Sunday, January 26, 2003

Review: "Insurrection" by Thomas Reid

A few months ago Wizards of the Coast launched an ambitious six-book project called "R.A. Salvatore's War of the Spider Queen" to shake up one of the Forgotten Realms world's most feared races. Now, the story continues with Thomas Reid's "Insurrection" ($24.95, Wizards of the Coast.)

A party from the drow city of Menzoberranzan, which includes high priestess Quenthel Baenre and master wizard Pharaun Mizzrym, has arrived in the neighboring dark elven city of Ched Nasad. The group is looking for answers as to why their goddess, the Spider Queen Lolth, has forsaken them.

They discover that Lolth's absence is universal. Not only has she abandoned the drow of Menzoberranzan and Ched Nasad, but she's also abandoned other races that worship her.

Unfortunately for the drow, the other races that live among them - those they consider the "lesser races" - have also discovered their weakness. But even facing the possibility of rebellion in their cities, the Matron Mothers of Ched Nasad continue their scheming and machinations against each other, further weakening the dark elves' position.

One of the concerns I had going into this series was how it would flow from one book to the next. The advantage to having a different author write each book is that readers can get the series in their hands much more quickly. The disadvantage is that there could be continuity problems.

The first transition, at least, has gone smoothly. While Reid's style differs from that of Richard Lee Byars, who wrote the first novel "Dissolution," the flow of the story is much the same. The two writers seem to have a singular vision of the characters and events, and most readers will hardly notice the difference.

"Insurrection" does its job well as a building block. The story is entertaining on its own, but its real purpose is to add layers to the larger story which takes place over a six-book span. It's a book that adds new questions and answers very few, but that's as it should be.

My only complaint with the book is a relatively small issue. To me, "Insurrection" sometimes doesn't divorce itself enough from the game - especially in regards to magic. Often when Pharaun discusses his magical limitations, the passages read like they came straight from the Dungeons and Dragons manual. The hardcore gamers who want the novels to strictly adhere to the rules will like it. But it may be jarring to those like me, who are looking for a good story that complements a world they've played in, rather than something that sounds like a translation of a gaming session.

For readers unfamiliar with the Forgotten Realms world and drow society, this book isn't the best place to start. It plops the reader down right in the middle of the action and some understanding of how things operate and what has happened before is needed. But for those following the story, it builds nicely toward what could be a very interesting larger story.

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