Shadowhawk reviews the sequel to Brimstone Angels, another Dungeons & Dragons: Forgotten Realms novel by Erin M. Evans.
“Despite a few flaws, Lesser Evils is a worthy sequel to Brimstone Angels and it tells a really interesting tale.” ~The Founding Fields
Second novels are strange beasts. It’s great to see authors improve on a second outing and to continue to develop as well. The same applies to third novels and other subsequent work. Lesser Evils is Erin M. Evans’ third published novel, and the second one I’ve read (Brimstone Angels, review here). To her credit, she has improved her style and voice in Lesser Evils, while making a few mistakes as well. Looking atLesser Evils in context with it’s predecessor, it’s a much stronger novel than it would be otherwise, and that’s fantastic. Her characters have grown immensely, and the world she is building upon has also improved a fair bit, showing off the wider Forgotten Realms setting.
This time, the merry band of Havilar, Farideh, Mehen, Brin, and Tam head to the city of Waterdeep after the events of Neverwinter. Events get somewhat out of control however, given the rather unique nature of Havilar and Farideh (tiefling twins and their “illustrious” lineage) among other things, and the entire company ends up traveling to a remote location in one of the many mountain ranges of Faerun, looking for an ancient Netherese storehouse of weapons and knowledge. The adventure itself is rather straightforward, but the unique challenges that the party faces are what make this a unique experience.
Now, my one gripe with the novel is that we don’t see Mehen at all after the first few chapters, once he takes Constancia (Brin’s guardian and cousin) back to her homeland as per the conditions of the bounty placed upon her head. He is effectively absent from the rest of the novel. One of the new characters to join the adventuring group is Tam’s daughter Mira, and Tam’s new apprentice, Dahl Peredur, assigned by his Harper superior. So the mix of characters is essentially the same and yet quite different. Mehen, even though he is absent, has quite a bit of influence on the plot, given his views about Farideh’s demon patron, Lorcan, and Havilar’s relationship with Brin. The twins have to fight against his views and their own feelings constantly, and that whole character arc was something that I really enjoyed. With Mira and Tam’s apprentice, it was all about adding a heavy dose of… controversy and spice to the group, much to Tam’s consternation as it turns out.
As I said above, this book represents and shows a lot of character growth for almost everybody. Farideh has to learn how to control her warlock abilities better and she has to figure out how to rescue Lorcan from Malbolge, one of the many layers of hells. She has to rise above prejudices, her own and those of others around her, and she has to come to an understanding of her feelings where Lorcan is concerned. Havilar has to learn how to deal with her infatuation with Brin and how their relationship might develop over time, despite all the obstacles in her way. Tam has to learn that he needs to start thinking about his future as a Harper, that he is no longer the young man he once was. He also has to resolve his broken relationship with his daughter and forge a new one with Dahl. Brin in in the same boat as Havilar, and he has to learn to trust his feelings more than anything else. Mira has to mend fences with her father. Dahl has to learn how to be patient, and considerate, and useful to the Harpers in more ways than just being a simple errand boy with a nose for antiquities. Lorcan, suffering constant torture at the hands of his sister Sairche who is now ascendant within their mother’s hierarchy of devils and demons, has to learn what Farideh really means to him, more than just being a Brimstone Angel and a part of his warlock collection.
There literally is a ton of character development going on in this novel. To the point that sometimes it comes across as excessive and at the cost of the plot, but such occurrences are few and far in between.
The plot, that the group has to find and then, in a way, ransack an ancient Netherese library, is a very interesting one. I’ve come across the Netherese in passing when I read the War of the Spider Queen series and what little I read about them made me really interested in wanting to know more. Lesser Evils goes a long way in giving me an understanding of their culture and their people since the Netherese are such an integral component of the novel. I liked that we discovered what the old Netherese were like, through the eyes of their greatest magicians. It adds a certain charm to the novel. The Netherese were ultimately the bad guys, but the novel goes a long way in making them come across as sympathetic, not to mention somewhat realistic as well, given the old maxim of “power corrupts, absolute power even more so”. In these respects, the novel is like a treasure hunt. We get a steady diet of clues and hints, and it is up to us to connect all the dots and discover the “treasure”, which in this case is the library of the greatest Netherese arcanist to have ever lived, certainly the most powerful!
Evan’s plotting dips in the middle sections of the book, when the party arrives at the library and they are discovering its traps and treasures. Some of these scenes were a really tough slog to get through, because it was as if the pace had slowed down a trickle. These were also the sections with the most bit of character development, built up through her otherwise fantastic dialogue. The trade off isn’t perfect, but it’s one that I didn’t have much of a problem with, given that I kept on with it and eventually did finish it in a short amount of time. The pace picks up considerably in the final third of the novel, when all the setup is finally over and we get to see all the intrigues and shadow-play and the schemes-within-schemes finally play out. The pay-off at the end of the novel is certainly a very endearing and interesting one.
As with the first novel, I found myself attracted to the twins quite a bit. Given that they are two of the most dominating female protagonists in a genre rife with male protagonists of the same variety, this is a really good thing. What I mean by that is that Evans has managed to keep away from making them come across as “men in women’s clothing”. Unlike the previous book though, I enjoyed Farideh a lot more this time. Maybe that has something to do with her “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation.
Finally, it’s the action scenes in the novel that are another highlight. Seeing Lorcan and Tam and the others in full on combat-mode is is something that I loved to see even in Brimstone Angels, and what I definitely wanted more of. No disappointment at all in that respect. Evans’ action scenes are deceptively simple in their choreography, with no two being alike. Given the wide variety in her characters, each situation is different, with its own drawbacks and challenges. Another point in favour of Lesser Evils.
Overall, while Lesser Evils isn’t as enjoyable and fun novel as Brimstone Angels was, I still had a damn good time with it. I was also delighted to her that the sequel, The Adversary, is going to be a part of the upcoming Sundering cross-over event and is the third of six novels in that series. Not to mention that she is contracted for a further three novels after that! I hope to see a lot, lot more of Farideh and Havilar soon. With this novel, Erin M. Evans is definitely at the top of my list of favourite fantasy authors, with the twins being right up there on my list of favourite female fantasy protagonists!