Grasping for the Wind Rotating Header Image

[BOOK REVIEW] Brimstone Angels by Erin M. Evans

Genre: Shared World, Forgotten Realms, Sword and Sorcery
Mass Market Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast; Original edition
Publication Date: November 1, 2011
ISBN-10: 0786958464
ISBN-13: 978-0786958467
Author Website: Erin M. Evans

As a race, tieflings have replaced humans as the primary characters for novels set in the 4th edition Forgotten Realms. And for good reason. These descendants of the union between devils and humans are commonly social outcasts both for their looks (horned heads do not inspire local confidence) and the actions of a few who have been unashamedly “evil”. Tieflings put the nature/nuture debate into physical form.

It is on this crux that the story of Brimstone Angels by Erin M. Evans spins. In this tale, twin sisters, both tieflings, have been raised to young adulthood by the longsuffering dragonborn Mehen. Havilar is a warrior, taking after her adopted father, often brash, foolhardy, and bratty but always single-minded of noble purpose. Farideh is the quieter, less physically capable sister that lacks articulated goals in life – until an unexpected encounter with a cambion (devil’s spawn from mating with a human) gives her the powers of a warlock. Now tied to Lorcan the cambion in a Faustian exchange, Farideh becomes even more outcast than her apperance would dictate. Granted the powers of Hell, she is unwanted even in the tiefling village where she grew up. Now forced from their tranquil life, the misfit family heads towards Neverwinter, only to get caught up in a war of divines, a war of intrigue between the Nine Hells. Yet Farideh and Havilar are no different than other teenage women, and they too look for love, validation, and purpose in life at odds with what their devilish appearance would predict.

Evans, whose work first appeared in the Forgotten Realms, in the city of Waterdeep, with the memorable novel The God Catcher, now sets her sights on Neverwinter in a companion novel to the online game and new trilogy from longstanding and popular Forgotten Realms author R. A. Salvatore. Whereas Salvatore’s work focuses on Drizzt and the battle for control of the city of Neverwinter, Brimstone Angels , approaches the story from a more individualistic and microscale perspective. Evan’s creates a family of people who love each other, tosses in a couple of cute boys (the cambion Lorcan and the pseudo-priest Brin) to create romantic tension, and then places these companions in a brewing battle for dominance of the Nine Hells. Its fodder for a great story, and Evans pulls it off really well.

Two elements in particular that stood out to me in this novel. Firstly was Evan’s choice of chief “villain.” Lorcan, as a half-devil with significant powers who lives in the Hells, would appear to be a standard-fare, dastardly, evil character that would dominate Farideh (whose perspective is primary in this tale) and be a complete antagonist a la Sauron. Yet Evans does not choose that route to characterization. Instead Lorcan’s motivation is less evil than self-interested – he is a collector. Lorcan collects warlocks, particularly tiefling ones descended from a particular human/devil pairing. “Possession” of these Brimstone Angels – like Farideh and Havilar – gives the low-on-the-Hells-hierarchy-totem-pole cambion some provisional standing in the Nine Hells. Lorcan’s interest in Farideh, at least initially, is merely acquisitive. There is not grand scheme of evil, no plot for world (or plane) domination. Lorcan is nobody in the Hells, as we soon discover, and is evil only in the sense that all devils are evil, though even that notion is up for debate. Though there is a scheme in motion, it isn’t Lorcan’s, and so the apparent “villain” of the tale actually takes on a completely different role. So while the story has all the flavor of a sword and sorcery, the characterization is more subtle and the plotting more complex than you might expect.

The plot is the second element that stands out about this novel. In most stories of this ilk, where a group of companions commits adventure, the group is often formed quickly and the camaraderie is near instant. Not so in Brimstone Angels. For a goodly portion of the novel, Brin’s story develops separately from the tiefling sisters, as does Lorcan’s own personal one. Each interweaves with the other till they come to a head in the rebuilding city of Neverwinter, but even then the camaraderie is always tinged with distrust and mystery. Lorcan especially is never really relied upon (he is a half-devil after all) a major point of development for the character of Farideh. The plot of Brimstone Angels is full of action and characters, each of whose story interweaves with the other, excitingly building to a climax in which competing interests are outfoxed by the clever companions. This is no stale story of comrades overthrowing a clear evil or saving the damsel held under the sway of a Faustian bargain. Rather it is a story of people caught up in designs not of their making who use it to make heroes (some more noble than others) of themselves.

Brimstone Angels is obviously written as the first in a series. The tale ends with a resolution and safety for its protagonists, but not with the larger conflict resolved. It’s a cliffhange to be sure, but the story is complete in itself, though I for one would hate to see it end just there. (I really NEED to know what happens with Farideh and Lorcan’s entanglement!) Evans has mentioned on her Facebook page recently that the sequel is complete or near complete and so readers can expect the larger conflict between the agents of the Nine Hells to come to an even greater climax than the one that ends Brimstone Angels so well.

This novel is one of those comes-out-nowhere surprise-you stories. Evans writes clearly, excitingly, and with a depth of character often lacking in sword and sorcery style narratives. Brimstone Angels was one of my favorite reads of 2011, and I recommend it to fans of Forgotten Realms, Dungeons and Dragons, or action-packed, character-driven tales with depth of plot and surprising twists.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am quoted on the back cover of this book.