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Monday, April 24, 2023

Completed Series: Shandril’s Saga by Ed Greenwood

 Shandril's Saga marked Ed Greenwood's first fiction foray into the Realms after its acquisition by TSR in 1986. He had previously created the Realms, bringing it to life in short stories. This time, he would bring you a young girl filled with dissatisfaction with her mundane life and wanderlust for adventure. Greenwood will turn what sounds typical on its head for a memorable series that lasted for more than a decade.

Second editions of books 1 and 2, with first editions of books 2 and 3.

Spellfire (1987) - Good

Crown of Fire (1994) - Exceptional

Hand of Fire (2002) - Mediocre

“The Company of the Bright Spear numbered six. The tall leader, Burlane, bore the enchanted Bright Spear. With him rode a younger swordsman, the fierce Ferostil. Delg, the dwarf, was also a warrior. His constant companion was the merry bard Rymel, brightest of them all. The wizard, Thail, deferred to his younger, louder companions. Last and least was the thief, one Shandril, a bright-eyed, soft-spoken waif in ill-fitting breeches and a much-patched tunic.”

Spellfire is the first book of Shandril’s Saga and Ed Greenwood’s first published novel in the Forgotten Realms. There are apparently two versions, the one with old logo and the one with the new. The new has some material cut for original publication added back in so some things make more sense, the audiobook follows this newer version, and it is the one I read.

the classic first edition of Spellfire

Shandril is a scullery maid at the roadside Rising Moon inn outside of Highmoon, the capital of Deepingsale. She is an orphan working for the slovenly, gourmand chef, Korvan and the owner and ex-adventurer, Gorstag.

She dreams of getting away from mundane servitude at the inn, and maybe enjoying the freedom of adventuring. At the beginning, The Company of the Bright Spear comes to the Rising Moon and leaves Shandril daydreaming but also with a unique opportunity when the company's rogue is killed after drawing steal when caught stealing. She becomes a thief (pretty much the class) by quick wit, while not being a thief at heart. She also does not have any experience in such a role.

Storm Silverhand, one of the Seven Sisters, and Sharantyr of the Knights of Myth Drannor, both of Shadowdale make an appearance. Jhessail Silvertree of Shadowdale and Merith Strongbow do too, both Knights of Myth Drannor like Sharantyr. Also, Florin Falconhand, Illistyl Elventree and Lanseril Snowmantle also of the Knights of Myth Drannor and Elminster, Sage of Shadowdale. And Maurngrym, and Torm and more! I’ll stop. But suffice it to say there are many important Realms characters her that make cameos, it is an odd menagerie of people coming on stage and then exiting, but it’s not confusing, it’s not bad. Take it as you will.  

This is largely an introduction to the area of the Dalelands in the Heartlands of a Faerun, as we get Zhentarim and Cult of the Dragon, and even the Malagram, though this last one I’ve only seen in Greenwood novels like Cloak of Shadows. We also have Manshoon, a high ranking servant of the evil god Bane. So many, many characters. 

In some ways this seems like a D&D adventure, meaning this was played out around a table and novelized later. But Shandril really is the main character, it is her story and while some faces will come into the picture for short, intermediate or long periods of time, it’s hers at the end. 

One of the other characters is Narm, a young man apprenticed to Marimmar Mage most Magnificent, with an arrogant expedition to the forests around Myth Drannor that ends in devils. He may be a little fatalistic. 

It does get very quickly into the actions and it lasts throughout. I was afraid for the lives of the characters, this is Ed Greenwood, after all. 

Spellfire plays a prominent role, which is the raw energy of the weave, of which all spells get their energy. Those rare users of Spellfire can absorb energy from spells, making them almost immune to arcane attacks. These people can also use Spellfire to heal, fight, fly, etc. 

I thought the story might be different from later Greenwood, but it still has a fun but relatable story. It’s touching at times, and has the Greenwood flare of quick immolations and the Realms rather open sexual content.

“If it falls in thy power, let no creature die alone.”

Crown of Fire is book two and is also part of The Harpers series of novels, book 9 to be exact.

It takes place right after Spellfire and is dedicated to Jenny, Ed’s wife, so I’d like to express my condolences to Ed and his family and friends for her passing. 

It starts with Brand, a young shepherd in eastern Cormyr. We do get to see Eveningstar, which is welcome.

The Zhentarim take large part in the quest to Silverymoon. Malagrim are also out, which I remember from the Shadow of the Avatar series. Another showing of Realms characters like Torm, Mirt Elminster, Manshoon and such. Like the first book, more characters die, but they’re better established at this point to the emotional response is bigger. It’s one thing I love about Greenwood though, is his killing off of characters, he’s the opposite of Salvatore in that. 

This one has a big tone shift, the attitude went from thirsting for adventure being absolutely sick of it. It also deals with power and not letting that corrupt. 

There is an afterword by Greenwood for both versions, but they are different. The later one has a short section of story to explain some people thought a discrepancy, similar to the chapters added back in for the republication of Spellfire. The words of Ed are as lovely as always though, both of them. Overall I think the ending is quite good. Considering this was written several years after the first. The series was probably open ended before the third book, 

Hand of Fire was my least favorite, though it is not bad. There is much action and it has a solid conclusion, just with much filler beforehand. I’m sure people were wondering about Shandril’s whereabouts, since it had been years since book two had released and her Spellfire was still among the most powerful things in Faerun. 

Those are my individual thoughts! I quite enjoyed this one, and it is little wonder that Greenwood is one of my favorite authors. As is typical of his Realms novels, we get several cool tidbits of Realms lore, such as learning some of Illbrand of old Impiltur, Hesperdan, stained glass from Selgaunt; people and things are mentioned from Selgaunt on several occasions, so fans of Sembia or Selgaunt could probably find some use reading the novel or getting a digital version and searching it for these things. 

Overall, I found the series to be Good, and I am glad Rodger from Rodger's Reads recommended it to me.


You can track my current progress here

Monday, April 10, 2023

Review: In the Bleak Deepwinter by Lynn Abbey

"In the Bleak Deepwinter" is a short story tie-in to The Simbul's Gift, both by Lynn Abbey of Thieves' World fame. It was published in the December 1997 issue of Dragon Magazine, #242, and is found on pages 63-71 within, with art on page 62. 

Art by Susan Van Camp

The story is prefaced with:

A note from Holwof, archivist of Candlekeep, to his superior: We've finished cataloging the third shelf! Mehgrin found this bound in a volume of Urmlaspyr poetry. She believes it to be an unrecorded tale of the Simbul. After reading it, I'm inclined to agree. Deneir alone knows who first wrote it, but no one other than Alassra Shentrantra swears by breakfast foods!

The story is about a young Simbul, before the events of the novel, though released a month it. The title is a cool Realms spin on the Rossetti poem, but fits since the story is set in Deepwinter, the month officially called Hammer that is the equivalent to our January. At an inn owned by Caddo, and aptly named Caddo's, nothing is happening since it is the middle of a blizzard. The charterhouse sits lonely with Caddo and his dwarf help, Burr, on the borderland between the Lonely Moor and the Forgotten Forest. The year is not stated.

A guest with silver air fights through the storm to Caddo's, and it is of course none other than Alassra Shentrantra before she is the Simbul, Witch-Queen of Aglarond. This is actually implied, but never stated. The biggest hints is the note given above, and the endnote by whoever edited the story, for the character only names herself as Rekka.

This is a story of quests and geas. Abbey is so good at bringing the world to life, and since it is a world I already love, it's almost tearjerking. A magical cave to be conquered by might or magic, a spell to suffer through, spirits, a living relic of Netheril and more! It is certainly a thought provoking story, one I think I may need to revisit to understand more.

What is cool is that the charterhouse is two days southwest of Dekanter, a Netherese ruin that features in Abbey's only other Realms novel, The Nether Scroll, which would release in 2000. Maybe she already had the idea in her mind or was even writing it when this story was published. The story takes place partially below Waterdeep in a cave attached to no other, and in the Winterwood north of the Lake of Steam. 


You can track my current progress here.