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Saturday, January 24, 2009

“Plague of Spells” by Bruce R. Cordell (Reviewed by: David Craddock)

It's not often that a fantasy series focuses solely on one character. Given the epic nature of such tales, even the most compelling protagonist needs backup. Love interests, best friends, antagonists that we love to hate, grizzled war veterans, and sentient objects with attitudes are all good candidates to give any roster some extra flavor, as well as provide readers with other options should a core character not develop to their liking.

The trick, though, is to make sure that readers are given ample opportunity to appreciate secondary characters, or even multiple protagonists, before forcefully or coaxingly attaching them to one. Expected character jumps from chapter to chapter should end in a brief bout of frustration that Character A has temporarily left the stage before realizing that checking in on Characters B, C and D should prove just as enjoyable.

Plague of Spells”, the first entry in Bruce R. Cordell's Abolethic Sovereignty, is one instance of a smooth and believable transition from character to character, though the first jump is a bit rocky. Less than twenty pages into “Plague of Spells”, protagonist and monk Raidon Kane bears witness to the Spellplague, the chaotic manifestation of the assassination of Mystra, keeper of all magic in the world of Toril. Everything and everyone around Raidon is immolated in searing blue fire, and as chapter one cuts off abruptly, so too does Raidon's world fade to black.

It is ten years after the horrific Spellplague that the narrative continues. Magic in Toril has been changed. Many previously prolific mages are no longer capable of creating even a tiny flame to light their path. It is here, after such a startling introduction to Raidon Kane, that author Cordell introduces us to new characters, many of whom initially seem quite dull. That is not to say that they are dull, however. One has the ability to coax her spirit out of her body while she sleeps—a handy ability to be sure. Another character is addicted to traveler's dust, a drug that sharpens one's senses but inevitably results in a grisly death. Their struggles are quite interesting, and a love story develops between the aforementioned two that should make for an interesting pairing going into book two.

Why, then, do I deem them “dull” before confessing that many are actually intriguing? Because of Raidon Kane. Raidon is ripped away so violently from the reader at the book's outset that foraging through the journeys of others is overly frustrating at first. The concern over Raidon speaks volumes about Cordell's careful crafting of the character. What happened to him? Why did it happen? Is he still alive? And if so, what changes has he undergone? I found myself so eager to receive answers to these questions that the change of setting and characters was more jarring than pleasant.

The warrior monk's Spellplague-caused trauma temporarily renders him an amnesiac, and this loss of identity puts the reader on equal footing with the character. Though Raidon has appeared in other
Forgotten Realms works, not much is known about him at first: he has a daughter, and he is a creature bounty hunter. As Raidon regains his memory and searches for his daughter—Did she survive the Spellplague? Raidon doesn't know, and neither do you—the reader is able to follow Raidon step for step. The result is an easily forged connection with the character, as well as the world itself.

Readers will also doubtlessly be curious as to how Faerun has changed due to the Spellplague. By looking through the eyes of Raidon Kane, most questions in this vein will be answered, though many remain for the next two installments in the trilogy, and likely other
Forgotten Realms adventures as well.

As Raidon's fate was explored and expanded upon every few chapters, I allowed myself to invest in the scheming and maneuvering of the other characters. In fact, I became even more interested in their doings than Raidon's at several points. Each has their own reasons for pursuing the ancient evil artifact in which they all become interested, as well as their own personalities, which are developed with a manageable sense of pace.

Their inevitable meeting and alliance also happens logically and realistically. They are united in their cause, but the personal motivations of each are not sacrificed for the sake of the bigger picture. The ending affects each character as a group, but also has personal ramifications for each and should leave readers eagerly anticipating the next entry, “City of Torment”.

Plague of Spells” is an excellent addition to the ever-expanding
Forgotten Realms library. The Spellplague is catastrophic and exciting all on its own, but it is the plight of an interesting cast of characters that will keep readers turning pages.


SparklingBlue said...

Interesting--I'll keep an eye out for it next time I'm at my local bookstore

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