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Monday, December 27, 2021

Review: Shadowdale by Scott Ciencin

Shadowdale is the first of the Avatar Series, what was originally a trilogy but later expanded to five books. It was written by Scott Ciencin though originally published under the pen name Richard Awlinson. There is an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Module of the same name that corresponds with the events of the book. 

This review has  corresponding video which you can watch here.

Original cover

The story starts with the gods and goddesses of the Forgotten Realms gathered together by Lord Ao. They are the target of his wrath for some of them have stolen the tablets of Fate. As a result, the Avatar crisis ensues as the gods are cut off from their realms and godhood, so prayers and magic go unanswered and become unreliable, while the gods are made to walk the planet Toril in mortal avatar form. The only one not cast down is Helm, God of Guardians. 

The year is 1358 DR and so begins the Time of Troubles, also called the Arrival, the Godswar, and the Avatar Crisis. This is also the beginning of the Era of Upheavel which will end over 100 years later with the Second Sundering. 

With the deities casting out, we first see Mystra, goddess of magic, try to access the Weave, yet deification form at which all magic of the Art comes, and she fails. Then Bane, god of hate, terror, and tyrannical oppression, lands in Zhentil Keep and takes and avatar as he sets about his malevolent plan to acquire the Tablets of Fate. 

Near the city of Arabel in Cormyr, the mage Midnight awakens to find things not as she left them, most notably she has a strange amulet around her neck. Her and 3 other heroes find themselves im the midst of the power struggle of the deities and their minions. 

One of the others is Kelemvor a sellsword warrior also in Arabel during the events of the Arrival. He is a little moody and not much of a people person, but still honorable and pretty average in his temperament besides his glaring misogyny, which is kinda out of place in the Forgotten Realms. He is acquainted with Cyric as they recently went after the artifact The Ring of Winter. He is approached by a starving waif on the streets who seems to have a quest in a mind for him. 

Reprint cover

 Cyric is a thief turned mercenary. Honestly my favorite character, which is funny if you know what becomes of him.

Then we have Adon, à Cleric of Sune Firehair, goddess of Beauty. He is familiar with Cyric and Kelemvor as he was also used by Lady Lord Myrmeen Lhal, ruler of Arabel to bring down a conspiracy. Adon is certainly vain and a little arrogant and foolish. 

I found Ciencin’s descriptions of simple character actions to be written perfectly, where I was getting imagery for mundane things I often don’t get while reading. The characters all decently explored too, for example finding out more about Kelemvor’s past, and how his curse really harms his temperament.

The pacing is a little slow, for example chapter 6 is somewhat dreamlike and dragging. Chapter 7 fixes this.

There are a decent amount of deities talked about with only the most basic of descriptions, so those unfamiliar with the pantheon  be lost with the mention of gods and goddesses. 

Divine magic only works for clerics within a mile of their deities avatars, while arcane magic that normally comes from Mystra, Goddess of Magic and her weave is terrible inconsistent and dangerous to use. 

The gods most at play here are Mystra, Bane, Helm, and Myrkul Lord of the Dead. This conflict really gets heated about the halfway point and that made the book finally hold more of my attention. 

As the back of the book states, the party wants to eventually get to Elminster in Shadowdale, hence the title of the book. Those two things had me thinking a majority of the book in Shadowdale, but only the last bit actually is. The party goes from Arabel to Castle Kilgrave, to Tilverton, to Shadow Gap, to Spiderhaunt Woods before reaching the titular place.

There is a romantic relationship I didn’t really care for as one of the people in the relationship wasn’t really a good prospect. 

The story does end with a cliffhanger that left me saying what the heck. Overall it’s Good, though maybe barely so. I have not been itching too bad to get to the next book, but I am looking forward to how the story develops.


You can track my current progress here.

Monday, December 6, 2021

Review: The Silent Blade by R.A. Salvatore

The Silent Blade is a 1998 novel by RA Salvatore and Book eleven in the Legend of Drizzt and book one in the Path of Darkness series. This of course takes place in the world of Forgotten takes place in the year 1364 of Dale Reckoning, for those curious that’s about 130 years before the present fifth edition timeline. 

This will of course have some spoilers for the first ten books, beware. Read my thoughts on The Dark Elf Trilogy (books 1-3), The Icewind Dale Trilogy (books 4-6), and Legacy of the Drow (books 7-10). This review also has a video counterpart that can be watched here:

It was nice having The Companions of the Hall back together even if their reunion in Passage to Dawn was lackluster. They of course start off at Icewind Dale and are leaving to bring Crenshinibon, the evil magical artificer commonly called The Crystal Shard, the south to Erlkazar to Spirit Soaring, temple to Deneir, in the mountains

Wulfgar is suffering, tormented by thoughts of Errtu in his nightmares. He’s no longer empathetic and his friends try to get him to feel again.

Entreri is back, he thankfully wasn’t present in the previous book, and I’m still of the opinion he should have died several books ago, but I digress. Entreri has returned to Calimport thousands of leagues to the south of Ten Towns in Icewind Dale, the furthest part of the Sword Coast still on it. These storylines. Initially don’t seem connected, besides the characters past connections. They do start connecting about half way through.

Part one sets up the Compnions storyline and Entreri’s, and honestly there was little combat in part one, and it was hardly drawn out 8 was really enjoying this, reminded me of the earlier Drizzt books. Wulfgars torment is deep, and it seems even friends or the old thrill of battle won’t dissipate his demons.

Part two brings Wulfgar more to the forefront, and his second encounter with a tribe of Uthgardt, the Sky Ponies, last seen in Streams of Silver was a greater view of the Companions past but also a larger view of the Forgotten Realms I often feel Salvatore misses in his works, seemingly forgetting them.

Jaraxle does make an appearance as well, a welcome one with his typical bravado and his webs of intrigue. Of the drow of Menzoberranzan, he is by far the most nuanced and interesting to read about. Though admittedly the guilds in Calimport sort of play the part of the warring houses of the drow city in this book. I much preferred this than the destructive and chaotic drow house wars which were a huge chunk of their society while the guild wars are just a piece. 

Cadderly is mentioned several times, but doesn’t actually make an appearance here. While he does appear briefly in Passage to Dawn, for those unaware, Salvatore wrote The Cleric Quintet that introduces the priest of Deneir and his friends.

This book also amps up the sexual content, but not in a gross amount. It felt more  adult rather than the juvenile feeling lots of the other Drizzt books had. 

I finished Pssage to Dawn all the way back in August of 2020, I needed a big break from Drizzt and that break helped a lot. I enjoyed this one throughly though my pace wasn’t the best. I’d say it’s Exceptional, considering how the other Drizzt books have gone.


You can track my current progress here.