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Daughter of the Drow by Elaine Cunningham

Posted by travizzt on November 4, 2009

Liriel Baenre has it easy. Being a female in a society ran by females and being the daughter of the only male with power in the city is a good thing. But things change for the wild youth when she meets a human.

Daughter of the Drow by Elaine Cunningham- This is the first book in the Starlight & Shadows trilogy. The second being Tangled Webs and Windwalker being the third. The events of the book take place after R. A. Salvatore’s Siege of Darkness.

The story is about a young drow girl named Liriel Baenre, who is the daughter of the Archmage of Menzoberranzan, Gromph Baenre. The beginning tells of Liriel’s early life, how Menzoberranzan has changed since the failed conquest of Mithral Hall, Liriel’s wizardly training, and how she is forcibly made to become a priestess of Lolth, the Spider Queen. You are also introduced to Fyodor of Rashemen, a wandering berserker in search of an amulet called the Windwalker to control his berserk rage. Later on in the story, Liriel and Fyodor meet and start to travel together. You are also introduced to Shakti Hunzrin, a fellow priestess of Lolth who has a grudge against Liriel because she is the target of all of Liriel’s pranks. She tries everything and anything to bring about Liriel’s downfall. Also you meet a merchant captain and follower of Vhaeraun (the drow god of thieves) named Nisstyre who stole the Windwalker from Rashemen. Later on in the story, Liriel comes across the Windwalker (after meeting Fyodor) and manipulates it to allow her to cast her wizardly powers outside of the Underdark. Soon Shakti finds out about this and goes to accuse Liriel causing her to flee to the surface. Being chased by Shakti, Nisstyre, and all of Menzoberranzan, can she trust in Fyodor and go on her “grand adventure”?

1) Dancing. This is by far my biggest problem with the story. Evil drow DO NOT dance. Yet, what does Liriel throw? A party, with dancing. It just boggles my mind about why this would be, having drow dance and all. It just annoyed and bothered me like nothing else. When I think of drow, I think of them being heartless, evil, killing machines that have little joys in their lives. Joys being used very loosely because if you find “joy” in flaying off someone’s skin, you need help. I just don’t see how they could dance, yes it’s meant to be competitive and everything but it just DOES NOT make any sense whatsoever. Leave the dancing to elves and Eilistraee (the drow goddess of good) worshipers.
2) The Ending. You have all this build up throughout the story only to have it all just rush by in a few chapters. I did like the build up that was happening, it was slow but it really worked. You had a lot of details and insights throughout the story only to have them be tossed aside and forgotten later. It just made me a little unhappy. Also, the ending wasn’t really all that great. For one thing, everything just seemed so convenient and not really inspiring. Another thing is that the ending wasn’t climatic or even remotely as exciting. You have the story building up to something special and it just ends in a way you weren’t expecting and hoping it wouldn’t end.
3) Bad Drow. There were things (Ahem, …dancing…) that just didn’t seem to fit into my idea of being an evil drow. It seemed at times that Elaine Cunningham didn’t know anything about drow culture and life that it was just disheartening and confusing to understand what was happening. It’s really hard to explain what I mean without some exposure to other stories with drow in them. For example, I wouldn’t think that drow …dance… or play pranks on one another. Yes, I can see the pranks bit, but the scenarios and pranks described seemed almost nice. I would think they would have been much more crueller and sinister. However, because these things are just small and insignificant (EXCEPT FOR DANCING), you easily forget about them. I will say though that Elaine Cunningham did a –

1) Good Drow. – great job in capturing what it is to be a drow. For close to ninety percent of the story, you really see how twisted and evil these creatures are. All the backstabbing, turn on a dime personalities, and general horrible things they do to each other were really written wonderfully. Elaine Cunningham really does capture what a drow is and how heartless and cruel they are.
2) Liriel. She’s just a great character. You really get to see into her mindset and thought patterns as things come up (such as the idea of friendship). It was also every interesting to see how she struggles with certain concepts that we, as humans, are so familiar with. At times she’s like an excited child, always asking why about one thing, such as clouds, and this just really grounds her down into being a character that is for the first time seeing the surface and not knowing what these everyday things are. On the same token, she has another twist (yet not as twisted as a ‘normal’ drow) side. She is just as ruthless and evil as her heritage allows, but yet her curiosity generally gets the better of her. She’s just an interesting look into how someone from one world is just placed into another and how they would adapt and learn.
3) Everything Up Until the Ending. The whole build up of the story was just great. It was a little slow and tedious at times but just added to the build up (and the eventual let down). How everyone’s place in the main plot was ingenious. Menzoberranzan is actually painted in a new light as well and how everything after the failed conquest is rippling in the city was also very appealing. The other minor characters were well done  and they really did add a lot to the story and the overall feel to it. It was just exciting and interesting, to put it simply.

Side notes:
1) What ever happened to Gromph? His plot line towards the end fizzled out and was just forgotten, it was and is a shame.
2) The sudden knowledge of who is Gorlist’s (a warrior drow for Nisstyre merchant company) father was just out of the blue and frankly, dumb.
3) The cover of the 2003 version. I do like it, but I don’t like the face of Liriel. It just doesn’t fit the picture I had in my mind. It’s just too human and round.

Overall: 4/5

Final Thoughts:
I really do like this story. Aside from the utter stupidity of dancing drow and the lackluster ending, it was really fun and entertaining. If you like stories about drow, then by all means, pick this up and read it. Heck, if you’re a casual Forgotten Realms reader, pick it up. Liriel really is a wonderful character and definitely on my top 10 list of best Forgotten Realms characters.

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