Released late last month, Paul Kemp’s Shadowstorm doesn’t even pause for breath as it picks up the action mere moments after Shadowbred’s conclusion. With Sembia spiraling into chaos, Shade Enclave poised to strike, and our antihero Erevis Cale stuck in the middle of it all, Kemp delivers another solid installment of The Twilight War series.
The right and left hand of Mask, Erevis Cale and Drasek Riven, have accidentally been ported to the realm of Cania (read Hell) after rescuing their half-demon friend Magadon from the heart of Shade Enclave and the overwhelming power of the Source. While trying to figure out how to escape the frozen tundra and molten rivers of Cania they are confronted by Magadon’s own father, the archfiend Mephistopheles. Since the Shadowlord Mask holds no sway in Hell, Cale desperately tries to bargain with the devil for their release, but the only thing he can offer him is something he’s already promised to his own god.
That offering is the divine essence that was stolen from Mask by his very first right hand, Kesson Rel. In order to restore their friend’s soul Cale, Riven, and Mags must strike out on a journey through the shadow plane to find the thief that stole from the Lord of Thieves.
Meanwhile back in Sembia the temporary Overmistress Mirabetta has succeeded in igniting civil war. With the capital city’s army headed by the cruel mercenary general Malkur Forrin and the rest of the nation’s forces being mustered in Saerloon, Mirabetta sets her sights to crush the resistance in neighboring Saerb and Selgaunt.
In the coastal city of Selgaunt the feeble-minded Tamlin prepares for a siege while negotiating with the Shadovar emissary Prince Rivalen. Though Cale himself warned Tamlin that such negotiations are folly, the new Hulorn of Selgaunt believes they are his only allies in the coming war. As Sembia’s armies collide the goddess Shar twitches her puppets into play and unleashes the fury of the shadowstorm.
While Kemp’s first volume of The Twilight War series was rather straight-forward, Shadowstorm antes up the complexity by delving further into the motivations of the main players and exploring Cale’s own rich backstory (established in the Erevis Cale Trilogy). The evolution of Prince Rivalen and Tamlin’s relationship in Selgaunt reads a bit sluggish, but fully explains the why’s and how’s of anyone’s alliance with the nihilistic Shadovar (unlike Episode III, ahem!).
Though Cale, Riven, and Magadon’s storyline is exciting and action-packed, I was more interested in what was going on in Sembia than in the shadow plane. That’s not to say that this subplot lacked narrative momentum, it’s just that Cale’s chemistry with some of the other Sembia-bound characters is that much more fascinating.
Chief among those dynamic relationships is the one established between Cale and Abelar Corrinthal. The pious son of Saerb representative Endren, Abelar is doing what he can to save the innocent from Mirabetta’s ravaging forces. But his will and faith in Lathander the Morninglord will be tested as events become all too personal. Seeking help wherever he can find it, Abelar turns to Cale, whom he has only met once before. Although it may seem cliché to have a servant of the night and a servant of the dawn pair up, Kemp is able to weave events in such a way that it stands out as the highlight of the entire novel. In all Shadowstorm is an immensely enjoyable middle installment with lots of adventure and an ending that hurls The Twilight War recklessly forward. But fans of Shadowbred would be well advised to read the Erevis Cale Trilogy before tackling this next chapter.