I don’t think many times I have read a book that has left me with so many mixed feelings about it, and most of them being good feelings.
Let’s go in parts. The plot.
Demascus has woken up in the middle of a pile of corpses. He can’t remember anything. How he got there, why he’s there, who is he… Around him traces of demonic rituals and followers of the Firestorm Cabal scattered all around the altar where he woke up. With little else than his resolve to find out who he really is, he will get involved in a lethal hunt for a nemesis who is determined to see Demascus destroyed, and a cult determined to destroy all that is known.
After having read “The Temple of the Yellow Skulls”, I was quite keen to get acquainted with this book and continue to learn about the adventures that started in the first book of the Abyssal Plague series. To my surprise, the books are not at all related. The adventures even happen in different worlds!
It was a nice surprise. Considering the magnitude of the events that take place in the Abyssal Plague series, to use multiple worlds only makes sense and increases the scope of the novels to reflect the epic reach of what’s going on. And it works!
I will make my next statement very clear. I know it will upset a few (probably quite a lot), but I am prepared to take the risk:
Demascus should be the next Drizzt Do’Urden.
Bruce Cordell makes an excellent job of creating someone that has something to offer to everyone. As a character, Demascus is full of mystery, excellent personality, approachable, naive enough, vulnerable, strong beyond his own knowledge and very, very likeable.
His ability to relate and care for those around him, even if they’re insignificant compared with the stature of his persona and the importance of his mission, makes him a good heroic character that is credible. At the same time it leaves you wanting to see him uncovering his full potential to find out what he’s truly capable of. Although a small taste of this power is given at the start of the book, it’s been so well crafted that it truly leaves you wanting to see more of the same. Time and time again!.
Kalkan, Demascus’ nemesis is no less important, or well crafted. As an enemy, he fits the role perfectly. Enough advantages to put him one step ahead of Demascus, and also enough arrogance to allow for some mistakes. The right motivations, shared history and polarised goals makes him a creepy and highly dislikeable character you’ll love to hate.
The rest of the characters are put together very nicely. They all have solid reasons to be who they are and to behave like they behave. They have all been given a background that drives them, feelings that motivate them and personalities to match. It is a joy to read the different reactions to the same situations they face.
The story takes its time. It is not a quick paced book at all, but this slow speed has allowed Cordell to dive into the characters and evolve them to help the reader understand and get to like them. Don’t get me wrong, it is far from boring. There is always something happening and it is always something interesting, it’s just that it doesn’t feel rushed or forced.
The author’s knowledge of the D&D universe and ethos becomes very clear from the start. The description of locations, races, powers and abilities are very familiar, but they will make just as much sense if the reader is not knowledgeable about Dungeons & Dragons. Very neat indeed!
My only wish for the plot of this book would have been to see more obvious links to the Abyssal Plague’s first novel. If they had left the Abyssal Plague logo out of this book, hardly anyone would have put the two together. The only links between the books are the presence of acolytes of Tharizdun and the demons the heroes have to face. Of course, not knowing what the next three novels in the series will bring, I will reserve my judgement before I decide if this is a good thing or not. So far I’ll say it was unexpected.
A couple of the chapters describe events that happened in a previous life of our hero. Would have been nice if something had been done to make that a bit more obvious. Although every chapter gives the reader the date of the events, if you’re like me don’t really read numbers well (thank you, Dyscalculia!) it will go unnoticed until the events make obvious enough when things are happening. This is a very minor issue, though, and one that didn’t detract from the enjoyment of reading this book.
I saw one typo and, forgive me for being pedantic; the use of comparatives wasn’t always grammatically correct (tutt, tutt, editor!). I only point these two out because they do a disservice to the excellent effort that Bruce Cordell makes with his novel and because I am very picky about adjectives.
Easy to read, compelling, full of flavour and solid characters, this is an excellent book and one that should precede many adventures to come. Very highly recommended!
You can buy this book from: