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Book Review: Downshadow by Erik Scott de Bie

# Genre: Shared World, Forgotten Realms, Sword and Sorcery
# Mass Market Paperback: 320 pages
# Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
# Publication Date: April 7, 2009
# ISBN-10: 0786951281
# ISBN-13: 978-0786951284
# Author Blog: Sors Immanis et Inanis
# Author Website: Erik Scott de Bie

In Erik Scott de Bie’s third novel set in the Forgotten Realms milieu, Downshadow he turns to a little known area of Waterdeep known as Downshadow for his setting. Downshadow is really a part of Undermountain, that haven of thieves, adventurers, and the spell-scarred that lies underneath Waterdeep proper. de Bie’s protagonist is a paladin, a paragon of justice and righteousness that seems an odd choice for putting into such a morally ambiguous part of fabled Waterdeep. But de Bie really makes it work well.

Shadowbane scours Downshadow, rescuing maidens in distress, turning adventurers away from ignoble paths and protecting the spell-scarred from those who would see them as less than people. Meanwhile, on the surface, Guardsmen Kalen does much the same for the citizens of Waterdeep. But Kalen is dying, suffering from a spell-scar that is slowly turning his body rigid, even as it strengthens him and makes him immune to pain. Add that to the fact that he is handsome, and Kalen find himself embroiled with various women of Waterdeep, even as he wishes to avoid any such entanglements. A great deal of humor comes from this strange attraction Kalen holds for women, a bit of levity in an otherwise serious sword and sorcery.

de Bie has written a wonderful tale that fits oh-so-perfectly into the Forgotten Realms. His tale is a microcosm of a part of that vast world of Faerun. There are no earth shattering events, but at the same time, his characters are interesting and intriguing, and their small troubles are just as worthy reading as any great battle scenes over world domination.

The author never lets on who the real villains are in this tale, leaving their actions to stand for themselves, rather than giving the reader the villain right from the outset. Perhaps the best bit of plotting is the way that de Bie integrates his villains and heroes together into the same sequences, rather than falling into the common trap of separating the villain and hero as a Tolkien, or Eddings, or Brooks often does. No, de Bie’s villains are just as muddled into the story as his heroes, and it is not always clear which one is which.

There are some mistakes in the story. For one, de Bie occasionally violates his claim that Kalen can feel nothing, such as when he feels the breath of Fayne on his bare chest and then moments later cannot feel her clawing at his man parts. And because the novel has such a panoply of characters in such a small number of words, there can be occasional confusion as to who is doing what and where, though this happened only rarely. And some readers may dislike that while the story completes to a certain extent, it doesn’t really end, being open ended for a follow-up tale, one which I hope we will get to see.

The story, though sword and sorcery in its setting and content reads more like a comic book than what a reader might usually expect from such a novel. I saw elements of Superman in the hidden identity of Shadowbane, the X-men in the mutational power of the spell scar as well as the ending sequence, and Spiderman in the interpersonal relationships between Kalen and his harem of lovelies, Fayne, Cellica, Myrin, and Rayse. The story encompasses all these comic book stylings and adds its own. This tale is comic book candy center wrapped in a sword and sorcery milk chocolate shell. Downshadow is not limited by its subgenre going beyond it to create a story that will be enjoyable reading again and again.