I haven’t read anything by Paul S. Kemp before. After finishing The Godborn, I have to wonder why. The man can write.
The Godborn is the second book in the Forgotten Realms event ‘The Sundering’. Wizards of the Coast plan to release six standalone novels from series authors that will show the events of The Sundering from the perspective of some of Faerûn’s best known heroes. For those unfamiliar with Kemp, his hero is Erevis Cale, shade and chosen of Mask. The Godborn begins with the birth of Erevis’ son.
Vasen Cale is named for his father and resembles him in many ways. Shadows leak from his skin—the descriptions of this phenomenon delighted me throughout the book. He’s not a full shade, though. He’s half human and this is an important part of the story. Vasen Cale’s personal journey is to reconcile his two halves, shadow and light. By accident (or design, this is Faerûn) he is born at the Abbey of the Rose, a sanctuary dedicated to Amaunator, the deity of order, the law, sun and time. He grows up to be First Blade of the Dawnguard; a priest of Amaunator, of the light. In the Dungeons and Dragons world, priests are some of the most talented warriors and Vasen Cale exemplifies the class.
As the ‘Godborn’, Vasen has a greater destiny, however. The Cycle of Night is drawing to a close and only he can halt the cataclysm that would destroy Faerûn and Toril. He does not know how. The dreams of his father and the messages of the Oracle both hint at his role, but the clues are mystifying.
Enter the cast of other characters—men, godlings, shades and demons—who all seek Vasen for a different purpose. Some are friends of Erevis Cale, some enemies. Some simply seek Vasen as a means to their own end. Special enchantments keep the Abbey of the Rose hidden in the Thunder Peaks of Sembia, a land where the sun does not shine. Not the place you would think to look for an abbey dedicated to the deity of light! With events wheeling toward apocalypse, shadows lift, enchantments fail (or are withdrawn) and those who seek, find.
The Godborn tells the story of a classic battle between light and dark, but the concepts of light and dark are altered. Not all that is shadowed is evil and there is darkness in even the best of men. Kemp explores these themes fully.
The variety of characters and separate agendas is astonishing. As is the fact Kemp manages to keep the voices separate and distinct. I never forgot whose narrative I followed and I found the journey of each character equally fascinating (Orsin and his lines!). Kemp so obviously knows his characters and loves them well enough to share them in the barest strokes and yet have the reader gain a full picture. I came to care for even the most twisted beings, only to have my sympathy shredded by horror. I did not expect to be so moved, and I was, several times.
Carrying all of this is the prose of an author who obviously has such a vivid picture of this gloomy world in his head, he has no trouble transcribing it to the page. From the prologue forward, I had such a clear, mental view of Sembia, the village of Fairelm and the abbey. Enough background is related through thought and deed the reader quickly becomes familiar with Kemp’s portion of the world of Toril and the backstory of Erevis Cale and his companions. Sympathy is built and expectations expertly played upon. Alliances shift and the line between light and shadow moves, constantly.
Fans of Paul S. Kemp are going to read The Godborn for the same reason I read The Companions. It’s a chance to visit with beloved characters and another, rather important, piece of a larger tale. What an event like ‘The Sundering’ does, though, is encourage fans to try something new. Explore a different story. I really enjoyed the experience of reading a different adventure in Faerûn. As a longtime fan of Drizzt and R.A. Salvatore, I’ve always meant to try some of the other Forgotten Realms books, but it’s usually a matter of time. I can’t read all day. The Godborn has inspired me to read more of Kemp’s novels (I have already ordered the first Erevis Cale book) and to look at other authors exploring the realms.
Review written for an originally posted at SFCrowsnest.
The Companions by R. A. Salvatore (August 6, 2013)
The Godborn by Paul S. Kemp (October 1, 2013)
The Adversary by Erin Evans (December 3, 2013)
The Reaver by Richard Lee Byers (February 4, 2014)
The Sentinel by Troy Denning (April 1, 2014)
The Herald by Ed Greenwood (2014)