Monday, October 2

Shadowdale Book Review

Written by Richard Awlinson
Published by Penguin Books (1989)
ISBN: 0-14-012628-7

Shadowdale is the first book in the Avatar series and very much feels like the first part of a much larger whole. The ending in particular is disappointing as it just sort of stops rather than really wrapping itself up in any satisfying way. Set in the Dungeons and Dragons world of the Forgotten Realms this is high fantasy at its best. That being said, similar to the Lord of the Rings, the Witcher, or Game of Thrones, this is a big world with lots going on and not all of it will be explained to you in this book. You are expected to be at least aware of the world, the Gods, and the basic history of the Forgotten Realms from the D&D Players handbook. This may put a lot of people simply after an exciting fantasy story off. I was trying to dig deeper into the wonderful world of the Forgotten Realms after really enjoying my time with the Baldur’s Gate 3 video game. I got what I wanted, and I love it, despite having some problems with it.

What do I love? The lore. This is set during a period known as ‘the Troubles’ within the wider Forgotten Realms history. Lord AO, the original and most powerful God discovers that his Tablets of Fate have been stolen by one of the other less powerful Gods. Enraged by this he casts all of the Gods out of the Astral Plane and forces them to take mortal form in the land of Faerûn. This leads to a time of great and bloody conflict. Shadowdale focuses on the evil God Bane trying to take control of the titular town of Shadowdale. Most of the heroes we follow will be familiar to newer D&D players as they go from being mortals to Gods during the course of these books. They are now very commonly mentioned in modern stories. It was fantastic to meet them during their early days of mortality.

The things that hold this book back are the very odd writing techniques. The most annoying thing in my opinion is the matter of perspective. Normally each section of a book will be written from the perspective of a single character. We will be privy to their thoughts, opinions, and literal point-of-view. This book, however, has a habit of switching perspective mid paragraph which feels very jarring. It also means that your never really sure what characters think of an event because the stated opinion could belong to almost anyone or the author themselves. 

The other issue I have with this book is the rivalry between the fighter Kelemvor and one of Bane’s commanders, Knightsbridge. We first meet Kelemvor after he’s been defeated by Knightsbridge. After that Kelemvor doesn’t really think about or pursue Knightsbridge at all. In fact, we as readers don’t even hear what happened to him for around 100 or pages and even then, he’s only briefly mentioned by another character. But then during the final conflict of the book Kelemvor and Knightsbridge have personal one-on-one fight in the middle of a massive battle. It feels like it wants to be a climatic end to a bitter rivalry, but it just falls flat in my opinion. We don’t learn enough about Knightsbridge or the relationship between him and Kelemvor. This is repeated again when Kelemvor arrives at Shadowdale. It’s here that he meets Hawksguard and forms an instant friendship with him. When Hawksguard gets killed during the final conflict it’s treated as a big emotional moment. Once again, this just falls flat because Hawksguard was only introduced 80 pages ago. Most of those 80 pages didn’t feature him and instead focused on the main 4 characters. I have a feeling that the author wanted to kill off a main character but was too attached to the main party. In order to have the emotional death scene he just introduced a new character. It really doesn’t work.

All in all, despite these flaws this a great book. Well worth a read if you’re after some Forgotten Realms lore but maybe give it a miss if you’re just after simple fantasy.


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