05 June 2010

Dissolution and Condemnation

I finished the next two books in the War of the Spider Queen series. As far as I can remember, this is the first series I've read with multiple authors. It can be a bit jarring to go from one book to the next. Each separate author has so far done a good job, but there tends to be a slight feel of discontinuity between books.

Dissolution is written by Thomas M. Reid. Overall, his writing style is much better than Richard Lee Byers', author of the first book, with one glaring exception. Plotting, awesome. Description, very good. Characterization? Eh... That was one place where Byers excelled: creating vivid characters. In Reid's book they feel flatter and less interesting; the vibrancy is gone. Still, the skillful plotting and writing nearly makes up the difference.

Here we find our dark elf "heroes" on a journey to neighboring Ched Nesad, another drow city, to find out if Lolth has singled out Menzoberranzan or if she's abandoned all of her drow children. It's something of a pity that the city is destroyed by the end of the book, as I found the description quite interesting. Giant spiders, the size of mansions or larger, created a web in this large cavern, and some magical process was used to strengthen and harden the web so it could be walked on and built upon. Buildings there look like egg-sacs attached to the webbing. Not surprisingly, the lowest levels of the web house the poorest residents, and the nobles all reside in the highest tiers. Or, well, they did. Turns out that people who live on hardened webbing shouldn't throw stone-burning chemicals.

As far as the plot of the series goes, the important detail is that not only has Lolth abandoned all drow, she has also abandoned other races who worship her. So our anti-heroes now need to find out why. Their attempt to find a way to do so leads into the third book.

Condemnation, by Richard Baker.
Baker is good both at plotting and at characterization, though he didn't quite keep Pharaun's flavor the same as when Byers first established it (Byers' character was the better version, imo). My biggest complaint about Baker is that there are several places where he completely glosses over battle scene because the outcome is a foregone conclusion. Sometimes I agreed with this and didn't object overly much, but there was at least one situation where I was not convinced this was the case. I started to wonder if he was just incompetent at describing battle scenes, but those he did include were fairly well done. I think the omission would bother me less if there were a few sentences indicating roughly how things went. Blow-by-blow would probably be overkill. It just annoyed me when he just jumped to the next scene. It felt very much like a made-for-tv thing, where the commercials would fit into those gaps.

I won't go into too much detail about what they learn, save to say that it's a bad idea to bring a priest of a rival god into your goddess's inner sanctum. Admittedly, they had no way to get to said sanctum without help from the priest, but it was still a bad idea.

We also meet a scion of Elistraee in this book, who tries unsuccessfully to convert Halisstra (rescued from Ched Nasad in the second book) and pays a high price for it. Elistraee is a daughter of Lolth and tends to be the goddess of choice for non-evil drow. Or, well, did prior to this series. My impression is that either this series or its successor (Lady Penitent) will change that in a big way.

I now have the last three books in the series, but haven't started on them. I'm rather curious to see how it goes. Reviews of the fourth book on Amazon variously claim it to be the best or the worst book of the series. * shrugs * Likewise, several reviews say the series was good until the fourth book and then went downhill while others claim it keeps getting better until the end. I'll state an opinion when I've read them. :-)

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