Brimstone Angels by Erin M. Evans – Book Review [Shadowhawk]
Shadowhawk reviews the first novel in a new series featuring the half-demon, half-human tieflings of Faerun.
“A unique point-of-view character, a fantastic plot related to demons and cultists, and some truly solid writing make Brimstone Angels a fantastic read. I just discovered another amazing author!” ~The Founding Fields
I got into reading Forgotten Realms novels through Paul S. Kemp’s excellent Erevis Cale Omnibus, and the suitably epic double trilogy War of the Spider Queen. After that though, I took somewhat of a break as I was reading too much fantasy at the time, especially high fantasy like the Forgotten Realms novels. Not that my decision made any difference. Then, through my good friend Stefan Gore, who is a Wizards of the Coast die-hard fan, I heard about author Erin M. Evans and her impending release of Lesser Evils, the second novel in her Brimstone Angels series. Since he couldn’t stop raving about her work, I soon had a copy of her first book (thanks to Erin!), which I finally got around to reading earlier this month. And I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed reading it.
Brimstone Angels isn’t about humans or elves or dwarves or goblins or orcs or any of the more typical fantasy races. Instead, it is about twin tiefling sisters Havilar and Farideh, who are little more than teenagers, being only about seventeen years old. They also have a foster father, Mehen, who is a dragonborn and has been taking care of the twins since they were abandoned at the Arush Vayem village gates. Right off the bat, I was hooked. I’ve read about the half-human, half-demon tieflings before, in John Rogers’ excellent Dungeons & Dragons: Shadowplague Volume 1 graphic novel, and I was interested in reading more, an interest that Brimstone Angels satisfies very admirably.
The great thing about the novel is Erin’s characterisation, whether its the twins, or Mehen, or the demon Lorcan that Farideh inadvertently swore a pact to, the succubus Rohini, or Lorcan’s sister Sairche. Each character has a distinct voice, a distinct personality, and a distinct behavioural pattern. The strength of any good novel is in how well the author writes all these separate characters, and how well they are differentiated. A good novel is dependent on having a rich cast of such characters, which is what Erin achieved here with Brimstone Angels.
My favourite of the bunch are definitely the twins. Farideh is the book-ish sort with a penchant for magic. Havilar is the swing sword first, ask questions later (maybe) sort who just delights in getting under everyone’s skin. There is a recognisable human-ness to the characters even though they aren’t humans. Not that this is a bad thing. The twins are almost adults, but still teenagers, and their human-ness is what made them so fun to read. In their way, they are both also very strong characters. Take Farideh for example. She is caught up in her pact with Lorcan, and has suffered several months of putting off his advances and submitting completely to his demands, thereby becoming his direct agent, rather than someone with her own free will. Havilar and Mehen often give her grief about her… slip-up, but she just squares her shoulders and soldiers on, keeping her own grief inside of her. Brimstone Angels is very much a tragic story in that regard. How she rises above her shortcomings to become a true magic-user in her own right rather than being someone’s plaything is the highlight of the novel, and becomes an excellent denouement right at the end.
Havilar also made for some great reading. She is cynical about many things, and her penchant to always get stuck right into the middle of a fight was so refreshing to read. She also works as a direct contrast to her sister, in almost all ways. She is smarter in some ways, a bit jealous of Farideh in some other ways, a much better fighter, little to no displayable ability to use magic, and she is the rebel teenager who likes to drink wine and is interested in the opposite sex. Her sisterly relationship is often complicated due to these differences, not to mention that she is the one who summoned Lorcan in the first place, in a summoning ritual gone wrong, since she was trying to summon an imp, but got him instead. Erin does a really good job of exploring their relationship and giving it a… solid definition by the end of the novel.
Erin’s world-building is also as good as her characterisation. We gets lots of details about the demon-devil hierarchies through the points of view of Lorcan, Sairche and Rohini, and indirectly through Asmodeus the lord of Hell, his daughter Glasya, and Lorcan’s mother Invadiah, who is an erinyes-demon. Erin’s demons, particularly Lorcan and Sairch,e are often too nice, but I didn’t mind that too much. It made a nice change of pace from all the typical super-serious and brutal demons that can be found in fantasy. Lorcan’s concern for Farideh is also notable, since she is one of the surviving heirs of Kakistos, one of the thirteen original tieflings who swore a pact with Asmodeus. Together with other descendants of these original tieflings, Farideh forms a Toril Thirteen, a prized warlock coven. Lorcan, as it so happens, has a Toril Thirteen and is the envy of other demons for such an accomplishment. This is just more and more juicy lore in the novel that I loved reading about.
We also spend quite a bit of time in the city of Neverwinter, which is being rebuilt following the events of the Spellplague, which nearly devastated the entire city. Full of warlocks, demons, paladins, champions and cultists of all kind, Neverwinter makes for an excellent hotbed of conspiracy, betrayals, team-ups, and startling revelations. One thing I can say about Brimstone Angels is that it has reignited my interest in all things Forgotten Realms. That’s largely because of how much I enjoyed reading about Neverwinter and the Spellplague. Combine that with an interview that R. A. Salvatore did with with the SF Signal podcast where he mentioned how he got to blow up the city, no strings attached, and I really, really want to read more about this frontier city.
Brimstone Angels also shows off the utterly complicated world of Faerun. In the Erevis Cale Omnibus I was treated to the human Erevis Cale who functions as a spy and assassin in Sembia. In War of the Spider Queen it was the drow and their underground empire which consists of sprawling cities such as Menzoberranzan which are all dedicated to the Spider-Goddess Lolth. With Erin’s novel I saw an utterly different side of the world, with Neverwinter, and the devils, and demons, and the tieflings and all the damn cultists in the world. It was really, really fund to see this different side of Faerun.
Erin’s pacing is also near perfect. The novel starts off with a bang as the twins and Mehen are forced to leave Arush Vayem, when Farideh inadvertently destroys her home after making her pact with Lorcan. Then there are the battles against the orcs as they, while in pursuit of a bounty, go all the way to Neverwinter, and get caught up in the local politics and the schemes of Invadiah and Glasya. The last third of the novel is dedicated to everything coming together and a big running fight throughout the city as the twins, Mehen, their companion Brin, the priest Tam, and the others race to defend all of Neverwinter from a cataclysmic end. The stakes keep getting higher and higher as the novel progresses, ending with an epilogue that is so, so endearing, because of what happens to Lorcan.
Finally, I love the cover art for the novel. The white-cream-red colour palette used is such excellent, very atmospheric, and very vibrant!
Brimstone Angels is definitely one of my favourite reads of the year, and I’m eagerly anticipating diving into Lesser Evils. Farideh and Havilar are two characters that I’d love to read more about, no matter what.