So this may be the first book in the Forgotten Realms series that I have really enjoyed, and have found to be a fairly mature story. It also was written in 1989, and while it still follows a fairly staid Dungeons & Dragons, hero's quest, type of format, it's characters have a great deal more depth, then even R. A. Salvatore's entry into the realms
over the same time period, (Streams of Silver). The troubled heroes actually have back story! Best of all, the story ends in a large, well detailed battle scene with gods, demons, and thousands of troops.
One thing I found troubling, if only in a vague way, was that the premise of this series of books is that the Gods have been banished from the planes by the über god Ao. And as such, they are sent to dwell as humans in the Realms. Now, alongside the release of these books, were actual campaign materials detailing the stats of everything that existed in these worlds. So, when gods are killed in the course of this story, were these gods listed in the materials? Or were they Awlinson's creation for the purpose of this particular tale. The Arrival, as it is called, would have to be a pretty big deal in the worlds history, particularly in light of the fact that magic seems to stop working, and clerics spells only work in the physical presence of their god. So, is Shadowdale adding to the canon of the Realms, or is it just a one off? From this link, it turns out that the Realms Creator, Greenwood actually did conceive of Bane.
When I start reading the books written in 1990, I hope to see reference to the Arrival and the events that followed. I know that the events that occur in Darkwell, and Streams of Silver are quite independent of this apocryphal event. Though, they could well have occurred prior (or long after) the events herein.
The most enjoyable attribute of Shadowdale is story's heroes, Midnight, Kelemvor, Cyric and Adon. The story begins as these unlikely adventurers skip town on a guard duty contract, although why you would want your city guarded by men on forced contracts enforceable by prison sentences is beyond me. Why? To aid a mysterious girl, whose mysterious mistress is trapped in an old ruined castle.
Don't click on this.
At first in the D&D world, you had to choose, fighter, thief, or magic user. In later editions, more classes emerged, and in the advanced rules, your fourth level thief could choose to become a fighter. He would retain his thieving skills up to that level, but he would then have to level up as a fighter instead. You could also choose to level up both, but it'd take forever, so most people usually simply switched. As a boy, I thought this was cheating (having your cake and eating it too. Don't like the paltry hit point scores of a thief? Multi-class him and have the best of both worlds). Now, as an old man, I know that we wear many hats in this lifetime, and we frequently put earlier chapters in our lives completely to bed.
I digress. Cyric was born in Zhentil Keep. First in Spellfire, and now in Shadowdale, we are introduced to Zhentil Keep, as a city that worships the evil gods of the Realms. I find this to be a really interesting concept. Say what you like about cities, but for them to exist, a certain amount of cooperation is required. A certain amount of trust. After all, a contract is a promise, and not all goods can be paid for up front. For a promissory note to hold value, you must trust its issuer to fulfill the obligations therein. And trust cannot exist in a city of Evil. Unless, of course, it's not all Evil. Which reminded me of my favorite St. Augustine quote, "And
even when men are plotting to disturb the peace, it is merely to fashion a new
peace nearer to the “heart'’ desire; it is not because they dislike peace as
such. It is not that they love peace
less, but they love their kind of peace more."
Elminster. I've been hearing about Elminster for nearly two decades. He's the Realms version of Gandalf, a long lived wizard of power to rival the gods. Up till now we haven't learned much about him. In Spellfire, we learned he had a dalliance with a student, who turned into an evil sorceress. We also learned that he is short tempered, and humorous. In my mind, I had always equated him with Dragonlance's Fizban, the bumbling old wizard who happens also to be the God Paladine. But Elminster is definitely human. This will probably make him a better character over all. Though I must say, I rather miss old Fizban and his disastrous Fireball spells.
One last note. Shadowdale, Tantras, and Waterdeep were all released in the same year. Leading me to believe that they were written as one novel and broken up to sell more books, and to be more readable. It also suggests that Awlinson began these novels around the time that Niles, Greenwood, and Salvatore were composing their own founding works.
This was a good read, and if you're looking for some lite fantasy to get you through à lull, this would be a good choice.