Thursday, 4 December 2008

‘Plague of Spells’ – Bruce R. Cordell (Wizards of the Coast)


The past few weeks has seen me take a dip into the ‘shared D&D worlds’ of Eberron and the Forgotten Realms with mixed results. While Paul S. Kemp turned out another decent story with ‘Shadowrealm’, Keith Baker’s ‘The Queen of Stone’ completely left me cold...
Bruce Cordell’s ‘Plague of Spells’ was the last ‘Wizards of the Coast’ book on the pile and, as such, found itself in the position where (with things evenly tied) it could swing things one way or the other regarding my ‘shared world tie-in’ reading experience so far. As luck would have it, ‘Plague of Spells’ ended up somewhere in the middle...

The Spellplague ravages the land, altering everything it touches. Raidon Kane is one of the luckier victims, having escaped with only a sapphire on his chest and eleven missing years to his name; his daughter died and his home was destroyed though so maybe he wasn’t so lucky after all...
Kane is left without purpose in a world that’s both familiar and completely different at the same time. Fate will always find work for a man like Raidon Kane however and it’s a task of the utmost importance that comes calling...

I did a little digging and found out that Bruce Cordell has written a great many novels for the ‘Forgotten Realms’ setting and it shows here in that the reader is expected to come to the book with a lot of prior knowledge of ‘Forgotten Realms’ history etc. A lot of references are made to people, places, Gods and history but the first time reader won’t get much more than a sense that events took place; the book is just over three hundred pages long so I guess there isn’t much room for detail! If you’re a veteran of the setting then I don’t think you’ll have any problems but if you’re a newcomer then you may want to pick another book to start off on... What makes this all the more odd is that the Spellplague was clearly designed to be a ‘clean slate’ approach that would level the playing field and push the ‘Forgotten Realms’ off in a new direction. I guess that you just can’t escape the past sometimes...

The story itself has plenty going for it with a clearly defined threat to be negated, characters that are generally good fun to hang out with (although the focus seems to fall away from the main character...) and a cliff hanger that will lead things nicely into the second book in the series. There also seems to be a good balance between the moments of action and moments where various characters interact in (slightly) calmer times. No matter what’s happening at any given moment, you’re always left with the feeling that something important is going on which will have clear consequences for the next important thing on the horizon. This urgent, yet controlled, pace really helps the story move along nicely.

There was a rather linear, and repetitive, feel to the plot which I wasn’t too keen on however. Reading ‘Plague of Spells’ is very much a case of ‘travel to a city, find a person, find out what to do next, travel somewhere else and get the magical artefact (and repeat)’ with moments that necessitate action but don’t do much to stir the plot itself. The only time that the plot is sent off in a different direction is right at the end and this is so things can be left hanging for book two...
I also got the feeling that elements of the adventure would be better suited for a D&D game rather than a book. All powerful swords and a golem that can transport our hero pretty much wherever he needs to go don’t work for me in a book, coming across as crutches to carry the story through difficult spots rather than add anything else to it.

‘Plague of Spells’ turned out to be a fun read for the commute to work but it’s structure meant that it would never be more than that. However, there was enough going on to make me want to pick the next book up and I’d be interested to see where the story goes from here...

Seven and a Quarter out of Ten

6 comments:

Bruce R Cordell said...

Thanks for the review Graeme! I think you've probably hit on something I need to look out for. I'm glad you enjoyed the characters and the twist at the end :-).

Jeff C said...

This is a nice, well thought-out review, Graeme. I should take some tips from this one when writing my reviews!

Graeme Flory said...

Hi Bruce - I was going to email you (and let you know I'd finished the book) but you beat me to it!
How's it going with the next book?

Hi Jeff - I'm glad you liked the review! It wasn't an easy one ot write so I'm glad it went down well :o)

Grasping for the Wind said...

Graeme - tough but fair review. Look out for a guest post from Bruce at my blog in the next few days.

Graeme Flory said...

I'll keep an eye open for that...
Like I said, this was a tough one to write so I'm glad the balance was there :o)

Bruce R Cordell said...

Next one (City of Torment) is in second draft, and I'm pretty happy with how it's coming, especially considering it's the 'middle' book. It actually took off in ways I hadn't expected, so perhaps we'll see a little less inevitability in the plotting ;-).