Published by Wizards of the Coast (www.wizards.com)
Shadowbred test drive: http://home.earthlink.net/~paulskemp/paulskempshomepage/id23.html
The Twilight War comes to a conclusion and with it, a great many ramifications for Erevis Cale and those who live in Faerûn. Throughout the trilogy, faith and power have been two constant themes touching on the major players, not the least of which is the character of Rivalen. In the previous two novels in the trilogy, Rivalen was given a very villainous slant. Here in Shadowrealm, Rivalen allies with Cale and Riven in a very logical manner. It’s to Kemp’s credit that he pulls it off so believably while still maintaining the essence of who Rivalen is. I was reminded of how John Marco managed to slowly turn the villainous character of Biagio into something of, if not a hero, than an understandable, motivated character who the reader roots for in his Tyrants and Kings trilogy.
As this novel concludes the tale of a war between light and shadow, great battles of magic are to be expected. On that count, Kemp most certainly delivers with an epic battle that comprises a major portion of the novel. What helped to keep the battle vibrant, for the most part, was how Kemp threw in his trademark passages of consternation, struggles, and debates – both internal within the individual characters and external between characters, into these battle scenes. As I said in my review of Shadowstorm, the character of Abelar is pivotal. His faith in his god Lathander was forsaken and he seems a man without purpose.
Something else that hangs over not just Shadowrealm, but the whole trilogy, is the idea of sacrifice. Throughout most of this trilogy, Cale has sacrificed a part of who he is in memory of his deceased friend Jak. This again ties into Kemp’s lucidly interwoven theme of faith, as these two ideas often go hand in hand. Magadon is willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good, in fact, almost wishing his own death in order to make Cale’s life easier. Cale; however, can’t allow that since he already blames himself for the death of Jak. Kemp plays these inner emotions of turmoil very well as we see both Cale’s thoughts from a third person perspective and Mag’s from his own first person perspective. Not many authors can balance two different viewpoints with the skill in which Kemp did in these novels.
After finishing the whole trilogy, I can only really level two real negative criticisms at Kemp. There was, to me at least, a very glaring absence of female characters outside of one of the enemies. Early in Shadowbred, Cale is with a woman he nearly loves, but once he leaves her to take part in the events of the story, she is barely heard from again. The specter of women in these character’s pasts do play something of a role, though more often than not, it is a role that causes the male characters to feel regret and loss. This lack of female characters didn’t really detract from my enjoyment of the trilogy but it was a noticeable void. Whether the novels would have worked as well as they did with more women playing roles in the story I don’t know, but if nothing else, the story worked as it did and wouldn’t have worked as well with cardboard token women characters. The other criticism is at Shadowrealm itself; while the first two books were very solidly paced, I felt as if a little air was left out of the sails for the conclusion here in Shadowrealm. At times I felt the story a bit unbalanced when compared to the first two volumes in the trilogy.
Something else Kemp did with this trilogy, was to broaden his canvas as a storyteller. Though one might have expected this trilogy to be simply a sequel to The Erevis Cale Trilogy, Kemp wasn’t content to just repeat himself. The scale of the story, the breadth of characters, and the effect of the events are much more global in The Twilight War than in the previous trilogy. Kemp gave more of a role to supporting characters and if any one character outshone the others it would have to be Drasek Riven. Though an antagonist to Cale in the first trilogy, Kemp wonderfully developed him into at first an uneasy ally, then a trusted friend of Cale in The Twilight War. I’m a bit predisposed to characters who have soft spots for canines, be those animals dogs or wolves (see a little book called A Game of Thrones or Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy), so I did take an immediate liking to Riven. That said, I doubt that I’m alone in hoping Kemp puts pen to paper for a Riven solo story.
On the whole what stands out the most in this trilogy is Kemp’s ability to continually keep the reader guessing about most of his characters. Of course the major villains will often remain major villains, but with characters like Riven and Rivalen, even with Cale and Magadon, Kemp was able to believably evolve them over the course of the trilogy in such a fashion that was logical; after all, devastating war changes people and Kemp makes sure that is the case with his characters. There was a definite ending for this trilogy, but no doubt Kemp will return to these characters, much to the delight of this reader.
© 2008 Rob H. Bedford