Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Blackstaff: A Book Review

Well I was going to write up a book review for the trilogy I read while on holiday in Malta, but I can't be bothered. Suffice to say that I enjoyed reading the Starlight & Shadows Trilogy by Elaine Cunningham and I award it 4/5. So with that done, on to the book I finished earlier today. Blackstaff by Steven E. Schend is a Forgotten Realms novel and the first book in a quartet of stand alone novels entitled The Wizards, the focus for which should be obvious. The wizard in this case is Khelben "Blackstaff" Arunsun, one of the more powerful mages of the Realms.

The central premise of the book has Khelben's apprentice Tsarra Chaadren becoming bonded to her mentor via a spellcasting by another apprentice going horribly wrong. As a result of this, Tsarra is exposed to Khelben's memories and secrets which span nearly a millenium, he being far older than his current identity would have him appear to be. As frightening as some of those memories are, Tsarra quickly learns that Khelben has known that this would happen for a very long time.

Unable to be further than eight armspans from the great wizard, Tsarra is brought along as a plan many centuries in fruition starts to form. Khelben travels across the Realms gathering items and allies, all the while working to thwart the ambitions of a corrupt former student of his, now a deadly lich, who seeks to steal control of what the Blackstaff is up to, even though he doesn't really comprehend the full scope of the wizards ambitious undertaking.

Unused to having to explain himself, Khelben finds himself having to deal with Tsarra's anger at being left "out of the loop", and increasingly has to open up to the girl to explain what she sees in his memories which occasionally overwhelm her in the form of a vision. Too some of the things Khelben takes for granted are quite shocking to his apprentice, such as the "Dead Man's Walk", a chain of portals & caches at the sites of the graves of the identities Khelben has had over the centuries.

The story culminates in one of the best written spectacles I have seen in any book, a massive undertaking of magic, cast by many of the notable wizards (and even a few priests) of the Realms. To anyone who knows and loves the Realms as I do, names like Elminster, Alustriel & Laeral Silverhand, Maskar Wands, Malchor Harpell and Maaril the Dragonmage need no introduction. The book nicely touches on some plotlines long left unresolved (such as two of my favourite characters: Sememmon & Ashemmi) tying up some, and spinning others off in new and unforeseen directions.

It is clear to me that Mr. Schend really "gets" both the Realms and Khelben himself, hardly surprising given that he used to be a staff writer at TSR before they were bought out by Wizards of the Coast. At the end of this book I am left wanting more from the author, though this story is complete in an of itself, I am already eager to see what his next novel will cover. To me that is a sign both of a good writer and a good story well told, especially so since this is his first novel. This book gets top marks from me, 5/5. I can only hope the other books in The Wizards series live up to the promise of this first tome.


SESchend said...

Thank you very much for the kind review; I'm glad you enjoyed the book.

Mind if I share a link to your review with some other fans at

Steven Schend

Brakkart said...

I'm registered on the forums at Candlekeep as Brakkart, so no I don't mind one bit. Frankly I'm stunned to have an author of a book I've reviewed post a comment on my blog.

Thank you very much for doing so.