Forgotten Realms

The second book in the Counselors and Kings series set in Halruaa in the Forgotten Realms setting.

After the events in the first book, the Magehound, the main characters Matteo and Tizigone have gone their separate ways. Matteo has returned to the Jordaini School with his best friend Andris who is now translucent because of the evens on the Swamp. Even though the charges against Andris have been dropped, Andris himself in convinced that he should have been put to death because he’s guilty of treason. The duo wants to interrogate the elven Magehound Kiva who managed to recruit Andris into to her army and into treason. However, Andris gets his hands on books which reveal dangerous secrets about the origins of the Jordaini school and about Kiva. So, he decides to interrogate her alone.

Matteo follows his friend but when he reaches the temple where Kiva was imprisoned, he learns that she had escaped and Andis pursued her to the Mhair jungles. Matteo and his two Jordaini friends continue to follow Kiva and Andris. Unfortunately, they lose the trail and Matteo is called back to his job as the Queen’s counselor.

Meanwhile the former street urchin and thief Tzigone is trying to adjust to her new life as a wizard’s apprentice. However, the many rules of a wizard’s life chafe her. She’s also trying to find out everything she can about her mother, Keturah, who was a mighty wizard. Luckily, she already has many of the skills she’s going to need: the arts of disguise and thieving.

Kiva and Andris meet in the middle of the jungle. Andris tells her that they have a common enemy: a group of conniving wizards called the Cabal. If Kiva will destroy them, Andris will work for her once again. The Magehound agrees and contacts the local wild elves. She’s going to have to persuade the distrustful elves to help her destroy an old enemy.

As is typical for a FR novel, most of the characters are clearly evil or good. Matteo is very clearly Lawful Good and very uncomfortable with all of the scheming going around him. The enemies are evil: the ancient and powerful wizard Akhlaur, who lives now in Water’s elemental level, the scheming Lord Mayor who is trying to overthrow the King, and the Crinti. The Crinti are a cruel half-drow race who seem to exist merely as Kiva’s minions.

Tizigone is a more ambiguous character. As an orphaned street urchin she must feed herself any way she can, mostly doing minor thieving and cons. There’s also an innocence to her; she doesn’t expect people to be evil.

The story concentrates on plotting and questing. The wizards and Kiva are plotting to get what they each want and Tizigone is sneaking around. Also, she’s looking for information about her mother while Matteo is looking for information about his father whom he never knew. There are also a few fight scenes but except for the ending, they almost feel like forced additions; rolled from an random encounter table.

Cunningham tells an interesting tale even if it has many familiar elements. The plot moves along briskly and the characters are entertaining.

An excerpt is at the author’s site.

I’ve been a fan of Drizzt ever since I read the Dark Elf trilogy and I’ve read Salvatore’s series faithfully for years. Alas, I’ve come to the conclusion that he doesn’t really write anything new and I’ve also come to loath some of the main characters such as Wulfgar and even Bruenor for being such stereotypes. On the other hand, I’ve rather liked Drizzt, been fascinated by drow culture, and I’ve like Jarlaxle a lot even though he’s character and his band doesn’t really make sense in the supposedly matriarchal drow culture. I rather enjoyed The Servant of the Shard and was looking forward to its continuation. Alas… 

This is continuation of The Servant of the Shard published in 2000. It’s the second in the Sellswords series. If you’re familiar with the main characters, you should probably read the Servant of the Shard first so that you know how they ended up together here. However, if you don’t know them you might as well start with this book. Although, Servant of the Shard is better.

The black elf Jarlaxle used to be the leader of the drow mercenary band Bregan D’aerthe but he has now taken a leave of absence for his own reasons. Artemis Entreri is one of Forgotten Realms’ best assassins and Drizzt Do’Urden’s nemesis. In this book they are working for a couple of dragons who are also sisters. The dragons hire the duo to find magic items which the legendary Witch King has left behind. Apparently he had power over dragons. 

The duo travels to north to the city of Vaasa where they fight and cheat their way to the top of the local mercenaries. Meanwhile one the Witch King’s powerful grimoires finds its way to a village of half-orcs, near Vaasa. A wizard reads the grimoire and it starts to drain her life force which it uses to grow a Castle around itself. This attracts local nobles’ attention and they send a group to investigate. In addition to Jarlaxle and Entreri, the mercenary group includes a wizard, a cleric, dwarfs, and a female commander. At the same time, the local guild of assassins wants to get rid of the duo.

The plot is very typical for Salvatore with schemes, traitors, and detailed fights. Unfortunately, the characters are quite stereotypical: a dwarf who lusts for battle, a human-like (in other words, pretty) half-orc wizardess, and a stupid, ugly, but loyal half-orc fighter. Entreri and Jarlaxle talk a little about the essence of friendship and the meaning of feelings, but not nearly as much as Drizzt. Readers who are bored with Drizzt’s philosophical musings might like this book more. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t give anything new.

Cunningham’s new Forgotten Realms series is based on Halruaa which is ruled by wizards. The blurb on Amazon has some mistakes: Matteo hasn’t got any magical abilities. He’s the main character and he’s a jordain, a person who has been specifically bred to be immune to magic so that he can be a counselor to mages and rulers. Even though they have been thoroughly trained for their task, they know next to nothing of live outside their monastery. They don’t lie, they can’t gather wealth and they fight like monks. The Magehounds are inquisitors whose job it is to keep everyone in line including the jordain.

The second main character is Tzigone, a young woman who is on the run from the wizards. She was born out of wedlock which is very rare in Halruaa because of the tight laws. She is used to running all the time and she gets along with all kinds of people. Occasionally, she dresses as a boy when she performs in the taverns. 

The main villain in the book is the Magehound Kiva who is trying to get the jordains to work for her. Her loyal partner is Mbatu who is a wemic, a creature who is half lion and half man. 

Cunningham paints a vivid picture with Halruaa which isn’t a very familiar place to most readers. The plot centers on political plotting and character interactions but there are some fights, too, especially in the latter third of the book.

 An interesting new series. Cunningham familiarizes the characters quickly and the setting is quite different from the usual Forgotten Realms fare.

The latest of the Song and Swords series gets back to Arilyn Moonblade and Danilo Thann. They are trying to sort out their relationship and survive Waterdeep’s cut-throat politics. They come to realize just how cliquish and elf-hating the nobles of the city are while they are trying to solve the mystery of the magical Dream Spheres. Also, the mercantile family of Thann turns out to have a few secrets of their own. Once again, the rogue elf Elaith “Serpent” Craulnober is in the middle of action, too. 

At first glance, the Dream spheres seem innocent toys that give their possessor the ability to live out their dreams. However, there’s a dark secret behind the artifacts which could destroy the lives of several people. 

This is a good place to read Cunninghamn’s Forgotten Realms short stories because some of them have affected the characters’ lives. Elaith used to scorn Danilo but because of the event in one of the stories that’s no longer the case. Also, the ruthless noblewoman Isabeau Thione was introduced in another of the short stories and she’s one of the main characters in this one. 

Unfortunately, the plot isn’t very original. There are groups of lizardlike assassins roaming the city freely and attacking Arilyn and Danilo with impunity. Waterdeep’s guards are surprisingly ineffective against them and I was left with a feeling that the attacks were action-filler and in the book only because violence is an expected part of the formula. I would have been happier with just a plot involing the mystery.

Edit: Apparently, the final book of the series, Reclamation, isn’t going to happen after all. Too bad.

Even though this is put in the Song and Swords series, it doesn’t contain Arilyn and has only a brief cameo of Danilo. The main character is Bronwyn, another agent of Harpers. She’s an orphan whose family was stolen by slavers when she as just a child. Some family members were brutally murdered and the rest were sold into slavery. For most of her life, Bronwyn was a slave. She learned some valuable skills in order to survive. She had to also learn to survive emotionally and she’s now a very independent and self-sufficient woman, and a professional finder of all weird and wonderful objects. She has her own shop in Waterdeep.

Fairly quickly it’s revealed that Bronwyn’s father is a paladin of Helm and her brother is also still alive. However, her brother is an evil priest of Cyric, the god of Stife and he doesn’t know about his sister. The other main characters are a dwarf Ebenezer Stoneshaft who likes horses and sunlight, and a young paladin Algorind who is on his first quest. All four characters adventure on their own for a large chunk of the book. However, they are all trying to find out the secrets of the Samular Knights so that their secrets don’t fall into the hands of wrong people – the other characters. 

Cunningham has a lot of paladin characters in this book and even one fallen paladin. She makes them more pious than the priests and clearly full of hubris and holier-than-thou-attitudes. They seem to work only as a reminder of blind faith and on as examples of a faithful warriors. This is underlinded by the other paladins’ blind faith to their fallen brother. Unfortunately, it seems that the paladins have different special abilities than they have in the rulebooks. Some of them can detect lies and some can detect evil all the time, except in the company of the fallen paladin. Also, I felt that the paladins’ constant grating behviour is in conflict with their suppsedly high Charisma. So, actually the book works better if you don’t know the rules system. The paladins’ also have very different moral code than rest of the Realms which seem to have fairly modern Western style morals.

This book also felt more role-playing book than the previous ones. Some of the main characters become friends awfully fast and they trust each other also really quickly. Also, they always travel together and even sleep in the same place.

Apparently, Cunningham also tries to bring some moral ambiguity to Realms. She even has the characters say that orcs would be peaceful if the “good” species wouldn’t constantly harass them. This is in direct conflict with other sources. On other worlds I would applaud this effort but here it just doesn’t fit.

Thornhold isn’t as good as the other books in the series.

The third part of the Song and Swords series focuses on Arilyn’s mission which happens at the same time as Danilo’s in Elfsong. 

Arilyn Moonblade has been undercover as an assassin in Zazesspur and protecting the country’s ruler against plotting guildmasters. Now Harpers’ leader Khelben Blackstaff gives Arilyn a new mission: she’s is to go to the feral forest elves posing as a full blooded elf and to protect them against the plotting of greedy humans who are trying to incite a war between the forest elves and the local humans. At the same time Arilyn finds out more about her mysterious Moonblade’s powers.

Arilyn is a half-elf and her mother was a Royal Princess of the moon elves. However, her mother was exiled because of the relationship with a human and later she died leaving behind Arilyn who had never known her father and was shunned by her elven kin. Now, Arilyn is supposed to act as an envoy to the elven Queen who can barely even look at her. Arilyn herself is understandably resentful of the elves. However, she grows to respect the forest elves and even grows very close with the leader of the tribe. 

Silver Shadows has far more somber tone than the previous exuberant book which reflects nicely the differences between the personalities of Danilo and Arilyn. Cunningham has an excellent ear for elves and that side of her writing really shines here. The forest elves are very sympathetic and understandable, and the bad guys are loathsome.

I’m a long-time fan of Elaine Cunningham’s writing. Most of her Forgotten Realms books have been translated in Finnish so I’ve often read both the original and the translation. I’ve also reviewed the translated books for a Finnish fanzine. Those reviews are not on-line so I decided to rewrite them in English. Originally, I read the Song and Swords books when they were part of the multipart Harpers-books. 

Elfsong is the second book in the Song and Swords series and my favorite of the five books. While the first book, Elfshadow, introduced Arilyn Moonblade and Danilo Thann and explored the start of their friendship and possible romance, this book doesn’t have Arilyn but concentrates on Danilo and the rouge elf Elaith Craulnober.

Danilo Thann is one of Harpers’ most secret agents. While most of their agents seem to be either openly Harper-agents or a public secret rather than an actual secret agent, Danilo has a cover role as an absentminded and foolish bard. In reality, he’s a sharp student of people and a capable mage. The Harpers are a semi-secret society which has dedicated their lives to stopping evil people from harming others. 

The story starts with a bitter half-elf bard who has a long-standing grudge against the Harpers. She gets a powerful magical harp and uses its power to change the old songs and to lure young Harpers to their deaths. Danilo takes it upon himself to right things. On the way he bumps into Elaith and his band of mercenaries who are after the magical harp. Danilo and Elaith decide to work together for the time being but can they really trust each other…?

The secondary characters are just as delightful and interesting as the main characters. Danilo’s uncle Kelben Blackstaff runs things in his aloof way and matches Danilo with Morgalla the Mirthful a female dwarf who really wants to become a bard and an gold elf minstrel Wyn Ashwood.

Elfsong combines humor, magic and music in a way that uses the Forgotten Realms setting very well. There are also plenty of mysteries and riddles, furious rivalry, ribald songs, witty discussion, and mayhem of all kind. The pace is very fast and enjoyable.