One of the occasional troubles with writing in a shared world is that the Powers That Be occasionally dictate a change of the world on you. Or determine that there’s a cross-over event that you’ve got to participate in. This might be a problem when you’re writing a tightly-plotted series, or it could be a spur for further creativity.
The Sundering novels, set in the Forgotten Realms during 2014’s major event before the release of D&D 5E, are one of those cross-over events. I’m coming to the books after about 15 years of not reading D&D fiction. So, when looking at The Adversary, from the advertising it seemed like it was Book 3 of The Sundering. What this title doesn’t tell you is it that it’s also Book 3 of the Brimstone Angels series.
Coming cold into the middle of a series does not have to be a problem. Lois McMaster Bujold wrote her Miles Vorkosigan books so that they could be read in any order. Indeed, I read A Civil Campaign before either Memory or Komarr, even though those three books are telling an ongoing story, and had no trouble enjoying it. (And that series is my all-time favourite science-fiction series. If you haven’t read it, you should). I’m glad to say that, in the case of The Adversary, I had little trouble working out what was going on. It’s probably still better to read the Brimstone Angels books from the beginning, but you could come cold into this one and enjoy it.
It helps tremendously that Erin M. Evans is writing characters that I enjoy spending time with. She’s good at writing dialogue (and better banter), and its somewhat telling of the type of book I enjoy reading that I got a little annoyed when the plot started interfering with the character relationships.
The plot, of course, links into the events of the Sundering. What is the Sundering? Well, a little history wouldn’t go astray.
The Forgotten Realms became a published game world for D&D in 1987, and was supported by a range of computer games, game books and novels. In 2008, Wizards of the Coast decided that because the lore of the world had become too complicated, they’d advance the world by about 100 years, so that it would become easier to learn again. This went down exceptionally well with the fans of the world. I could hear the cries of rage here in Australia. The Sundering is the event that was designed to partially reverse the changes that had taken place with that time-jump. Not all of them, but the extra continent of dragonborn would disappear and the shadow realm of the shades would also disassociate itself with the Realms. These, along with a few other changes, would make the Realms much more like the Realms of its pre-2008 days.
Given that the merged worlds of Toril and Abeir were separating, the initial assumption was that the Sundering referred to that event. Which made it quite odd when most of the Sundering novels were talking about the Chosen – mortals especially blessed by the gods. I’ll discuss what’s actually going on with the Sundering when I get to looking at the final book in the series, The Herald.
The book sees the sisters separated for the bulk of the story, with different groups aiding and opposing each sister. At times, we’re moving between four or five different storylines, which is a little too many for easy reading, especially when you’re trying to keep track of all the characters. It’d probably be easier if I was more familiar with their adoptive father from reading the previous books. It might have been necessary to have all these storylines so that the ending made sense, but I would have preferred a little more focus on the sisters.
The primary thread of the book is with Farideh, who (once again?) has made a foolish bargain with a devil, and finds herself aiding a Netherese wizard who is gathering a number of the Chosen for some nefarious purpose. Of course, as there’s some power being gathered here, the Netherese goddess Shar isn’t the only one who gets involved, and Farideh has to survive the situation with incomplete information about what’s going on.
Meanwhile, Asmodeus’s interest in Farideh becomes more active, with a lot of his plans for her beginning to come to fruition in this book. (The title of the book might be referring to Asmodeus, as the literal translation of the Hebrew word “satan” is adversary. But possibly not… there are a few characters it could apply to).
I enjoyed The Adversary. It’s very much a book of an ongoing series, although it has a plot that stands alone pretty well. It’s good enough to make me want to read the other stories in the Brimstone Angels series, especially ones that aren’t encumbered by another event. And that’s pretty much what an author would like me to do! So, if you get The Adversary, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.