Published by Wizards of the Coast (www.wizards.com)
Shadowbred test drive: http://home.earthlink.net/~paulskemp/paulskempshomepage/id23.html
With his Erevis Cale Trilogy, Paul S. Kemp has become one of the preeminent authors of shared world/ RPG fiction, mentionable in the same breaths as R.A. Salvatore and the duo of Margaret Weis/Tracy Hickman and his Forgotten Realms fiction has appeared on the New York Times bestseller list. After reading Shadowbred, Kemp has proven to be a step above his predecessors. Not a bad preamble to this review, but it is only that, a set up for Paul and what might be an even better trilogy than his previous.
With Shadowbred, Kemp is doing things with his characters, story, and most subtly and importantly, narrative, one would never expect out of a “shared-world” novel. The novel picks up about a year after the events of Kemp’s earlier Erevis Cale Trilogy with Cale and the group of allies who helped him through those the events spread apart, leaving Cale as something of a wandering vigilante.
The novel starts off really well with the return of a long forgotten floating city and a superb re-introduction of the character of Erevis Cale. Kemp delivers Cale through the eyes of a young, scared boy who sees Cale as “the Shadowman” of local legend. This iconic imagery reminds readers of how ambiguous a character Cale is and is just a teaser of neat things to come.
Cale walks a tenuous line dividing his nature and a promise he made to his deceased friend, Jak. As a result of this promise, Cale tries to fight the dark thoughts his god Mask imparts, but fighting those urges to kill and derive power from his god prove difficult. In much of the Forgotten Realms, individuals swear fealty to one of many gods. In Cale’s case, his god Mask is the god of thieves and shadows and Cale is the First of Mask, so this struggle against his god is even more difficult.
Called back to Selgaunt, his liege’s ancestral house, to help thwart a Civil War in the nation of Sembia, Cale is putt off by Tamlin, the son of his former liege. More so, those who surround the naïve son: a priest of dubious beliefs (Rivalen) and an advisor (Vee) who contradicts nearly everything Cale imparts to Tamlin. In essence, despite Cale’s many years of allegiance to Tamlin’s family, Tamlin is trying to marginalize Cale.
One of the most welcome returns in this novel is Riven, the Second of Mask and sometime ally / sometime enemy of Cale. Riven embraces his connection to Mask, unlike Cale. Their differences seemingly settled, they come together in order to save their mutual friend, the half demon mage Magadon (Mags). Some of the most expertly written passages in this novel are the dialogues between Cale and Riven when they debate faith and devotion to their god. This level of insight and discourse about faith were somewhat unexpected from a “media tie in” novel.
Another trick Kemp played in this novel was the shift of narrative from third person to first person. In the scenes depicting Magadon, Kemp utilizes the first person perspective to really show the internal struggle of a character with dual natures. Of particular note was how well Kemp balanced the ‘personalities’ struggling for dominance in Mags. This shift was at first jarring, but once it became clear we were seeing the internal thoughts of Magadon, these narrative shifts came more naturally and served to show the many layered struggle soon to cut a swath through the land.
All told, Kemp has planted seeds for a terrific trilogy with Shadowbred. Additionally, the well handled narrative shifts and theme of faith seen throughout the course of the novel entertains as well as cause one to ponder their own faith.
© 2008 Rob H. Bedford