I was minding my business. No, I was. Just perusing through some Forgotten Realms books, wondering what Forgotten Realms was. Breezy little reads, infested with elfs and bearded dwarfs, I thought, though I have played the Shadows of Amn game and Aerie's whinning added winged elfs to my disgust. It was the front cover that caught my attention; the stylised design so artistic I started flicking through the preview. Well, you don't really flick a page you mouse click it and it's not really a mouse . . . Stop rushing me, I'll get to the point eventually.
So I'm reading the prologue and Torm's beard I'm thinking, we got ourselves a cliche hobbit here sans the endless barding, don't we? Some kid excited about skipping stones and good golly a troll attack. Run to mum/mom, fellas, this could get scary. And it was for the kid and his mum/mom, otherwise they wouldn't have been hiding, or were until the troll found them. And while the kid is tossing twigs at it and I'm rolling a saving throw to keep from laughing, the suspense is building to a peak as the troll rears up for the kill---
And a dark man appears out of the shadows, dark sword in hand.
Shadows out, the troll slain. The screams of the villagers, slowly fading. The trolls, now doing the shrieking. And then the silence. The commendable build up of suspense that didn't read as cheesy had even Bane grunting grudging approval. Interest ensnared, I initiated the purchase ritual despite that awful font size all Realms-class books preen themselves with.
I must say I was impressed, very impressed. Kemp dispenses with pretentious prose and pace-slogging descriptions in favour of a no nonsense writing that's pragmatically practical when writing a cast of killers. The irrelevance of whether pragmatically is a word or not aside, Shadowbred is a slick little read of epic adventure. Despite the occasional reference to events of the last trilogy, the book can be read as it is just fine. Villains ranging from calm to homocidially insane, heroes you wouldn't want to meet in a daytime alley, and a talking dog that, ah ... eats shadows.
The Shadovar have recovered a mythallar from the depths of the sea, aspiring to add another upside mountaintop city to their collection. A parasentient battery able to empower magical objects, they need a mind mage to awaken its slumber, and have captured Magadon for the job. Bored teasing Lolth's abdomen, some Shar slut has decided to conquer the world, starting with the merchant cities of Sembia.
Divide from within, conquer from out. Caught between civil war and deceitful allies, the Twilight War begins. Find the book and herald the shadowstorm.
That's a bit of a problem. Guess she forgot Cale's from Sembia.
Get ready to rock.
Enter the Cale. A year ago he was a man. Butler by trade, assassin by profession. Now he's a shade, able to teleport through shadows and heal himself of injuries. But the price has come at an emotional cost to the soul. Erevis is his name; First Chosen of Mask, the deity of thieves. And blaming Mask for the loss of his humanity and best friend, Cale makes for a refreshing hero to read as he fights a war between reverence and resentment.
To find Magadon Cale needs Mask, and with a cataclysm coming Mask needs Cale. On one hand you have Salvatore and his introspective pet drow, who could attack Ao and live to tell the tavern tale. The same swordfights book after book. On the other hand you have Cale, forced to choose between the family he left in Selgaunt and a friend screaming help in his mind.
Because the game has gotten bigger now. Gone are the silly but deadly slaads of the past trilogy. The stakes are higher and Cale is going to need all the help he can get. They're cold, they're assassins, and the lines flow faster than the bodies they sprawl in their wake; and in place of their rival bickering that was classic Kemp, Rivan is back with his signature sneering.
The villains are no less interesting, from the calm and mannered Rivalen, an archmage orchestrating Shar's dark ambitions and apparently 2000yrs old, to Elyril, a sadistic sylph of ruthless amorality sowing political strife. Loyalty is its own reward. Rivalen has murdered his mother to prove his fealty to Shar. Elyril would thank the slut just to be stepped on by her feet. Rivan has finally accepted his second place to Mask. Faced with a siege he cannot repel, Tamlin wars between private ambition and a father's name to live up to. Magadon is losing his sanity within himself. And Cale, his life and humanity flipped over by the deity he trusted, must find that core within himself.
How far would you go to get your friend back?
Shar's own priest, thousands of years old, a shade himself -- bursting through the door, Cale grabs Rivalen by the shirt, shadows sparking violently.
"Where is Magadon!"
The look on Rivalen's face, the sheer chutzpa -- the scene is worth the price of the book alone.
This is Kemp. This is his Cale. This is Shadowbred. And if you're looking for a Realms book that's not saturated with blonde elfs, mindless action and unkillable Drizzt, Mystra's butt cheeks is this the book for you.