Search The Forgotten Realms Lyceum

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Review: Elminster: The Making of a Mage by Ed Greenwood

Somewhat surprisingly this is not the first book Ed Greenwood wrote for the Forgotten Realms. Elminster has been a staple since he appeared in Dragon Magazine way back in 1981, but this book was released in 1994, after he had already written the first two books of Shandril’s Saga. As of right now, since the books in the series seem to follow standalone arcs, I will be reviewing the five books separately. 

The prelude has 14th century Lord Mourngrym of Shadowdale searching for Elminster to no avail. He is left wondering about the origins of Elminster has he searches, and swiftly comes a prologue set more than a thousand years before as a mysterious lady known as Myrjala Darkeyes traveling through the remnants of Halangorn Forest, part of the Forlorn Hills in the kingdom of Athalantar, the ancient home of young Elminster. Right off the bat, we can say this is before 304 DR, as Tavaray is still around.

Athalantar, Elminster's homeland, does not exist in the 14th and 15th centuries of Dale Reckoning. In the Delimbiyr Vale, the capital Hastarl’s ruins were built upon to make Secomber. Some of the people of the kingdom became part of the Blue Bear Tribe and Tree Ghost Tribe of the Uthgardt; others settled in the regions of Baldur’s Gate. Personally after reading this, making a member of the Trumpettower family is really enticing.

The book is divided into parts, part one being called Brigand.

“. . . gods interested in the Kingdom of the Stag seemed in short supply these days.”

By chapter one you’ll notice  epigraphs for each chapter, a very nice edition that I enjoy in just about any book. We also meet young Elminster, called El, as he watches over a flock of sheep outside of Heldon. We discover it is the Year of the Flaming Forest (probably in reference to Halangorn), which if you decide to look up, is 224 DR. Finally we learn that Elminster’s father, Elthryn, is Lord of Heldon. This truly feels like a different place from the Realms I am used to; the land is a wild petty kingdom with little order beyond whatever the most powerful person can enforce.

With so many ancient cities and nations thrown around, a map would have been helpful. There are even  short references to Tyche, so we can surmise that the Dawn Cataclysm wasn’t quite complete by this point, as she is not yet the dual goddesses Tymora and Beshaba. This book is not as all over the place like many a Greenwood works are, it’s more meticulous and a steady march. 

"Theives? Ah, such an ugly word . . . think of them instead as kings-in-training. Ye seem upset, even disputations. Well, then look upon them as the most honest sort of merchant."

The Annotated Elminster omnibus
Seeing as this is a coming-of-age tale, we jump forward in years multiple times. This first jump is four years into he future to 228 DR. Then a shorter one to 229 DR.  There is another time jump that doesn’t last too long in part three, and in part four we go forward to 233 DR, have a few more jumps and end in 240 DR, making Elminster about 28 years of age at the end of the story.

One sad thing I will mention, if you know Forgotten Realms, you know Elminster, we know he’ll be okay in this origin story because we know he becomes the Sage of Shadowdale. We also know what happens to a certain goddess in 1385 DR.

Part two was a lot more interesting than part one, and going into part three I was excited where the story would go, especially since this part was titled “Priest”, and since nothing is foreshadowed of that sort before hand, it’s not much of a spoiler. The story gets even more interesting and entertaining here.

As a lad, young Elminster takes the name Eladar to hide his identity from the forces of the magelords in Athalantar. Later he is given an even better disguise.

 “You’re not a pretty lass.”

The tone of this story was refreshing, it was not full of a party of high adventurers on an epic quest (though there is a section with this), it’s long and challenging and personal. I really liked it, especially with the odd twist and turns El’s life takes.

This story is really magical, and getting closer to the end I started getting a little sad it was going to stop. I started to relish every page. Elminster doesn’t have it easy, if he did, the story would be about one third the size, and I am pretty sure Greenwood had to shorten the tale anyhow, as there are a handful of short stories about the Young Elminster in a few places.

“He told me the One True Spell was a woman, that her name was Mystra—and that her kisses were wonderful.”

Beyond our main protagonist of Elminster, there are other good characters that have that sense of verisimilitude and flare Greenwood conjures: Helm, Myrjala, Braer, Farl, Darrigo, Dorgon Heamiiolothtar (being the Magister Elminster met) were all fun to get to know.

A Star rushes past, to crash upon the shore

But the first of many many more

Stoke the fire and stout bar the door

For this is the night mages go to war.

Even though magic is quite promulgated in Faerun, this is a good example of wanton, arrogant power and distrust not making a sturdy ruling foundation. My love of the character of Elminster grew tenfold during this book. He’s so human, he fails, and has humor. The book wasn’t perfect, the first part especially was a tad dry, but at the end I had chills and, oddly, even some tears in my eye for such a good wrap up to the beginnings of the most legendary of mages in Faerun: Elminster Aumar, Prince of Athalantar, Wizard, Chosen of Mystra, and so much more. Elminster is on the level of Gandalf, Dumbledore, Rincewind and Merlin (his foibles making him the most similar) in my mind. Elmisnter: The Making of a Mage is Exceptional. I need to get my hands on The Annotated Elminster, or at least Elminster Ascending.

“. . . even gods grow lonely.”


You can track my current progress here.

No comments:

Post a Comment