by James LowderA brief summary followed by a book review. A starred rating has been purposefully avoided.
***WARNING: SKIP TO THE REVIEW TO AVOID MINIMAL SPOILERS****
Artus Cimber and his adventuring companion, the old mage Sir Hydel Pontifax, travel to the jungles of Chult looking for the fabled Ring of Winter, a magical artifact that bestows its wearer with immortality, the ability to wield snow and ice, and the power to bring forth an Second Ice Age. Legend has it that the ring is a power of ultimate destruction. However, Artus believes he might be able to use that power to fight for Good. As a one time member of The Harpers in his youth, Artus has become disenchanted by the society's inability to fight Evil on its own terms. While the members of his former semi-secret society have sworn to protect the realms of Faerûn and fight for Good, the ideals of Artus' youth can not live up to the realities of politics or the limitations of a small, disconnected group who are unwilling to make the kinds of ambiguous decisions that Artus will ultimately act on.
Also searching for the ring, and following closely behind, is their longtime rival Kaverin Ebonhand, the leader of the Cult of Frost who has made a horrible pact with the God of Murder, Cyric The Prince of Lies. After being killed and sent to Hades by Artus and Pontifax, Kaverin secures a second chance at life only by promising Cyric that he will lay waste to the lands of Faerûn in Cyric's name. However, only until after the bargain is sealed does Ebonhand discover that he awaits a fate worse than death if he dies...a second time.
On the sweltering jungle island of Chult, Artus will fight off dinosaurs, Barati tribes made up of cannibal Goblins, evil assassins made entirely of ice, and a seemingly indestructible four-armed, silver-skinned being from the Mulhorandi pantheon known only as Skuld. At one time bound to Artus as his own protector, Skuld's powers have now been twisted under service of Kaverin.
Artus will also meet the inhabitants from the long lost city of Mezro. Peopled by the native Tabaxi humanoids, the city, and the rest of Chult, is ruled over by it's absent God, Ubtao. Though absent from his people's lives, Ubtao has chosen 6 Mezroan paladins, known as barae, to rule and keep the Tabaxi people safe in his stead. Each paladin is granted immortality and awesome powers, much like the ring that Artus has been searching for over the past decade.
Artus will help the Mezroans to defend their secret village from an invading horde of Barati, a legion of shape-shifting pteranodons, and the magical Skuld, all led by the Goblin Queen M'bata and Kaverin Ebonhand. Along the way, Artus will meet the 1500 year-old founder of the Society of Stalwart Adventurers, his life will be saved by two talking Wombats stranded on Chult years ago, he will have to decide whether his guide may or may not want to kill him, and ultimately he will discover his destiny and find love.
The Ring of Winter is book 5 of 14 in The Harper series of the Forgotten Realms. While some of the books in this series are sequels to earlier Forgotten Realms novels, and other Harper stories lead into their own series, this is a completely stand-alone book. Which, for those who read fantasy, is refreshingly rare. The protagonist, Artus Cimber can only be found in one other short story "The Family Business," which can be found in the first Forgotten Realms anthology entitled, The Realms of Valor (of which I have not read at the time of this review).
I thoroughly enjoyed The Ring of Winter. The author, James Lowder, had already written Crusade (the 3rd book inThe Empires Trilogy) and alludes to the events in that book frequently during the first quarter of The Ring of Winter. However, the reader does not need to know the details of that story or series in order to enjoy Artus' adventures. The addition of Cyric to the story must have been due to Lowder's second Forgotten Realms novel written soon after, The Prince of Lies (the 4th book in The Avatar Series). Cyric is a truly horrific God, and his involvement always makes for a disturbing read. Incidentally, the two aforementioned series are two of the best of the early Forgotten Realms novels.
Artus is an interesting protagonist. His connection to The Harpers as a former comrade lends a complexity and ambivalence to the role of membership with the group that is previously unexplored in the series. Kaverin plays an antagonist motivated not only by Evil, but by the horrific consequences of his mistake; a mistake that anyone might make in similar circumstances.
Like all the Forgotten Realms books, this story is full of magic, Gods, and destiny. I appreciated the author's light handedness with the love story, which only gets a subtle nod. The comic relief by the two Wombats are a bit George Lucas-esque, but this aspect of the story, also common for a Forgotten Realms book, is small. The battles are well written, the magic is fun and interesting, and the mythos of Ubtao and the barae is quiet engaging. Artus may avoid death a bit too easily at times, but this is no different from a DM adjusting the game for a group of poor dice rollers.
The plot reveals some twists and turns, but nothing the reader would not be able to guess themselves. There is minimal character development. The Harpers storyline provides a bookend to the novel, and the overall end is satisfying. Unlike some other Forgotten Realms books, it doesn't feel like the author rushes too quickly to end the story in order to finish up by the 312 page mark.
I'd recommend this book to a Realms fan or to someone interested in testing the Forgotten waters. It's a fun, well written read.
|Title||The Ring of Winter (Forgotten Realms: The Harpers, #5)|
|eBook format||Mass Market Paperback, (torrent)|
|File size||2 Mb|
|Book rating||4.25 (771 votes)