. Each story also has really good foreshadowing for things revealed in the following stories. 

The vast majority of the stories spend most of their time in Selgaunt, a port city in Sembia, but we do get to see the Yhaunn, Ordulin, the Arch Wood, and places outside of Sembia like the Dalelands, Cormanthyr, and even far off Calimshan, and other planes.

Now, let's start at the top.

The Halls of Stormweather  is an anthology, one of eighteen in the Forgotten Realms, and the first I have read. I have only ever read one other anthology before, and I'm still a fan of more fleshed-out novels. There are eight stories in the particular anthology, so lets go over them in order.

The Patriarch: The Burning Chalice by Ed Greenwood 
This story is about Thamalon Uskevren, the Lord of Stormweather Towers. It Goes back in time to explain how Thamalon inherited his families leadership, seeing as he is not the oldest son of his father. The story starts in a scene where a pretender is trying to say he is Perivel, Thamalon’s older brother. The story jumps around quite a bit from the present situation to flashbacks of Thamalon's youth. The story ended differently than I expected, but nonetheless satisfying and the story makes a lot more sense after a few of the books are under your belt. 

The Matriarch: Song of Chaos by Richard Lee Byers.
The second story in the anthology is about Shamur Uskevren, the Lady of Stormweather Towers. This story also jumps around a lot but for different reasons. With her daughter, Tazi, Shamur is trapped in a theater hall with a foul opera causing all sorts of chaos to erupt around the place. Part of this magic initially causes Shamur to be spat back in time a few minutes. Odd, disturbingly freakish events happen as the magic of the Hellish opera progresses. For the sake of the potential reader, I will say I didn't immediately remember a gorgon is a bull in D&D and not the traditional mythic creature, though it can still petrify(but not with its sight). The jumping also has Shamur reliving pivotal moments of his past (and the future?), which are fun to read and digest.

The Heir: Night School by Clayton Emery
About Tamlin Uskevren and a secret business deal his father has sent him on. Tamlin is incompetent and it is quite amusing as he blunders along, though the story is not that interesting besides.

The Daughter: The Price by Voronica Whitney-Robinson 
About Thazienne “Tazi” Uskevren. She lives a double life as a pampered noble with suitors at her heel, and a more hushed and cloaked life at night. Tazi reveals herself to be quite young and naïve. I felt this was not the last we’d see of these characters at the end.

The Second Son: Thirty Days by Dave Gross about Talbot Uskevren. An awry hunting trip sets young Tal on a ride he hardly expected to experience. That's about it, don't want to spoil it. I will say that Mistress Quickly (noted on of page 226) is oddly similar to the Wife of  Bathgap by having a gap in her teeth and five husbands. To this point in the anthology I found Talbot the most likable from such a short story.

The Butler: Resurrection by Paul S. Kemp
Introduction to the much loved Erevis Cale, Butler to the Uskevrens and trained killer and rogue. He finds himself in a pickle of loyalty; protecting the Uskevren’s and keeping the ruse of spying on them is about to get a lot tougher, and bloodier. Great intro to a favorite Realms character.

The Maid: Skin Deep by Lisa Smedman
About Larajin. The story is about discovery as Larajin finds out more about herself. Lots of revelations here, and they were satisfactorily foreshadowed. Though not my favorite character form the Anthology she really grew on me during the novels focused on her.

Shadow's Witness is the second book in the Sembia series and is actually the first book I read. It takes place during the month of Hammer, The Year of the Unstrung Harp (1371 DR) for any interested in the timeline.
At times it was quite Disturbing, dark and awesome. Quick faith seemed a little quick but not too unrealistic, though we were only told he was godless not shown it. Jak makes a great companion. The demons make really disturbing foes. Cale’s thirst for vengeance and justice is what propels the fast flowing progression of Shadow’s Witness. Kemp does a fantastic job of showing a man not particularly proud of his younger self and his dark past, which reminds me a bit of Dalinar Kholin from the Stormlight Archive.

The Shattered Mask Takes place in late Hammer, The Year of Wild Magic (1372DR), a whole year after the previous book. This book focuses on Shamur Uskevren. Byers utilizes lots and lots of uncommon vocabulary in place of standard words, every couple of pages even. Words like palfrey and destrier, passé, tercet, mufti, ambuscade, egress, timorous, fracas, attenuate, taverner, scrofulous, venery, lickerish, somnolent, clangor, staid and so on. It’s a little excessive, I had to stop often and my vocabulary is rather decent to begin with. 
It feels very much like a Realms novels, overflowing with characters, are often scene to character death; swifly and mercilessly so. The main characters seem a little overpowered and lucky. While focus is on Shamur, a multitude of POV are present.
Exciting, with a pleasant conclusion.

Black Wolf by Dave Gross focuses on Talbot Uskevren. It starts in Hammer 1371, ends Mirtul 1371. Very dark and nocturnally focused; I would have loved it as a teenager. Werewolves and aquatic vampires (apparently a thing) abound. An important notes is that there are two main characters, Darrow and Tal. Darrow is the sad and pitiful counterpart to Tal's relatively good fortune. I really enjoyed Darrow as a character, and I found Gross to be a good worldbuilder and storyteller.

Heirs of Prophecy by Lisa Smedman is set in1372 DR.
As Larajin strives to understand the elven part of her, we gain a plethora of insights on elven culture, especially that of the Forest Elves of the Tangled Trees. At this point this book was Easily the biggest tale and the one that spends the most time outside of Selgaunt, and the only one going outside of Sembia. I’m a little partial to the story because it prominently involves twins. To creatures I appreciate appear too, a tressym which is a winged cat, and an avariel which is a rare, winged elf 
It’s main hindrances are length, I felt it could have been considerably longer. The second is how everything goes almost always perfectly for Larajin’s. She tries and succeeds even though she’s never done the things before, it turns in her favor.
The villain of Drakkar is well done though I think he could get more spotlight, though he is present in the last book of the series, he is not present enough.
I would love to see a sequel of this, I think Larajin and her brothers would make a great adventuring party

Sands of the Soul by Voronica Whitney-Robinson takes place in Marpenoth 1372 DR
Thazienne goes on a quest, and how the previous entry travelled out of Sembia to the lands just north, here the adventures goes far to the south and west to the desert kingdom of Calimshan. In Calimpprt about 15 years after the Companions of the Hall. Most of this time is spent underground in the Muzad, which is kind of one of the upper layers of the Underdark ,sort of like Downshadow for Waterdeep.
The first chapter is homage to Jak’s escapade at the start of Shadow’s Witness and I appreciated it. I will complain about the strong crude innuendo present near the start. I found it more unsettling than funny. Also the characters' incompetence for the obvious and competence for unobvious is laughable. Not what I was expecting from Tazi, who otherwise seems extremely capable. This book actually slowed by reading so exponetially, it was not all that fun like I hoped it would be.

Lord of Stormweather by Dave Gross (and for some reason not Clayton Emery, who wrote Tamlin’s story •The Heir” in THoS). It takes place in Alturiak 1373 DR which is the Year of Rogue Dragons. I laughed out loud at Tamlin’s beginning parts a handful of times. The story grows more serious and we have POV's from Erevis, Thamalon, Tamlin, and Chaney Foxmantle. The story is super fun and a great conclusion and sequel to the dull sixth book. The characters showcased are phenemonal and Gross really shows how good an author he is. Radu Malveen, from Black Wolf,  is a more interesting and compelling assassin than Artemis Entreri. Feel free to debate that though, I am only on Siege of Darkness.

Overall, I really enjoyed Sembia: Gateway to the Realms, and I'm glad an acquaintance recommended it to me. Though there are many authors involved in the series, the batch really is a cohesive whole and I would recommend reading all of the books and in order, though it is not necessary. I hope some other novels take place in the nation of Sembia, for I certainly am not done exploring it. Sembia: Gateway to the Realms is Good. The books ebb and flow in quality, but overall keep a positive position in my mind.

“Long live the Lord of Stormweather!”

You can track my current progress here.

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