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Tangled Webs by Elaine Cunningham

Posted by travizzt on November 4, 2009

Liriel Baenre is on a quest to carve a rune into a magical tree to allow her to use drow magic while on the surface. However, things become complicated in her quest.


Tangled Webs by Elaine Cunningham- This is the second book in the Starlight & Shadows trilogy. The first being Daughter of the Drow and the last being Windwalker. The events in this book take place directly after Daughter of the Drow.

The story continues with the young drow wizard Liriel Baenre and her quest to carve a rune of power to keep her wizardly powers on the surface, along with helping her partner and friend, Fyodor of Rashemen, control his uncontrolled berserker outbreaks. In order to crave this rune, Liriel and Fyodor have to travel to the island of Ruathym to find a tree called Yggsdrasil’s Child, which is where these runes of magic needs to be craved into. Liriel helps break out a pirate captain named Hrolf the Unruly, who is allowing Liriel and Fyodor travel to Ruathym. During the trip, Liriel comes across many odd things, the first being her first encounter with a surface elf, a sea elf named Xzorsh. While plans brew from the port city called Luskan, an old enemy of Liriel, and the once thought to be lost Ascarle to conquer the island of Ruathym, Liriel and Fyodor are the only ones that can stop it.

Negatives:
1) Luskan. From what I know of Luskan, it’s a sailing city in the north of Faerûn, and is strictly controlled by a mage guild called the Hosttower of the Arcane and a council of captains called the High Captains. What bothered me was the utter “throwing out” of the magic element that the city has and is known for. Elaine Cunningham paints the city as a barbarian place were everyone fears magic and that the people of the city are all warriors. Which, in my mind, isn’t what Luskan is at all. This just really bothered me more than anything really. You have so many stories that take place in the city, yet it seemed like she didn’t even consider them or the information about the city. However, I guess the story wouldn’t have really worked if it was another way. But still, it just doesn’t seem right or even close to what the city really is.
2) Lackluster Villains. First you have a high captain of Luskan named Rethnor, then you have Shakti (Liriel’s old nemesis from Menzoberranzan ), and finally an illithid named Vestress. So you maybe thinking that Shakti and Vestress are more than worthy foes for Liriel, and I wouldn’t blame you. But alas, they’re not. First Rethnor seemed to be a really good enemy to Fyodor, but nope… he’s just a pawn and is really used as one. He just wasn’t used the way he should have been. Shakti was a decent villain in Daughter of the Drow but here, she is just there. It’s like you know she is right there, but she just comes off as weak and underused. Then the illithid, which you would think is the deadliest of the bunch is just really a pathetic villain to say the least. The illithid would have been a really good main villain, but like all main villains in the story, it’s really, horribly underused.
3) Anti-climatic Final Battles. Going hand in hand with the villains are their final battles. They are short, fast, and just simple. Each one lasts maybe a half a page to a page and a half, it just doesn’t work. Especially when you have all this wonderful build-up only to get let down. And it seemed like the main characters who should be fighting this villains, should be the ones to take them down, right? Nope. Only one fight (if you could call it that) was started and finished by a main character. But it didn’t even seem like a battle, so I’m really hesitant in even say that. Yes, the battles did finish in some way or form, but the execution was just awful. They all ended with some random person stopping it. And I’m not giving away anything about that.

Positives:
1) Liriel. I liked her character in Daughter of the Drow and I like her even more in this story. She continues to struggle with what friendship and love are but I thought it was in better detail and in closer introspection. Then you have her struggle against the promise of power with Lloth (or Lolth, the spelling varies once in a while). The struggle I thought was wonderfully done and finished equally perfect. I think the reason I like Liriel is for her consistent struggle on how drow are so vastly different from the surface races and how she approaches this. With the famous Drizzt Do’Urden (the only other known drow on the surface) you didn’t get this much conflict and introspection as you do with Liriel. It it makes it a little more interesting.
2) Twists. Now this will be a short explanation as why I liked the twists, because well if I say too much, it would ruin them. So basically, two people are not what they seem. You have an idea of who these people are, yet you are pretty much blown out of the water when you find out the truth. While they aren’t “main characters” these two are so embedded within the story that you gradually forget about them yet you still are, every now and then, reminded by their presence that when the twist comes, you start to look back on what you knew about this characters and it becomes so readily apparent.
3) Xzorsh. While not a main character, more like a side character, I just really enjoyed him. His utter fascination with magic that the sea elves are unable to wield and his unbelievably naïve personality was what I liked about the character. I would have assumed that any surface/ water-dwelling elf would have attacked a drow at first sight, yet his strange fascination and curiosity with Liriel was just interesting. I don’t know what else to say really. He was like a little child, who always asks questions and keeps on asking them. Plus, I have a weird fascination with sea elves. You don’t have many stories that feature one, and I really enjoy reading about them.

Side notes:
1) You might be wondering why I haven’t said much about Fyodor in either review (Daughter of the Drow and this one). Well, the answer is simple. At times he was a compelling character, and at others, I had this overwhelming sense of “meh” about him. I do enjoy his little philosophical musings but all in all, he is just average.
2) What’s up with all the convenient ways to solve problems? In both stories, there were these utterly out of the blue solutions and it just really didn’t make sense. You have all this wonderful build up and it just doesn’t pan out the way you would assume it would, and in most cases the way it ended was just dumb and lazy.
3) The cover art on this book is so much better than the previous. I know the artist, Todd Lockwood, is a great artist with doing the Drizzt saga (the newer versions) and Daughter of the Drow cover was just looked wrong. However, the side profile of Liriel on this cover of this matches what I thought she would look like.

Overall: 4/5

Final thoughts:
While I enjoyed parts and most of the characters of this story, there were many things that really brought this down. I mentioned the lackluster villains and final battles, but there were more. For example, all the creatures mentioned that would be moving the story along didn’t feel right. But in truth, this was a decent second entry into the trilogy and definitely worthy of a read.

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