Over all, I liked the stories in this anthology as they highlighted some interesting aspects of many of the Realms' wars, with a bulk of the stories taking place in more recent times. As a whole, this anthology is well done and was definitely worth the read. The best part of this book, though, is the sampling of new authors, such as Susan J. Morris, Mark Sehestedt, and Jaleigh Johnson. Of course, the heavy hitters contribute some amazing tales, like Elaine Cunningham, R.A. Salvatore, and Mel Odom (whom I thought long gone from the Realms a while ago).
This anthology is based upon the backdrop of the recent events told by Paul S. Kemp of a Shadow War that is currently unfolding in the Realms. Reviewing all the stories will take a lot space and time so I will only highlight them rather than go in depth. As I said, the whole book is great to add to another collection and truly reveals the talents of so many of the authors.
Continuum, by Paul S. Kemp, is another fine tale spun out of Paul's miracle fabric of characterization. This story spotlight's an aspect of the Shadow War Paul is currently telling and certainly reveals his talent in bringing the Realms into succinct reality with his penchant for creating such believable characters, even gods. In this story, I did feel a little rushed in some way but I attribute it the tone of the story in which Erevis Cale's girlfriend (for lack of a better term) is suddenly roused by a horrific storm happening in distance Sembia but spreading in her direction. As she tries to escape, she finds another group of refugees trying to get away and joins them. She meets an interesting stranger who not only saves her from the storm but protects her from unknown enemies. This tale brings to focus an aspect in Erevis Cale's life that may have much deeper meaning in following books.
Lisa Smedman's Weasel's Run is fun story with a tragic ending. Not revealing spoiler information but as with all stories of war happy endings are a rarity. But, her story shows how humanity can certainly have an effect on one's principles and attitude. The tone was lighthearted but somber, fast paced but not hectic and it crammed some solid characterization into the story's short amount of space. Very nice!
The Last Paladin of Ilmater, by Susan J. Morris, was an enjoyable plot driven story. The characters revealed themselves well enough but I didn't feel I saw real change in them and very much depth. The story was very good though, and I certainly look forward to more of Morris's contribution to the Realms. What I liked most about the story was how Susan revealed the paladin's downfall. This concept should resonate on many different levels to readers. It has a definite religious feel to it, after all it is about a paladin, but the unfolding story shows how we each can learn from failure. I enjoyed reading this though it may have been just a little slow in places.
The Black Arrow is a great story, yet I felt robbed at the same time. Bruce Cordell tells about an adolescent boy whose influential mother prevents him from participating in the city's war, or least far from any danger. The boy ends up finding himself in the right place at the right time and shirks his mother's warning about staying out of the way. He is sent by an unwitting soldier to bring a message to a forward deployed force, of which the boy's hero is leading. A tower was recently taken by the enemy and the boy helps his hero and his warrior aunt to take the tower, revealing a hidden path his friends used. In the end the boy is the one who saves the city by bringing a very important missive back to the General. This story is great in its pace and action while capturing the boy's point of view. What bothered me was that Bruce didn't reveal what happened to the boy that caused the story to end the way it did (or, actually, begin as it did). Frustrating, but still very enjoyable.
Ed Greenwood's Too Many Princes is the great disappointment of this anthology. Ed brought me into the Realms and helps keep the Realms a wonderful place to spend my time, but this story, as with most of his more recent tales, is a flop. It starts off great and even keeps me entertained until near the end. I was expecting this early tale of Mirt the Moneylender to figure some creative and clever way out if his predicament, which seemed to become worse by the minute. I had fun watching the characters fall further and further into the trap and wondered how this was going to turn out. Then, in true Greenwood style, apparently, he brings in his `McGuffin' who saves the day by leaving such a nasty taste in my mouth. I actually had to leave the rest of the book alone for a day or two just to get over my nausea. If I told you to rip these pages out of the book then this anthology would definitely be five stars.
After overcoming the dysentery that was the previous story, I was inspired to delve deeper into this book thanks to Jess Lebow and the story, The Siege of Zerith Hold. This was the story that Ed's should have been. The two main characters in this story find themselves, and the soldiers they lead, besieged in a keep by two vast tribes of goblins. The situation becomes worse as one section of the keep is finally overcome by worgs and their goblin riders. This certainly builds tension as the two leaders realize their only hope is to leave the keep and cut through a sea of goblins in order to kill the goblin leader. This story had me anxious to see how it ends and didn't let me down. Good story!
Mercy's Reward is Mark Sehestedt's tale of a Cormyrean running for his life during the Tuigan Crusade, bringing us back to the region he revealed in his book Frostfell. The Cormyrean escaped the Khan's force and is on the run. Hiding from the horselords, he is hunted day and night and soon finds himself near exhaustion, dehydration, and starvation. He stumbles upon a wolf caught in a trap and decides to free the wolf rather than kill it for food, knowing he was probably going to die anyway. Deciding he'd rather not die by the Khan's men. He ends up as prisoner to a vile shapechanger but is ultimately saved by the horselords. The story reveals an interesting twist that reveals some great characterization and how honor can find its way into the hearts of enemies.
Elaine Cunningham brings us back to Elaith Craulnabor in her story, Redemption. This tragic hero has found himself at peace and has attained a certain satisfaction with his life. But, true to fashion, nothing stays that way for long. A cry for help from elves in the Wealdath Forest brings to light the truth behind who Elaith is and why he cannot become the elf he really wants to be. Understanding the mission, he accepts because he knows that to do what needs to be done he is the only noble elf that can do the job. This story is written very well and validates why Elaine has written for the Realms for as long as she has. Very good!
Changing Tides by Mel Odom was a good tale that returns the readers to the War of Sahuagin. Mel tells about an adventurer-historian who is searching for a sunken ship and its manifest and diary. Sea elves find him in their territory and only by agreeing to a percentage of any treasure on the ship does he get out his predicament. He is also able to enlist the aid of the elves in searching the sunken wreck. Suddenly under sahuagin attack, the elves and the historian retreat to the historian's hired vessel. While fighting for their lives they bond with each other and agree to help each other until their return to port. This story reveals how key decisions can have an impact on unforeseen events. Definitely a good read and the pacing was just right.
Jaleigh Johnson tells us a grim story of a soldier who wants to die. In Chasing the Dark, a loner scout who is ostracized by his countrymen for fear of his magic is compelled to accomplish suicide missions as a way of redeeming himself through death. His superior forces him to accompany another soldier and a priest to investigate a recent massacre. He receives additional instructions that place the lives of two soldiers in his hands. Not wanting to die guilty of two other deaths he accepts the responsibility, but a sudden twist at the end reveals the scout as a true hero. Jaleigh reveals that it might not be as cracked up as everyone makes it.
Bones and Stones, by R.A. Salvatore, doesn't even need to have a review. Salvatore just doesn't quit when it comes to telling compelling stories with excellent characterization, drama, and action. Everything comes into play during the Orc Campaign of Mithral Hall. Salvatore reveals how both races, dwarves and orcs, have more in common than either would admit. But it also shows that orcs have a certain presence that cannot be denied and to understand that may be the key to save each of their people. Such a powerful story that reveals so much in so little space. Plus, you can't beat a story with Thibbledorf Pwent as the lead.
Finally, Richard Lee Byers story, Second Chance, introduces the readers to the events taking place in his Haunted Lands Trilogy. The story of a young man who deserts his temple and is caught by the enemy is given his `second chance' to overcome the cowardice within him. With the aid of a mysterious stranger the man is able to save his temple from the siege by a local Thayan force. Characterization is key here as we delve into the reasons why the man deserted and what he has to do to save his friends and masters. This story moves rather quickly but you don't notice it, but more importantly the young man seems to mature before your eyes into a hero that he never would have been. Excellent!