Plague of Spells: Like playing D&D

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsForgotten Realms book review Bruce R. Cordell Plague of Spells Abolethic SovereigntyPlague of Spells by Bruce R. Cordell

Building on the success of his last novel, Stardeep (see my review above) Bruce R. Cordell continues the story of Raidon Kane, the monk with the Cerulean sign, in Plague of Spells. Cordell uses this novel as an opportunity to introduce fans of the Forgotten Realms to a novelized form of the spellplague. This terrifying event occurred after the goddess Mystra was murdered and rendered many wizards without powers, changed the landscape of Toril dramatically, and created new mutations and creatures.

Raidon finds himself caught up in the onset of the spellplague, knocked unconscious by its force. When he wakes (ten years later) his daughter is dead, his Cerulean sign is gone — fused into his chest as a tattoo — and the golem that was Stardeep is now speaking into his head. There really isn’t much good left in his life. But the evil creature that Stardeep was constructed to contain has escaped, and Raidon is the only one who can stop the rise of the Abolethic Sovereignty, beginning with the recovery of a powerful artifact found by a kuo-toa on the bottom of the Sea of Fallen Stars. If the Aboleth race rises to power, then the entire realms would be swept away in their path.

On the other side of the coin, former librarian Japeth finds himself with strong magical powers and the young girl Anusha has been altered and given powers by the spellplague. They also find themselves caught up in attempting to destroy the artifact.

Cordell has improved his writing. In Stardeep, the narrative dragged and the dialogue was wooden at points, but this is no longer the case in Plague of Spells. Also, rather than focusing on just a couple of characters, making all the supporting roles not much more than cannon fodder, Cordell has branched out to give the lesser roles more depth. Many of the supporting cast have back stories and reactions all their own. By having parts of the story told by various characters, Cordell creates a more three-dimensional tale.

Cordell’s work is sword and sorcery — it has lots of action, with just a touch of character introspection. But the best thing about his novels is that reading them is just like playing D&D. And isn’t that what a shared world novel based on a best selling book-based RPG should do? Some readers might think this is a detriment, but I like it. Cordell doesn’t do what others do and simply translate a game to storybook form. He goes deeper, giving his characters motivations, fears, and reactions that are true to the story. It is not all hack and slash (though there is plenty of that), but it’s full of characters I came to like.

Plague of Spells is informative as well. This is the first novel that I have read since the spellplague hit the Realms. Cordell has explained the changes in Toril in a way that is entertaining and informative. Raidon moves across some of the hardest hit areas of the spellplague, giving Cordell ample room to let a non-playing shared world reader get a handle on its changes and the possibility for new and interesting encounters.

If you enjoyed Kiril Duskmorn and Raidon from Stardeep, then you will like Plague of Spells. Raidon has the potential to become as popular as Erevis Cale, now that Cordell has room to build the character. But I recommend Plague of Spells for any reader. For those of you who aren’t Forgotten Realms fans, this is a good opportunity to break into a vastly changed Realms, one that requires almost no previous knowledge. Plague of Spells would be a good place to start learning it.


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JOHN OTTINGER III, a guest contributor to FanLit, runs the Science Fiction / Fantasy blog Grasping for the Wind. His reviews, interviews, and articles have appeared in Publisher’s Weekly, The Fix, Sacramento Book Review, Flashing Swords, Stephen Hunt’s SFCrowsnest, Thaumatrope, and at Tor.com.

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