Posted on May 26, 2008 by alanajoli
More than any other shared-world I know, the Forgotten Realms is home to evil protagonists. Shadowbred‘s heroes fall ambiguously into this category: they are assassins, addicts, half-fiends, and shades. Erevis Cale, Chosen of Mask, is doing his best to be a hero, due to a promise gave to a dead friend in a previous adventure. The tiefling mind-mage Magadon strives to control his demonic urges, which are the only thing that keep him from being consumed by the Source, an artifact introduced in previous books. The two are sympathetic figures, striving against the odds to become people they don’t hate.
But much of Shadowbred relies heavily on those earlier adventures, which are recapped in occasionally lengthy passages. The “Twilight War” series is, I suspect, more of a continuation of the “Erevis Cale Trilogy” than a cycle in its own right. To avoid being bogged down by the previous pot, Shadowbred introduces three abjectly evil antagonists, who steal the scenes. They are not particularly likable, though the chief among them, Prince Rivalen of the Shade Enclave, priest of the evil goddess Shar, has intriguing qualities. He is devoted to his faith, and his conviction in the authority of his goddess is compelling, making him an excellent foil for Erevis Cale, who is Chosen of a god, but led by his doubt.
Shadowbred is a morally complex tale of the growth of a character who has long been denying his destiny. But it does not stand alone as a story. Without reading the “Erevis Cale Trilogy,” I felt somewhat adrift, and though Kemp explains what went on before–almost too much–the explanations sometimes feel more like info-dumps than genuine progression that shows the readers how previous experiences impact the current plot. I would have preferred a synopsis of the prior books at the beginning, so I would have known I had jumped in mid-way through the story.
Likewise, the book does not come to any sort of satisfactory conclusion. The plot leaps into a new concept and setting in the last paragraph, which is a jarring end to the novel. On the whole, Shadowbred feels as though it should be treated as part four of a six book cycle, rather than judged on its own merits. Based on the concepts and development in this installment, the entire saga is likely worth the full read.
Review by Alana Abbott
Be sure to read our Interview with Shadowbred author Paul S. Kemp here on Flames Rising to find out more about the Twilight War series.