Review: Shadowrealm by Paul S. Kemp

Shadowrealm

Paul S. Kemp

Wizards of the Coast, 2008

Shadowrealm  is the third and final volume of Paul S. Kemp’s excellent Twilight War series.  The deadly shadow storm rages accross the Sembian country side and Chosen of Mask Erevis Cale finds unlikely allies in his fight against Kesson Rel.   Kemp contines his trend of great action and strong character development here but the finale is unfortunatley marred by the nature of “shared universe” fiction.  Read on for more…

Shadowrealm picks up bare moments after the conclusion of Shadowstorm with the Shadow Storm marching across Sembia, growing in strength as it sucks up more and more life, turning the inhabitants into mindless shadows. Things are looking desperate for our heroes who don’t often view themselves as heroes. Erevis especially struggles with his own violent and dark nature, uncertain if his own tendencies are part of himself or the power foisted on him by the shadowlord Mask. In Erevis’ spiritual journey, his fellow Chosen Riven serves as a guide and steadfast companion shoring up the ever-doubting Erevis in his weakest moments.

Indeed the spiritual journey seems to me a major theme throughout the series and in Shadowrealm in particular. The shade Rivalen questions his face to the goddess Shar especially since the mastermind behind the Shadow Storm is an adherent to the same church. Tamlin, the human leader who made a devil’s bargain with the shades, clings to his new faith in Shar as a way to power, without understanding (or refusing to understand) the ramifications of his choices. Mags, traumatized by his archfiend father, struggles with his own (literally) splintered soul and addiction to a powerful source of magic.   Abelar has lost faith in his god Lathander and sees in both Erevis and Riven that evil in darkness good can be accomplished and thus finds a certain resonance with the faith of his new friends. Even Mask, a god, questions his own actions and startling revelations towards the end of the novel about the deity’s identity reveal the impressive depth and universality of the spiritual themes in the novel. 

With as large a cast as the novel has Kemp still manages things with a deft hand. Each character has his own unique voice and the narratives never grow confusing. Kemp manages to imbue each of the individual character narratives with a sense of inevitability, that each character is on his or her path because it is where they are meant to be but at the same time manages to work in surprises for each and every of them. Most aren’t happy, sorry if that’s a spoiler, but Kemp’s examination of each character involves a pretty heavy discourse on the nature destiny, on who we are meant to be, that is impressive in scope.

The novel has a bit of a denouement that was a little frustrating after what I thought was a fitting conlcusion. Sadly given the recent upheaval in the Forgotten Realms universe regarding the advent of 4th Edition it’s almost an inevitability; though it perhaps would have made a better opening section to a new novel rather than a closing to this series. Regardless I’m glad to see that there is still room for Mr. Kemp and his characters in the “new” Forgotten Realms. Shadowrealm marks a fitting end to one of the best fantasy series I’ve read in years; shared universe or not. Unfortunately, the stigma attached to licensed fiction will likely turn away many fans of fantasy at large; which is a crying shame. Highly recommended.

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