Last time I spoke to Bruce R. Cordell he said “my writing is getting better”.
Now I have the proper response to such bold statement: “No shit!”
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, his writing is getting better. And so is his storytelling. A lot better.
To start with let’s say that a statement like the one above is not bold. It is, in fact, rather humble. We are talking about the man who brought us The Ithilliad, the 3.5 version of Expedition to Castle Ravenloft, the 4th Edition of Dark Sun and the Neverwinter campaign, amongst many other rather terrific books.
So for someone to say that his writing is getting better is very humble because his writing is already pretty sensational.
Spinner of Lies is reading proof of this. The second book featuring the adventures of Demascus and friends in the Forgotten Realms is very, very gripping. And epic. It’s also getting very epic.
For those of you who still haven’t read The Sword of the Gods, tutt tutt! If you had, you’d know that Demascus is a deva. Just not an ordinary deva. Oh no! He is a deva with a mission. His mission is to dispose of anyone/thing who’s wronged the gods in a big way. His means are many because his power is mighty. Totally mighty. And he has all sort of extras. From a charm that tells him if people are lying, a scarf with x-ray vision and the hell of a temper, and a sword that is the equivalent of the Bat-mobile, the Enterprise and the Millennium Falcon all in one. But it is a sword. A big one. Her name is Exorcessum, by the way. Trust me; it is in your best interest to remember that.
Demascus can die, but not for long. When he dies, he comes back to life again, in time, to resume his mission. However, his memories are stored in one of the relics he doesn’t currently have, so he’s finding out little by little who he was, what he’s meant to do and, most importantly, his true power.
Oh, and he has enemies. Big, bad scary enemies, who follow him through incarnations, like Kalkan the Rakshasa. He’s well nasty!
In this novel, Arathane, a queen of mighty power and even mightier beauty, judging by the way Demascus babbles when she’s around (you should see him… it’s really funny!) asks Demascus and friends (the ones he found in the firs novel. You’ll find out who when you read it) to find out what’s going on in a secret mine in a secret island that mines for a secret mineral full of magic. Sounds easy, huh?
Well, no. Because the drow are involved. And spiders. Tons of spiders. Like a gazillion of them.
There is more to the story. Quite a lot more; but I don’t want to spoil it because, you know, that’d be pretty mean and I want Bruce to sell tons of this book.
Right, let’s see if I can be a bit more serious about this.
The story is pretty good. Not because the base plot is anything overtly original – it’s pretty much a dungeon crawl with a few encounters like the ones you have in any game of D&D 4th Edition – but because the way Cordell uses Demascus past, present and even his future to enhance the story. This novel, just like The Sword of the Gods, is not about the story, but about the characters; more specifically, about Demascus, and the way that uncertainty, regrets, fear of the future, fear of oneself and difficult decisions affect the characters and the people around them.
Secondly the novel is so good because the author’s knowledge of the psyche of the Drow is, simply, incredible and very uncompromising. Whereas some of us might have had a very watered down version of the drow in the past (they’re just unpleasant most of the time), Cordell shows them in their fullest and most credible evil behaviour. Many a time I found myself whispering “Jeezzzz lass… exactly what’s your problem with men?” or “C’mon, even I wouldn’t do that to an Ettercap!” However, from time to time and just to make sure there is a weak spot even in the toughest of foes, a glimpse of vulnerability is shown, just to be discarded by the antagonist as a mere fluke caused by the circumstances. Talk about denial!
And thirdly (yes, there is a thirdly) because reading the book you can’t help but wishing you were there, swinging the sword and facing your enemies while your friends fight side by side and you save each other lives.
The narrative is, to say the least, engaging. It is easy to read and Cordell uses plain and simple language. A bit too simple sometimes. The only reservation I have about the narrative is that most, if not all, the characters in the book, regardless of their origin, race or culture, speak in the same way. I wouldn’t mind reading more colloquialisms and having a sense of accent.
The description of the locations is pretty good. Precise enough that you know exactly where you are, but vague enough that your mind can fill up the gaps and add your own personality to the world. As with the language, some of the locations, the more idiosyncratic or likely to come back in future books, might benefit from some more detailed description, like mansions or gambling houses. Please don’t read this as a negative, it is not. You have more than enough information in the book to give you the right feeling of location and scale. This is just my preference for some level of story elements that could be more pivotal for future releases so they stick in the mind more vividly than others.
I have said this before. I will say this again. You can either get used to it, or embrace it (because I am right):
Demascus is the new Drizzt. Except that Demascus would kick Drizzt ass any time of the day. Not that he’d have to, you understand.
I’m not going to say that I like this book because, well, the message should be clear by now (what you mean no? Have you been reading?).
This book works at various levels. For starters it makes for really fun read. The story is dynamic with plenty of action, but also plenty of talk and diplomacy. The characters shine even more than in The Sword of the Gods, which comes to show that the author has been thinking about those characters a great deal. The way he uses enemies and creatures that plenty of people would struggle to know how, is truly exceptional. And that way to use them provides with plenty of ideas for games and adventures. I can tell you, after this novel, I know how to make the Drow properly nasty and scary.
So, please, buy this book. And read this book. I really can’t recommend it enough!