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Book Review: Ascendancy of the Last by Lisa Smedman

> * Genre: Shared World Fiction, Sword and Sorcery
* ISBN: 0786948647
* ISBN-13: 9780786948642
* Format: Mass Market Paperback, 312p
* Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
* Pub. Date: June 2008
* Series: Forgotten Realms Lady Penitent Series, #3
* Author Website

The sava game is still being played, and Lolth and Eilistraee continue to vie for control of all the drow of Faerun. But the drow were once dark elves, surface dwellers, and faithful to the pantheon of the “light” elves. As Lisa Smedman’s The Lady Penitent draws to its conclusion, the fate of all draw hangs in the balance. Ascendency of the Last, the concluding volume of this trilogy, brings returns the reader to the halls of the Promenade, where Eilistraee’s faithful dwell. But all is not well, as their leader Qilue is beset by a demon, the drow-turned-demon Halistraa is reborn a demigod, and Ghaunadaur’s oozes are preparing themselves for a final assault on the Promenade.

Smedman has brought to the reader a sword and sorcery tale that rarely takes a breath from action scene to action scene. But unlike simplistic tales that tend to bore a reader after a short time and straightforward plot, Smedman has kept the reader guessing. The ferocity of the action sequences hides subtler hints and foreshadowing of the significant and Realms changing event hidden in the final pages of this novel. The path to that revelation is fraught with danger for all the characters, as they play out in real life the game between Lolth and Eilistraee.

Qilue seeks to purify the demonic taint from all drow that caused them to become as they are now. Cavatina, slayer of the demigod Selvetarm, believes that Qilue’s desire is itself tainted by the effects of the Crescent Blade she carries. Q’arlynd is a wizard who must quickly find recognition for his wizard’s college so that he might also be able purge the taint using high wizardly magic. Various Nightshadows are drawn into the web, both wanting to serve Eilistraee and believing that she is in fact controlled by another drow god, Vhaerun. Such complex emotions and motivations serve to elevate this story from mere action tale, to grand drama, played out.

Some readers may dislike the common use of deus ex machina that Smedman uses. Many of her characters narrowly survive events through some fortuitous twist of fate. Several characters survive narrow odds. But for those who see that, they must remember that Smedman also kills as many characters as she saves, and a liberal dosage of characters we had come to care about over the course of three books are killed off. So to be far, Smedman does sometimes twist the story slightly to get her characters out of tight jams, but other times, she just lets them die, or even kills them deliberately.

Ascendancy of the Last also needs a better copyeditor. In my copy of the book, there were many missing punctuation marks. A sentence would finish, a period (full stop) would be missing, and then the next sentence would begin with a capital letter and keep right on going. This will be jarring to anyone who has had grammar lesson drilled into their heads. This may be Smedman’s fault, or it may be the publisher’s fault, but either way it is unacceptable from such generally professional and prolific people.

The story of Ascendancy of the Last and its prequels is a must read for any Forgotten Realms fan. Drow fans especially need to read this series, as the events that transpire change Faerun a great deal, effects likely to linger on in the newest edition. Smedman is one of the more seasoned authors of the Forgotten Realms, having been around at least since Paul S. Kemp’s time, and at Wizards of the Coast even before that. This means that she has honed her craft to a sharp bladed knife, neither mincing words nor wasting them. Ascendancy of the Last becomes a fun 308 page read that is exciting and accessible. If you are looking for light, action filled adventure full of mystery and intrigue, yet still containing far reaching consequences, than The Lady Penitent trilogy is exactly what you are looking for.