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Thursday, August 5, 2010
Forgotten Realms father Ed Greenwood's latest novel, Elminster Must Die, flirts with the possibility of the titular Sage of Shadowdale's demise. For readers familiar with The Elminster Series, such a tease might seem no more than that. Despite some grand swashbuckling sword-and-sorcery romps, Elminster has always seemed impossible to kill--usually thanks to the timely interference of Mystra, Mistress of Magic--that it often seems pointless to worry over his wellbeing.
That is not the case in Elminster Must Die. For those who haven't frequented the Realms in a spell (pun intended; sorry), some big changes have gone down. Namely, Mystra was murdered, which caused a pandemic known as the Spellplague to sweep across the continent of Faerûn. Many caught in the Spellplague's path were killed, but more importantly, the fundamental nature of magic itself was changed: no spell functions as it used to, and many are no longer able to wield magic without dire consequences. Elminster is one such.
The more potent the spell, the more insane Elminster becomes following its casting. For a character who always seems to have just the right spell available to save his skin, such a drawback forces Elminster to apply a bit more discretion and planning. The result makes Elminster seem human, something that hasn't always been true in terms of his propensity to cheat death. We observe him at his weakest, and I delighted in watching him apply unorthodox (for Elminster) tactics such as pure brute force to get out of his jams rather than haphazardly slinging lightning bolts. It proves a fresh take for the character, one that reinvigorates interest in his plights.
Initially, watching El struggle within the confines of his limitations proved interesting. However, midway through the book until the last 150 pages or so, most of El's sections see him huffing and puffing through yet another passage or alleyway, moaning and groaning about how he misses using magic to do everything. These segments advance the story at first, but after while, they seem thrown in for the sake of reminding us that Elminster is still limping his way along.
As is often the case in fantasy tales, Elminster's yarn is one of approximately half a dozen that inevitably converge and move toward a resolution. By and large, all characters receive Greenwood's usual treatment of witty dialogue, action, and palpable growth make them feel like old friends you're sad to leave behind by the end of the story. Two of these strings, Arclath and Amarune, are especially captivating. The former is a wise-cracking, smooth-talking noble who actually proves competent and useful beyond comedic relief (which he provides in spades), and the latter is a sexy, strong, street-smart lass. Separately they're both great fun to tag along with, but together, they produce some of the book's finest scenes.
The only character that doesn't quite mesh with the rest of the gang is the primary antagonist, the one who declares that Elminster must die. Most of its segments have this villain ranting about why he hates Elminster and how he's going to kill his rival. The scenes themselves are not poorly written, but are awkwardly reminiscent of a bad guy cackling while revealing his nefarious plot -- which is a shame, sense the character itself is fascinating enough. I wouldn't have been bothered by these reveals had they been presented purely as internal monologues. But because they're voiced aloud to no one in particular, the character stroking his mustache and laying out his master plan seemed exposition for exposition's sake.
Ultimately, the qualms I have with Elminster Must Die did not keep me from enjoying it immensely. As is expected, Greenwood delivers a fun-filled story with memorable characters and his usual wit that makes Elminster Must Die as witty and clever as it is intense and insightful.
12:01 AM | Posted by Fantasy Book Critic | | Edit Post