Review of Twilight Falling by Paul S. Kemp

Twilight Falling is the second novel by American fantasy author and lawyer Paul S. Kemp. It is the first book of The Erevis Cale trilogy, centred on the character Kemp introduced in the excellent group series writing project Sembia, and set in the Forgotten Realms fantasy setting.

The source for Kemp’s character, Erevis Cale, was a group writing project about the lives of a family of wealthy merchants, the Stormweathers, set in the city of Sembia. It was a series of seven books. First, a collection of short stories about each member of the family, then a full-length novel focusing on each in turn, and all written by different authors.

It was a fantastic series, and I remember thinking right after finishing it, “Man, you know who was the best character in that series? The butler! I wish I could read more about that guy!” That same year, Paul Kemp released this novel, followed by two more to close out his tale. This re-read I’m doing for the article project on The Forgotten Realms is at least the fourth or fifth time I’ve read this book, and Cale is still one of my favourite Forgotten Realms characters.

This was really the first series since the larger and much less connected The Harpers series which was used as vehicle to expand the lore of the Forgotten Realms, while bringing other new authors into the fiction. The fact that it was also one continuous plot, with each novel told from the point of view of a different character, written by a different author also brought a connectedness and great through-line to what is traditionally more of a hodgepodge of subject matter.

One of the most intriguing aspects about Cale is the moral grey area in which he operates. He has a very dark past, but seems to be on a path of redemption when, in typical mobster movie fashion, he wants to get out but they pull him back in. His closest associates essentially function as his shoulder-angel and shoulder-devil, and he is as confident in his abilities as he is afraid of them. It makes for a very compelling character, especially for the Forgotten Realms, where the heroes and villains tend towards the extremes of alignment.

If you aren’t going to balance a Forgotten Realms novel around the massive end-of-the-world epic fantasy storyline, you really have to make sure your characters can pick up that slack, and Kemp crafts some truly compelling characters. You can see them develop, struggle, come to terms with and move on from tragedy and loss. A living world like the Forgotten Realms needs as many living characters as possible, and I’ll take Cale over Drizzt Do’Urden any day of the week.

The Forgotten Realms has always trended towards a more young adult audience. The themes are fairly trope-y, the characters are fairly simple. Very high fantasy save-the-world stuff, lots of super heroes who never seem to get hurt, or doubt themselves, or risk failure stomping their way through the legions of evil. Twilight Falling and the later two books Dawn of Night and Midnight’s Mask provide a much more developed, mature take on the Forgotten Realms setting, and really give a great fantasy experience in a familiar setting. I sort of feel like the Sembia series, and follow ups like Kemp’s Erevis Cale trilogy marked a deliberate attempt by Wizards of the Coast to make their own mark on the Forgotten Realms, and try to better reflect the ageing D&D and Magic the Gathering demographics. The Sembia series began being released in 2000, which was also the point at which Wizards of the Coast officially dropped the TSR name from their products, having bought the company in 1997. 2000 was also the year that Wizards of the Coast published the 3rd edition of Dungeons and Dragons which was the first to be published under only the WOTC name.

Obviously, for me, the characters are the primary reason I recommend this book, but the mechanics of the writing are also solid. The pacing is great, the plot is interesting, and when you read this series and encounter the villain of the piece, you’ll understand yet another reason why I love this trilogy. Read them. You won’t be disappointed even (and possibly especially) if you aren’t generally a Forgotten Realms fan.

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Author: Dan Ruffolo

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