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Monday, January 2, 2023

Completed Series: The Avatar Saga

The Avatar Saga (or Series) is five novels and written by three different authors. It was originally a trilogy published under the nom de plume of Richard Awlinson, but was later expanded upon. The original trilogy deals with the Time of Troubles in 1358 DR, and the next two finish out the cosmological changes over the next decade. For those unaware, the Time of Troubles deals with the gods being cast down to Faerun as mortals by the Overgod, Ao. This is key to the plot of the books.

I read Shadowdale in December of 2021, and did a standalone review of that, which can be read here. I finished the series in May of 2022. I have the original versions of each book, but they were later reprinted to match.

Shadowdale by Scott Ciencin (1989) - Mediocre

Tantras by Scott Ciencin (1989) - Acceptable

Waterdeep by Troy Denning (1989) - Good

Prince of Lies by James Lowder (1993) - Exceptional

Crucible: The Trial of Cyric the Mad by Troy Denning (1998) - Exceptional

This review will have some larger Realms spoilers for the last two books, since they deal with decades old cosmological changes. Anyone familiar with 2e-5e Forgotten Realms will not be surprised by the status of certain gods. I will avoid these for the first three.

I ended up really enjoying this series. It is a little cheesy at times, and I knew some of the end going in, but each book was better than the last, which really impressed me.

Shadowdale starts with the events that would bring the Forgotten Realms from first edition to second edition. The Tablets of Fate have been stolen, and since no one steps forth as guilty, Lord Ao casts all gods down to Toril. They must walk in mortal avatar form, and are therefore vulnerable to die, permanently. The only god left with his divinity is Helm, who guards the way to the planes.

reprint cover

With the deities casting out, we first see Mystra, goddess of magic, try to access the Weave--from 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 an avatar as he sets about his malevolent plan to reacquire the Tablets of Fate. We learn that it was him and Myrkul, God of Death who hid them in the first place.

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 three other heroes find themselves in the midst of the power struggle of the deities and their minions. 

One of the others is Kelemvor, a noble-born 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. 

Cyric is a thief turned mercenary. Honestly my favorite character, which is funny if you know what becomes of him. One thing I found really interesting was that Cyric was born in Zhentil Keep but was adopted by wealthy Sembians and lived there until he was a teenager.

Then we have Adon, a 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 recently. Adon is certainly vain and a little arrogant and foolish.

We learn that the only magic that works in divine magic of clerics that are within a mile of their deity's avatar. Arcane magic is dangerous and inconsistent. We also get quite a number of vague descriptions of the gods and goddesses of the Realms. Those unfamiliar with the pantheon may be a bit lost.

There is a bit of romance sprinkled into this travel log. The group's goal is to go from Arabel to Shadowdale to meet with Elminster, the chosen of Mystra. Things escalate along the way and things become quite serious. 

This story is a little slow paced, but the overall descriptions and style of Ciencin makes for great imagery. This book does end on quite an unexpected cliffhanger.

starts where book one ended. As the title tells us, this adventure leads the heroes to Tantras in The Vast. The city has become the holy seat of Torm, and no longer experiences a day/night cycle, for it is eternally bright. This story still has Bane as the main villain, but Cyric's and Kelemvor's paths start to diverge from their route in the first book, and head in directions that Realms fans may be more familiar with. Adon's arc is also very interesting, as it deals with the matter of faith. Midnight is the least interesting here, and it seemed as if Ciencin might have had a hard time writing a woman character.

There is great action here, including an explosive confrontation between two avatars. There is also a trial for two people falsely accused of murder. Some like that, and others do not. I thought it was well done. 

Waterdeep explodes where book two ended. This one takes our heroes from the Heartlands to the Sword Coast, to the City of Splendors, Waterdeep. This is the first novel in the series written by Troy Denning, which was. It also pushed the gods Bhaal, god of murder, and Myrkul into the forefront. These two, along with Bane, make up the trifecta known today as the Dead Three. 

This one really feels like the climax, and it originally was. We experience dead fortresses, undead, great and fell magic from Cormyr to Waterdeep. The cosmology shifts even more here, as dead gods are replaced with new ones. The character arcs are even better, as Denning handle's Midnight's character better. It was quite a ride and I look back on the experience of reading these exploits in the Time of Troubles fondly. 

Prince of Lies gets us into some cosmological spoilers. This story is set around Zhentil Keep and the writing of Cyric's holy text, the Cyrinishad. He has taken on the portfolios of murder, death, and strife with the demise of the Dead Three. We have Mystra (Midnight)  vying to stop Cyric from magically gaining worshippers. We also have characters, such as Fzoul Chembryl, who misses Bane. And the scribe Rinda is charged with writing the Cyrinishad. We also have the more tragic person of Gwydion, who becomes more important in the last book. As a fan of the Realms, I knew Kelemvor was not in his position of God of the Dead by the end of Waterdeep, this rectifies that.

Yet again this novel proved to be even better than the last. This was the first time I had read anything by Lowder, but I look forward to more of his Realms works.

Crucible: The Trial of Cyric the Mad deals with Mystra and Kelemvor seeking to once again prevent Cyric from finding the Cyrinishad. Adon's role as a priest is one very different from his earlier days in Shadowdale. What makes this story all the better is the point of view it is told to us. This story is from the intra-diegetic narrator of the Calimshite Malik el Sami, a worshipper of Cyric some readers may recognize from The Sentinel. This means everything is unreliable to a degree, though not inaccurate as far as the events go. Some do not like this narration, but I enjoyed it tremendously.

We also have the character Ruha from Denning's novels The Parched Sea and The Veiled Dragon. I have not read them yet, but fans of those may enjoy this sequel of sorts. It also explores even more places, like Candlekeep.

Overall we get quite a tour of the Realms, from Arabel, to Shadowdale, to Scardale, to The Vast, to High Horn, to Dragonspear, to Waterdeep, to Zhentil Keep, to Candlekeep. The vast array of characters is handled quite well by three authors and proves entertaining from the fist to last, making this an Exceptional reading experience.


You can track my current progress here.

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