Richard Lee Byers,
Forgotten Realms:
War of the Spider Queen,
Book I: Dissolution

(Wizards of the Coast, 2002)

One of the strengths of the Forgotten Realms series is its accessibility to new readers. Fantasy fans who have never visited the Forgotten Realms or the multimedia fantasy realms of Wizards of the Coast will soon learn the basic facts needed to enjoy Dissolution.

The opening pages introduce the underground city of Menzoberranzan and the dark elves who inhabit it, along with their slaves and constructs. Those familiar with the series won't be bored by the reintroduction, since it holds clues to the disaster that shapes the book. Fans of the genteel Tolkien-style elves and flittering Victorian-flavored fairies may find it hard to adjust to the scheming, bloody-minded, downright evil drow. For those gentle souls, there are plenty of stories focusing on exceptions among the drow, heroic types who defy the stricture of their society. This isn't one of them.

Dissolution revels in the evil and cruelty of Menzoberranzan. This is a story for those who find villains the most interesting characters and the heroes dull. The near total self-interest of everyone involved results in surprisingly noble behavior. Following the chain of logic that makes someone risk their life for self-interest is a wonderful mind game.

Richard Lee Byers is able to give his drow an amazing array of nobler impulses without actually making them decent people. Some come dangerously close; Ryld seems to have no darker motives than helping his friend, and the diplomatic Faeryl seems honestly devoted to serving her city. But even they kill other drow with no remorse and are distinctly lacking in sympathy for anyone who isn't their immediate ally. The clear wickedness of the characters makes it a treat to catch their inadvertent good behavior. Pharaun may be scheming, amoral and willing to overthrow his entire city, but he demonstrates a loyalty to Ryld that even he finds peculiar. Those familiar with dark elves will find the apparent friendship between the swordmaster and the wizard one of the most bizarre mysteries in the story. These occasional glimmers of decency in the heroes make their cruelties much more interesting than they would be coming from pure sociopaths.

Like the lives of the drow, much of Dissolution depends on the mystery and suspense of its plotline, and it's hard to discuss without giving away too much. Byers gives just enough answer to complete the story without surrendering the secrets of the larger saga. With such an obvious path leading into he future novels, Dissolution makes it very easy to enter the world of the Underdark, very hard to leave it.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 28 June 2003

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