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Book Review: The City of Splendors by Ed Greenwood and Elaine Cunningham

I just finished Ed Greenwood’s new book, The City of Splendors. Written in collaboration with Elaine Cunningham (another great Forgotten Realms author) this book is very different from publisher Wizards of the Coast’s usual fare. In fact, it’s even unusual for the Forgotten Realms, and that’s saying something.

The story almost seems to have no main character, no central conflict, and no central motivation. The story revolves around many characters who live their lives in Waterdeep, also known as the City of Splendors due to its astonishing beauty and variety. The interconnectedness of the central characters and the way that they interact with each other and the city that surrounds them (both the actual city and its citizens) is so cleverly written that the reader is never sure just what might happen next.

As with any sword and sorcery novel, there is the usual blood-letting, magic-hurling, rescuing damsels in distress sort of plot line, but there is a subtlety to it that I don’t normally expect as well. In particular, I can recall to mind a chapter in which a mob overruns the area of the city where the dead are buried. Of course, in a fantasy the dead come to life and will hurt you and does in this story, but it is the subtle building up to the outbreak of the riot that Greenwood and Cunningham do so well.

The mob doesn’t just break out and provide a convenient way for the author to kill off a few characters and give the hero a chance to rescue a heroine. Although this does happen, the preceeding chapters build to a tension so high that a mob must break out, there is nothing else that could happen, given the circumstances. Comman artisans are calling wanted the Masked (and unknown) Lords of the city to reveal who they are, so that their decisions can be weighted and measured against the desires of the people. A character called Dyre calls for a New Day. Soon the New Day is on everyones lips and they begin to voice their discontent with their life, blaming the Lords of Waterdeep for all their ills (real or imagined) chapter by chapter the tension slowly vuilds until naught else could happen but a riot. I applaud Greenwood and Cunningham on their understanding of the common man and the motivations of the mob.

A surprising novel, unexpected and arresting in a way that no sword and sorcery novel has been before. A city of splendors that lives and breathes on the hopes and ambitions of its citizenry, is Waterdeep.