I first encountered the Forgotten Realms shortly after it was released as a campaign setting, then drifted away from it in the AD&D 2E days, before reconnecting with it recently. Thus, my knowledge of Realmslore is either very old, or very new.
Spellstorm is Ed Greenwood’s latest book, and it combines the very old and the very new. The major characters in the book – Elminster, Manshoon, Mirt, Myrmeen and Alusair – were key characters in the early days of the campaign setting, and to revisit them after so long was an absolute delight. The book revels in giving these characters the space to relax a little and to allow their personalities and characters an opportunity to shine, without being locked in desperate combat for the fate of the world all the time.
The basic plot of the book is simple: A Cormyrean lord has discovered what he believes to be the Lost Spell, one of the old bits of Realmslore I was discussing. As a result, a lot of archmages turn up to claim it for themselves. This has been standard operating procedure in the Realms since Spellfire, Ed Greenwood’s first book. Unfortunately for the archmages, the spell is hidden in a mansion surrounded by a Spellstorm, a disruption in the weave that strips the mind from any mage who attempts to pass through it. A few of the archmages manage to get through a break in the storm, only to be greeted by the recently-“retired” Elminster, who is serving as butler to the lord. And, because magic is erratic within the manor, they need to get along just long enough to persuade the lord to give them the Lost Spell.
Well, that works until the bodies start turning up.
Although this book is billed as a mystery, and there is a solution to what’s going on, I never felt that it really read like a mystery. The focus of the characters isn’t on solving the murders, but rather on considering what life is like in the Realms these days, what it means to be an archmage, and how the return of Mystra is affecting the world. More than anything it’s a character piece, and a tremendously enjoyable one, with great humour and story-telling.
It’s been over 100 years in the Realms since I first met these characters, and they’re still recognisable, although all exhibit real signs of the passing of time. Alusair isn’t the girl I remember whose first appearance in the Realms was a report that she was missing – and possibly in the company of a priest of Gond. She may get the best development in this book, and there is a continuity of her character that is wonderful to see.
Manshoon also fares well out the developments in this book; his story still has the potential to delight and amaze. He’s certainly not a one-note villain in this tale!
Although most of the book is set within the mansion, the world outside does influence events, and you always feel there is an outside world. The story is not set in a vacuum, something Ed Greenwood has always been good at conveying, ever since Spellfire.
Unfortunately, the supporting cast – most of the archmages – aren’t really developed that well. I never really cared about most of them, as the focus was firmly on Elminster and his friends. There are a few nice character traits, but rarely do they get much to distinguish them. Several are making their first proper appearance in this book, athough most were designed by Greenwood a long time ago.
Despite this lack, ultimately I preferred to spend my time with the familiar characters, so it didn’t really concern me that much. This isn’t a story of high adventure. It’s a story where you get to sit down with some well-developed characters and spend some time with them. Although past lore is present, knowing it isn’t essential to enjoying the book; it just allows you to appreciate it more. I really enjoyed this book, and I hope to read more like it.