Stardeep: A setting little explored

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews Shared Worlds Forgotten Realms The Dungeons Bruce R. Cordell StardeepStardeep by Bruce E. Cordell

Kiril Duskmorn, who first appeared in Darkvision, has returned. Compelled by a love lost, and a self-righteous sentient sword, Kiril must return to the Dungeon of the Traitor to fulfill her role as a Keeper of the Cerulean Sign. Once a star elf, the Traitor gave himself to an evil, primeval influence and has since been confined and magically bound in a pocket dimension, guarded by magical and mundane guards. But when the traitor influences one of his guardians, it is up to Kiril and Raidon, a half-Shou-half- star elf with a desire to know his mother’s past, to stop him.

Bruce Cordell has always been able to reach into the lesser know areas of the Forgotten Realms campaign setting, and give us a story about characters and powers rarely seen. Drawing on his own expertise as a campaign setting writer, he weaves a tale that adds depth and breadth to the Forgotten Realms history. The star elves are a secretive and little known race, making a few minor appearances in more recent novels, but in Stardeep, more of their history is explored, especially the enigma of the Blade Cerulean, Kiril’s sentient sword.

Raidon’s skill is hand fighting, which is quite vividly depicted and well described by Cordell. It is rare that a martial artist is a major character in a fantasy novel, as most readers prefer the sword slinging hero, but Raidon’s fight scenes make a compelling case for why they should appear in more than Asian-themed fantasies.

The supporting characters, a thief and a sorcerer, are not really developed. Cordell tends to over-focus on his primary characters, while only using the support characters as cannon fodder, or to cast the odd magical spell. This is somewhat rectified in the case of the thief, Gage, as he does provide a small plot development, although all it really provides is a way for Cordell to give knowledge that the primary characters couldn’t have otherwise gained. Adrik, the sorcerer, has one excellently written scene near the end of the novel, but otherwise provides little color to the novel, and could have been forgone entirely.

But for all the lack of character depth in the support characters, the two primary ones are much deeper. Kiril is a torn and broken woman, always questioning herself. Raidon is a sympathetic and noble hero whose concern for the welfare of others drives him on. Cordell puts both these characters through unique torments which make each stronger.

The best part of Stardeep is Telarian, the supposed villain. In a misguided attempt to help, the diviner causes a great deal more trouble than he realizes. This is a good example of how the end doesn’t always justify the means. Cordell really plumbs the depth of what that means, and how a misguided attempt at doing good can do so much harm to so many. To tell you more would ruin the novel, but in this one, our heroes and villains, while identifiable, all have bits of good and bits of darkness in them.

As with most Forgotten Realms stand-alones, this is a sword and sorcery novel. The non-stop action is what drives the narrative, and Cordell provides detail of the world that only a setting writer can give. The text is chock full of fight scenes and magic battles, and the ending has a couple of pretty surprising twists.

Forgotten Realms fans will enjoy Stardeep. Those who love novels with elves will drool over this one. I recommend this as a good shared-world novel. It has fun action, unique characters, and a setting little explored, even by other Forgotten Realms authors. And if you enjoy it, Cordell has announced that this is not the end of Stardeep’s characters. His next novel will continue their stories. I for one am looking forward to 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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