Categorized | Fiction

Shadowrealm Fiction Review

Posted on May 14, 2009 by teampreston

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Book III of the Twilight War

Terror lives in its eyes, and death in its hands.
The Shadowstorm descends on Sembia, and leaves nothing but horror in its wake.
We must kill Kesson Rel to stop the Shadowstorm, but we cannot afford to elevate Erevis Cale in his place. There is a way. There must be. Find it.
No war can be fought without loss, but in a war against an enemy with souls as black as the darkest shadows, sometimes the only way to win is to die with your spirit intact.

To start, this was my first exposure to the character of Erevis Cale. I took my time in getting to this novel because I generally avoid jumping in to the middle or end of a story, but with much game fiction and some writers you can get away with it. I took a gamble and started in on Shadowrealm last night.

By the end of the night…well, early morning I was finished and I was literally blown away. Put it this way, I have books I and II of the Twilight War on order right now…so I’ll be revisiting Cale, Riven, Magadon etc. again shortly.

SHOULD YOU READ BOOKS I & II FIRST? I’d recommend it, but it’s not REALLY necessary to have a wonderful romp between the pages.

So what is it about?

War, Sacrifice and Faith.
The scale of the novel is certainly LARGE. We’re talking about characters fighting demigods here. Par for the course for Forgotten Realms.

Ultimately Kesson Rel is a Half-God bent on destroying Toril by way of the Shadowstorm…and foiling the Netharese (Shadovar) takeover of Sembia. Opposite him is a motley crew of powerful characters: Erevis Cale and Drasek Riven, Chosen of Mask, the assassin Rivalen, etc.

Ironically, the characters aren’t four-color at all. Actually, Kemp does an amazing job of bringing real depth to all of them. You can’t help but feel for them all in one way or another. This is a huge change in my opinion as far as a lot of genre fiction goes. These characters are DEEP. There are some excellent discussions and debates here. Consider that Mask is a god of Thieves, yet her First Chosen is really a good man, simply trying to do the best he can in the world. The assassin has a heart and has to deal with the paradox of his heart and his profession.

I can’t explain to you how much is going on in this book. It’s “busy”. Some authors handle this better than others. Kemp handles this masterfully. While the story bounces around from place to place, character to character (shifting perspectives from first to third)… all of this is deftly handled and makes sense as you read it. Usually I cringe when authors shift POV like that but this works, which really has me re-thinking my own views on writing. Each character’s “voice” is clearly defined and easy to tell from the others, which is always a bit of a challenge (often forcing a bit of a step back in pages to re-read). I didn’t have to with Shadowrealm at all.

One little side note: Abelar is an awesomely cool and deep character which I will totally be using as the basis for a PC in the near future.

The climatic showdown between Cale and Kesson Rel is nothing short of epic. Actually, the final “battle” is huge in scale as well as page count: I swear that climax is almost one-fifth of the book.

I wasn’t going to compare and contrast, but I can’t help it. It just has to be said.

Many folks look to R.A. Salvatore as the pinnacle of Forgotten Realms fiction. I think for nostalgia sake, I enjoy it as well. Paul S. Kemp blows all of Salvatore’s FR work out of the water. Seriously. Better storytelling. Better characters. Deeper, more meaningful, thought-provoking stories and conversations, etc.

Of course, on both counts they deal with characters that are bigger than life: extremely powerful beings wielding enormous powers that ultimately impact the lives of everyone in Faerun…and to a certain degree Toril as a whole.

The difference?

Drizzt, Artemis Enteri and Jarlaxle for example are nothing short of gods. They can’t seemingly be challenged. The characters are always able to slide out of any real trouble. They don’t make any real mistakes, or if they do, they Forrest Gump their way out of them. They walk between the raindrops.

Paul S. Kemp’s characters make mistakes and even fail. They cope. They deal with it. They struggle through it and we feel for them because they are really…human. Cale almost literally makes a deal with the devil. If this were a Salvatore Novel, the protagonists would kill the devil and have the “Oooh, I’m gonna get you one day!” visage of a banished devil hanging over their heads. Bummer. Not much of the threat and really, they always get off easy. Cale on the other hand… Paul S Kemp is not afraid to break his characters.

I can’t recommend Paul S Kemp’s writing enough. In MY book, he’s the new king of Forgotten Realms fiction. If you haven’t read him yet, drop what you’re doing and pick up the Erevis Cale Trilogy as well as The Twilight War. You won’t be disappointed.

Review by Jeff Preston

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