The book begins extremely well. We are treated to thrilling action at a breakneck pace that feels invigorating and fresh. We haven't had the opportunity to experience life in a large city thus far in the Sundering series, and this book begins squarely in Marsember during a time of crisis. The characters present themselves as capable, but still vulnerable, with plenty of room for development. Furthermore, the plot is full of potential and mystery. There are great concepts as well, like the idea that one interprets the actions of the gods based on one's own internal belief system. It's great.
Unfortunately, at least in my view, as the book passed the half-way mark, it seemed to stumble. The characters, which began so well, became more shallow and less dynamic. Interesting characters entered and then left abruptly, often without much in the way of resolution. The plot continued at a break-neck pace, and somehow that became a problem as we went. The danger level never really declined, but the heroes seemed to have less and less trouble with their challenges as they went. Sometimes, their actions seemed at odds with the apparent gravity of the situation they faced. In short, it just didn't work.
I'm not sure what happened here. Maybe the book was rushed. Or maybe there was just too much story here to tell in the space that Denning was allotted, and they didn't cull it down sufficiently. It's a shame, because the book began so well and had so much potential. In light of how good the first half was, I'm giving it a 3.
Major Spoilers follow!!! Only read after you've finished this book!
In an effort to understand the implications of the book on the Realms, here's my attempt to summarize the complicated plot in this book:
- Shar - Evil Lady of loss, associated with shadowfell. If she "wins," shadowfell spills across Toril, she gets stronger.
- Grumbar - Unaligned Elemental Lord of Earth, keeps Shar's shadowfell separate from Toril.
- Luthic - Chaotic evil goddess of caves, but Grumbar loves her. As long as she's on Toril, so is Grumbar.
- Gruumsh - Chaotic evil Orc god, partner with Luthic, will be mad if finds out Grumbar is with her.
- Sune - Good god of Love. Helping Luthic to keep Grumbar as the foundation of Toril.
- Cyric - Chaotic Evil god of strife, posing as dead god Myrkul (neutral evil) to work with Sune. Hopes (via Malik) to betray Sune/Joelle/Helm after Shar's plan has been foiled, thus preventing Sune from having a success (I guess?).
Shar's plan: convince Grumbar to leave Toril to protect Luthic from Gruumsh's wrath. Shar won't spill beans if Grumbar leaves.
Luthic/Sune/Joelle's plan: Take eye to Grumbar at Grumbar's temple. Luthic stole it as testament to her love for Grumbar. This will convince Grumbar to stay and fight Gruumsh for Luthic's love/honor/whatever. For some reason, giving it to Grumbar requires a Sune-based ritual that involves someone dying for their love.
So, from this, the upshot for Toril is that Luthic's plan worked, and so now Grumbar knows that Luthic loves him and will stay put. This prevents Shar from letting her shadowfell overrun Toril, keeps her power in check.