Thursday, 9 August 2007

‘Shadowbred’ – Paul S. Kemp (Wizard’s of the Coast)


I’ve only ever read one ‘Forgotten Realms’ book. Correction, I’ve only ever read the first few pages of one ‘Forgotten Realms’ book. Apart from one character with a particularly unfortunate name, I felt swamped by the level of background knowledge required and (as a result) stopped reading. It was with this in mind that I approached Paul Kemp’s ‘Shadowbred’, wondering what to expect and wishing I had the ‘Big Book of Forgotten Realms History’ with me… It turns out I needn’t have worried, although a level of background knowledge is required, Kemp is far more interested in delivering a quality tale than showing off what he knows.
All is definitely not good in Sembia, the Overmaster lies dead and his murderers use this to spread discord for their Goddess. Civil war is only days away and world shattering apocalypse not long after that. Erevis Cale is trying to honour his dead friend by being a hero but he is about to find that being a hero will lead him to places he had hoped never to return to…
I’ve never really been into D&D and mistakenly assumed that the tie-in books were just retellings of people’s old games. Maybe that’s the case with other novels but certainly not the case here. What you get here is a tight well-crafted tale of Machiavellian intrigue, high adventure and human drama. All the D&D staples are out in force but they’re doing stuff that you would normally expect from more (so-called) ‘high brow’ fantasy. Erevis Cale will soon assume iconic status (if he hasn’t already), he arrives in a scene that could have come straight from a Clint Eastwood film and proceeds to act in a similar manner throughout the rest of the book. He has a dark and tortured past but, in the way of all good heroes, strives to do what is right whatever the cost. I want to read more about him and his friends. The supporting cast all behave in a manner that is entirely plausible, no ‘get out of jail free’ cards are used to deal with tricky situations here…
The book isn’t without some minor flaws however. The sudden switch from third to first person perspectives proves detrimental to the flow of the story and had me skipping back to see if a page had gone missing. Although Kemp generally handles the background history quite deftly, large chunks of it can sometimes prove a little overpowering to the first time reader. To be fair, this is a rare occurrence.
‘Shadowbred’ is evidence of an author writing at (or very near) the top of his game in a world that he feels comfortable in (which I’m guessing could prove awkward for writers who write in a ‘shared world’). If Paul Kemp isn’t one of WoTC’s top drawer writers then I’d be very surprised…

Nine out of Ten

5 comments:

Tia Nevitt said...

I don't read many of these books, myself, and it's been years since I have read one. But many fine writers started out writing for TSR/Wizards, including R. A. Salvatore. And the competition to write such a book is fierce.

jbrown said...

With any shared world, Forgotten Realms can definitely be hit or miss. I am a huge fan of Forgotten Realms so I will gladly fill you in on some of the lore that is out there!

Just like Tia mentioned there are good authors and not so good authors that write for settings like Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance. It seems that Wizards of the Coast is making strides at finding more quality authors to write for them (this was not the case 10 years ago).

Robert said...

The author recently sent me this book. I haven't read any Wizards of the Coast books, but hopefully I'll get around to checking this out...

Graeme Flory said...

It's definitely worth a look. To be honest, I had initial misgivings (what with it being a 'tie-in' book) but I was happy to be proved wrong ;o)

Remy - Is there a website (or handy book) that could bring someone up to speed with Forgotten Realms canon?

Remy said...

If you go to the FAQ section on www.candlekeep.com it will fill you in on the world, it's more famous characters, and history/geography.

If you enjoy Kemp's work you would definitely enjoy the works of R. A. Salvatore (www.rasalvatore.com). All of his novels have made it on the NY Times bestseller list.

The biggest thing I like about Wizards of the Coast books is that they all read very very fast. I can finish a WotC novel in 1-2 days.

Remy