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Book Review: Stardeep by Bruce R. Cordell

Genre: Fantasy, Shared-World Fiction
ISBN: 0786943386
ISBN-13: 9780786943388
Format: Mass Market Paperback, 320pp
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Pub. Date: October 2007
Series: Dungeons Series

Kiril Duskmorn, who first appeared was in Darkvision, has returned. Bruce Cordell, Forgotten Realms author and Wizards of the Coast game scribe, has written Stardeep, a novel that delves into the Dungeon at the heart of the drunken star elf. 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 an 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.

The novel is an addition to the Dungeons series. A set of four stand-alone novels, the narratives center around a dungeon of some sort. Cordell’s dungeon is Stardeep, the prison of the Traitor, the only name he is ever called in the book. Cordell has two primary characters, Kiril and Raidon. Whereas Kiril seeks to fulfill duty long abandoned, Raidon is seeking his mother, a star elf. A martial artist, his skill is in his 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 not just in Asian themed fantasies.

Cordell does have some supporting characters as well. A thief and a sorcerer, I think that one of the great failures of this novel is that they are not really developed, and exist only to add magic and thieving skills to Raidon and Kiril’s skill set. 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 he thief, Gage, as he does provide a small plot development, although all it really provides is a way for Cordell to introduce knowledge 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 out which each becomes stronger.

The best part of the novel 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 ends don’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. It’s a yin and yang fantasy. In its style, content, characterization and all other elements, the entire novel shows that there is a little bit of good in everything (actions, words, deeds) as well as a little bit of bad.

Yet, as with most Forgotten Realms stand alone novels, this is a sword and sorcery novel. The non stop action is what drives the narrative, and Cordell provides detail of the Forgotten Realms 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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