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Book Review: The God Catcher by Erin M. Evans

The God CatcherGenre: Shared World, Sword and Sorcery, Media Tie-In
Mass Market Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Publication Date: February 2, 2010
ISBN-10: 0786954868
ISBN-13: 978-0786954865
Author Website: Erin M. Evans

Debut novelist Erin M. Evans adds her style stamp to the Forgotten Realms mythos in The God Catcher.

The story is told (mostly) from the perspective of Tennora, a young wizard of noble family who just doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life. She is only moderately successful at magic, does not wish to marry some noble fop to better her “new money” family, and is not attracted to any other suitable career. Living in the God Catcher, a former magical statue turned apartment building in the ancient city of Waterdeep, Tennora seems stuck professionally and personally, until a chance encounter with a spellscarred woman who claims she is a dragon trapped in a woman’s body leads her on the road to adventure. It is an encounter which prompts Tennora to turn thief, make friends she never expected, and nearly get her killed more than once.

Evans contribution to the Forgotten Realms is excellent. She has a real sense of the setting of Waterdeep, and she integrates the history of the city in off-the-cuff remarks that show an easy familiarity with Ed Greenwood’s creation and its environs. D&D gamers will like that her protagonist is one of the first truly multiclass heroes that have appeared in the post-Spellplague novels. Tennora is both rogue and wizard. D&D gamers will also like the use of xorvintaal, the great game of thrones played by the dragons, which is a key element of the story, and brings to mind days of role-playing around the table and the complicated rulesets and machinations that are part and parcel of the more sophisticated gaming experiences.

Evans also adds something to the Realms that is sometimes lacking in a shared world that often centers on action and swordplay. Although The God Catcher is action-packed to be sure, Evans plot focus is really on the relationship between Tennora and Nestrix – the spellscarred woman. These two are an unlikely combo of friends, and Evans giftedly develops their relationship slowly over the course of the novel, from antagonists, to partners, to true and enduring friends. That depth of character, while it happens occasionally in the Forgotten Realms, is not something you really expect, and Evans does it better than most.

Nestrix’s development from force of nature (she is a dragon after all) into more human and caring individual is slow and subtle, and does not just happen to further the narrative, but really IS the narrative. Nestrix and Tennora’s relationship is the story, and all the rest of the action, the fight against the villain, and the other characters all exist to further the reader’s understanding of their friendship. Nestrix is also a compelling character for anyone who has ever felt that something about them just isn’t quite right. We easily identify with her feelings of being trapped, and sympathize with a blue dragon, traditionally thought of as one of the “evil” or at least “selfish” types of dragons.

In essence, The God Catcher is a character-driven tale in a series of novels more known for its sword and sorcery action. Like its predecessor in the series, City of the Dead, The God Catcher is more than its context would imply.

Of course, this also means that there are some issues that might arise for particular readers. For one, the focus on the relationship between Tennora and Nestrix means that there is a significant build in the beginning, a focus on the mundane sorts of things (like works of service, eating, discussion) that cement a friendship in its early stages. This character development may annoy those readers who came to the novel looking for lots of swordplay and magic-hurling. But if you wait and are patient, you will find more than enough of that later on in the story.

Late in the novel, Evans also makes it too easy for Tennora to find what she is looking for in the vast Waterdeep sewers. It was a bit of deus ex machina (God in the machine) that stood out to me. However Evans recognizes the issue and has Tennora call it “luck” at one point. But if the author knows she has committed such a mistake, in a novel as well-crafted as this one, she should have been able to come up with a reasonable explanation for Tennora’s “luck”.

Although Evans does tend to end some of her sentences with prepositions, all in all, her writing style is comfortable and careful. Evans is careful to always have an explanation for her character’s knowledge. When Tennora enters the Waterdeep sewers, her knowledge of them comes from a passing remark early in the novel, that the reader may have shrugged off, but that then becomes important. And the entire novel is like this. Each bit of action at the end or know-how is carefully explained. How Tennora learns to use lockpicks is given its own scene, a setting returned to at the end of the book. Each part of the novel ties together, so that were some novels are strictly linear in structure, Evans is curvilinear, always looping back in itself, reusing settings, characters, and other elements that the reader might initially note in passing, but that become important later.

The God Catcher is an excellent novel that with a different setting would have been high on reader’s to-be-read lists. If you have never read anything in the Forgotten Realms before, here is a great place to start, as this novel stands alone, but also integrates much of the Realms into its story. The God Catcher is one of the best sword and sorcery novels I have read this year, and will remain high on my list of recommended reads.