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Shadowhawk takes a look at the third book in Wizards of the Coast’s mega-event The Sundering, and also the third book in Erin M. Evans’ Brimstone Angels series.
“Farideh and Havilar return for another amazing adventure as they finally get caught up in the adventures of The Sundering event and everything has a much higher appreciable stake. Some excellent characterisation this time around and some great action too.” ~Shadowhawk, The Founding Fields
Being the third book in a series, I had lots of expectations from The Adversary. With the first two books, I had grown quite attached to both Havilar and Farideh and they had become two of my favourite characters in fantasy fiction. And this was all the more important because I am still at an introductory stage of my Forgotten Realms. I’m still building on that formative experience and the Brimstone Angels books have a special place in that experience. So, going into The Adversary, I wanted Erin M. Evans to stick to what had worked for her in the first two books and even build on all of that, to grow and to develop. And she did do that, with a good amount of success.
This book involves a massive change in status quo for both Farideh and Havilar. It boils down to this: Lorcan’s sister Sairche tricks Farideh into breaking away from him and switching her allegiance to Saiche. This deal involves Havilar as well of course because by now Sairche has learned about her and she is positioning herself as an owner of the Brimstone Angels, thus increasing her standing among the denizens of Malbolge. Additionally, since the entire Sundering event is going on, the narrative involves a major time skip which is worked into the story rather neatly by the author and ends up serving as an important plot point for the motivations of Farideh and Havilar to somehow get themselves out from under Sairche’s thumb.
Having read the previous two The Sundering novels, The Companions by Bob Salvatore and The Godborn by Paul S. Kemp, I’ll say that The Adversary stands out as the stronger book of the three because of how intrinsic it appears to be that overall plot. The previous two novels skirted around that issue, the second less than the first, but they still didn’t give me any sense of what was involved with this mega-event and on that note I found myself quite lost in both books. The Adversary takes a major departure from that approach and while the mid-game is still far-off at this point, Erin M. Evans does delve significantly into the entire setup of that mid-game. We get to see what the Shadovar are really up to with all the Chosen that they’ve been collecting for several years now, and we also get a sense of how far-ranging this event will be, in terms of the gods and the species of mortals on Faerun that are involved here.
And it also turns out that there is a very, very big change in Farideh’s own status quo as a Brimstone Angel by the end of the novel. It was a twist that I did not see coming and one that, after I had experienced it and considered it, I was left awed by. Let it not be said that Erin M. Evans is not ambitious with her storytelling, for she certainly is, and in spades. Going forward, this ties Farideh and her twin Havilar even more intrinsically to the Sundering and with the fourth book in the Brimstone Angels series due sometime next year in Fall, I am expecting there to be some really big showdowns and some really big events to happen. That wait is going to be long but if the fourth book is anything like these three books, then the wait is going to be worth it.
The Adversary really puts Farideh through her paces. The first two books were a rough enough test for her but this time everything is clocked up to eleven and she gets the roughest time of all. Apart from all the machinations of the Netherese/Shadovar at the internment camp that Sairche sends Farideh to, there is the added element that Farideh is caught in the conflict between Asmodeus and Shar. The former is the God of Evil, pretty much and the highest rank demon besides, the King of the Nine Hells. The latter is the Goddess of Loss and Darkness. There are some really complicated politics at work at the Netherese camp and Farideh is forced to become a part of these, an object in a tug of war between the two deities, both of whom are seeking their own advancement. Shar I’m quite familiar through Paul’s Erevis Cale novels, of which The Godborn is the latest; Asmodeus I’m not quite so familiar with and that dichotomy is represented in the story itself since Farideh treats with Shar’s agents more than she does with Asmodeus’.
Bit by bit, we see the larger plot at work uncovered as Erin M. Evans introduces several subplots and then wraps them all up in one way or another. Farideh as she is at the beginning is not the Farideh at the ending, and the change is dramatic but takes place over the entire length of the novel. Given everything that the author puts her through, you can’t help but feel sorry for her. Young and inexperienced, her naivete makes her a perfect tool for Sairche to use and there were times when I wanted to shake Fari and tell her to stop trusting that backstabbing demon. But it is what it is because Fari is locked in the bargain and things will get much worse for her if she does not do what is asked for.
And this is where the rest of Erin’s stellar cast intervene. Havilar, the twins’ foster father Mehen, Lorcan, Havi’s boyfriend Brin and the others that we meet here. Each and every character contributes to the story and we get to see some really important and vital scenes from each of them. Given that Sairche thrust the twins forward in time to the tune of almost eight years, Mehen and Brin have suffered that absence throughout that time and they are more than a little ticked off about the whole thing. And they almost gave up hope that the twins would return. This sets the stage for some great character drama between the four of them and things are not improved when Lorcan is added to the mix since Sairche essentially screwed him over as well.
Yet, they all get their revenge, in one way or another. It was inevitable really because there are certain expectations that Erin’s writing creates and we’ve seen this before, although its not unique to her. In a way, the heroes must always triumph over the villains, and that’s ultimately the basic story, though Erin introduces several twists to the whole thing.
Given all the Forgotten Realms books I’ve read to date, I’m slowly coming to terms with the setting as a whole and gaining an appreciation for some of the finer things here. There isn’t actually a whole lot of world-building that is reflected in this novel, but we do get to see a lot of different things here, whether we talk about the Harpers or the demon politics of the Nine Hells or the diversity of races at the interment camp or what have you. The Realms are a richly detailed setting with lots and lots of finer things to be appreciated and this is what Erin shows in the novel, through her descriptions and handling of the devil/demon characters and all the different Chosen that we meet.
The pacing of the novel suffers at times but not too much that it throws off the reading experience itself and I have to say that The Adversary is definitely one of my favourite books of the year. The plotting is mostly excellent, and so are the characters, whether big or small. Added to that are all the twists at the end, especially Farideh’s change in status, and The Adversary turns out to be quite a special read. At least, it was a special read for me.
More Erin M. Evans: Brimstone Angels, Lesser Evils.