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Book Review: Plague of Spells by Bruce R. Cordell

* Genre: Shared World, Forgotten Realms, Sword and Sorcery
* Mass Market Paperback: 320 pages
* Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
* Publication Date: December 2, 2008
* ISBN-10: 0786949651
* ISBN-13: 978-0786949656
* Author Website
* Part of the novel turned into a D&D encounter [requires Dungeon and Dragon subscription.]

Building on the success of his last novel, Stardeep (my review) Bruce R. Cordell continues the story of Raidon Kane, the monk with the Cerulean sign in, Plague of Spells, Book 1 of the Abolethic Sovereignty. Cordell uses this novel as an opportunity to introduce fans of the Forgotten Realms to a novelized form of the spellplague. This terrifying event occurred after the goddess Mystra was murdered, and rendered many wizards without powers, changed the landscape of Toril dramatically, and created new mutations and creatures.

Raidon finds himself caught up in the onset of the spellplague, knocked unconscious by its force. When he awakes (ten years later) his daughter is dead, his Cerulean sign is gone, fused into his chest as a tattoo, and the golem that was Stardeep is now speaking into his head. There really isn’t much left of good in his life. But the evil creature that Stardeep was constructed to contain has escaped, and Raidon is the only one who can stop the rise of the Abolethic Sovereignty, beginning with the recovery of a powerful artifact found by a kuo-toa on the bottom of the Sea of Fallen Stars. If the Aboleth race rises to power, then the entire realms would be swept away in their path.

On the other side of the coin, former librarian Japeth finds himself with strong magical powers, and Anusha, a young girl, has been altered, given powers, by the spellplague. They too find themselves caught up in attempting to destroy the artifact.

Cordell has improved his writing. Stardeep had times where the narrative would drag, or dialogue would be a little wooden. This is no longer the case in Plague of Spells. Also, rather then focusing on just a couple of characters, making all the supporting roles not much more than cannon fodder, Cordell has branched out to give the lesser roles more depth. Although the story of Raidon is primary, many of the supporting cast have back stories and reactions all their own. By having parts of the story told by various characters, Cordell creates a more three-dimensional tale than his previous novels have been.

This first book of a trilogy does what many of its like are apt to do. The cast of characters is introduced, and by various means and methods they are brought together to by its end. Think of it as the first level in a video-game RPG. You have to go through a few lesser “bosses” to get the main event, which in this case, will be in the final book. Not that getting through those first few “bosses” was any less fun.

This is why I like Cordell’s work so much. Sure, its sword and sorcery, sure it has lots of action, with just a touch of character introspection, but the best part of his novels is that reading his books is just like playing D&D. And isn’t that what a shared world novel based on a best selling book-based RPG should do? I know, I know, some readers might think this is a detriment. But not to me, and Cordell doesn’t do what others do and simply translate a game to storybook form. He goes deeper, giving his characters motivations, fears, reactions that are true to the story as presented. It is not all hack and slash (though there is plenty of that) but full of characters I came to like.

Plague of Spells is informative as well. This is the first novel that I have read since the spellplague hit the Realms. Cordell has taken this opportunity to introduce me the reader to the changes in Toril in a way that is entertaining and informative. Raidon moves across some of the hardest hit areas of the spellplague, giving Cordell ample room to let a non-playing shared world reader (i.e. me) get a handle on its changes and the possibility for new and interesting encounters.

Plague of Spells and its sequels look to be excellent. If you enjoyed Kiril Duskmorn and Raidon from Stardeep you will like this novel. Raidon has the potential to become as popular as Erevis Cale, now that Cordell has room to build the character.

I recommend Plague of Spells for any reader. Forgotten Realms fans will likely read this novel without my recommendation anyway. For those of you who aren’t, this is a good opportunity to break into a vastly changed Realms, one that requires very little, almost no knowledge of what came before to enjoy it. Plague of Spells would be a good place to start learning it.