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Friday, May 29, 2015

Waterdeep, by a different Richard Awlinson

So Waterdeep is the last novel in the Avatar Trilogy, though the story picks up again in two more later volumes.  Interesting side note: Richard Awlinson is a pen name for two separate men. Why? I don't know, the Forgotten Realms Wiki is silent on this issue. That said, Troy Denning, the author of this one did a fine job of finishing the series.

Waterdeep takes the remaining members of the Company of the Lynx, from the city of Tantras to the mega city of Waterdeep. It says something that I can't even find Tantras on the map.  The journey is long, and given the chaos of the Realms during the so called Time of Troubles, difficult. Of course, in fantasy, the Quest cliche is 90% of the story, so it's not surprising. The Time of Troubles, you recall, was initiated by the theft of the Tablets of Fate, and the expulsion of the gods from their astral plane to the mortal realm.  Midnight, Her lover, Kellemvor, and the cleric Adon, search for the second Tablet of Fate, which they hope to return to Ao, the over god of the Realms, and so end the Time of Troubles.

Character:  The characters remain startlingly satisfying in this third installment. I can tell you, I'm a third of the way through the Halfling's Gem, and I'm sick to death of Drizzt, Wulfgar, etc. but Midnight, Kellemvor, Adon, and Cyric are excellent characters.  Let me start with Cyric. In Tantras, we saw Cyric take a darker turn, becoming a minion, though a freelancer, to the dark god Bane. And while he was a cold mother fucker, you got the sense that Midnight's faith in him would be rewarded. SPOILER: it's not. Cyric becomes a truly awful human being in this novel. He slays a village full of halflings with women and children, he cuts the throat of another hanging from a rope. He slays an innkeeper, sole survivor of a zombie attack, mere minutes after the poor man gives him food and beverage from his ruined livelihood. Why? Because he simply does not care, and because people irk him.

Adon also continues to grow, becoming the group's leader. And while his faith in Sune is completely lost, by the story's end, his faith is yet restored. Though not in Sune, the goddess of beauty. Kellemvor, the group's former leader has made catastrophic decision after decision. Having had his curse removed in Tantras, he keeps leaping to the aid of defenseless citizens. While laudable, he's not the sharpest tool in the shed, and he's forgotten that at least three gods have been trying to track them down and kill them. After falling into half a dozen ambushes with his bull headed attempts, his confidence is finally assailed.
The exciting conclusion of Waterdeep

Cliche: Midnight is perhaps the biggest cliche of the entire series. She's just rather generic as a female character: she loves Kellemvor, but is furious with him for not trusting Cyric, and they spend half the novel fighting over it. She is strong, but uninteresting for the most part, and her history is left entirely unexplored.  What's worse is that she is, completely wrong in her faith, only enforcing an unpleasant gender stereotype. Another character cliche is in Adon's character. The Faithless Priest, is a half decent cliche and Adon's inner struggle, and his ultimate belief in humanism as a faith, is (Spoiler!) only made more interesting when Midnight ascends to god hood.  He becomes her High Priest, and but as Midnight is no longer merely mortal, is it still humanism? Which brings forth another cliche: Ascension.
Tablets of Fate, Johndowson

I've talked about Ascension before in all of my Erikson, Malazan Book of the Fallen, reviews. (Spoilers!) At the end of Waterdeep, Mystra, Bane, Bhaal, and Mykrul, the gods of magic, strife, murder, and death, have all been killed. Quite a coup for the forces of light. Except Forgotten Realms doesn't really work that way, even Evil isn't really all that evil, and good is pretty tedious and ineffectual. The over god, Ao, appoints two mortals to become gods and take up the balance. This idea of men becoming Gods, is an old one, but for a former philosophy student, it is gobsmacking. That said, the idea of godhood here, as elsewhere, is really quite petty. Nonetheless, Ascension is a neat concept, and I always enjoy seeing it play out.

The last cliche I'll mention, is The Balance Cliche. Need I say more? Evil is always trying to usurp good, and good, when evil is struck down, becomes corrupt, greedy, and ultimately, because men are awful, evil. It's tiresome, but it does allow fantasy to keep going as a genre. One of the neat things about the Wheel of a time was that it dealt with this concept directly: Lews Therin Telamon, the Dragon, was reborn in a new vessel every thousand years or so, to fight the Dark One in a different battle. I'm sure non fantasists would find that tiresome. But what can I say, I find it thrilling. The chance, as Rand al'Thor discovers at the end, to try again.
“Why do we live again? Lews Therin asked, suddenly. His voice was crisp and distinct.
Yes, Rand said, pleading. Tell me. Why?
Maybe … Lews Therin said, shockingly lucid, not a hint of madness to him. He spoke softly, reverently. Why? Could it be … Maybe it’s so that we can have a second chance.
Completeness: so I'd been looking forward to Waterdeep for some time, because I thought it would tell me about the largest city in all of Faerun. And I was not disappointed. Ok, well, slightly disappointed. They don't get to Waterdeep until the very end, and so even though the detail is there, it was tantalizingly thin. What did we learn? Waterdeep is governed by a benign group of lords and protectors, most of whom remain secret. The city is reportedly democratic, but how you can have democracy with secret rulers is ... Ok ... Well, I guess realistic.  We learn some about the Watch, and how defense of the city is maintained. We also learn a bit about the Archmagus, Blackstaff, who, with Elminster's aid, attempts to help the heroes defeat Mykrul the god of the dead. We also learn street names! I love details like that, and they are so often overlooked.

So, I've found my first big inconsistency in the Realms. Douglas Niles made Bhaal out to be a powerhouse of a god. And so, you'd think, in the Avatar series, where Bhaal is brought to life, you'd at least find some of the same attributes.  But no. He may be the god of murder, but in point of fact, he really is the Patron of Assassins. Which is really quite different from the Moonwell corrupting, Druid slaying Bhaal of the Moonshae series. Keep in mind that none of these books or series follow a timeline. They're all out of whack,  but given that Bhaal kicks it after this installment, it seems unlikely to be resolved.  The Forgotten Realms wiki touches briefly on the matter, but it is not entirely believable.

Waterdeep is a pretty good Forgotten Realms novel.  We got to meet some important characters, names we will be seeing again, and we did get the origin story of at least two new gods.  But, it is still 80s-90s fantasy, and it just doesn't compare to what we've come to expect.  That said, it was a page turner, and worth a read if you've gotten to the end of Tantras and are wondering if you'd like to continue.

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