Review: Elminster Ascending

by soklemon on April 15, 2011

Elminster Ascending
Ed Greenwood

A Forgotten Realms Novel

Ed Greenwood’s Elminster Ascending: The Sage of Shadowdale omnibus collects three novels – Elminster: The Making of a Mage, Elminster in Myth Drannor and The Temptation of Elminster – that tell the story of Elminster’s origin.

Dungeon’s Master again welcomes Soklemon, our Forgotten Realms book reviewer. He is a Dungeon Master, Forgotten Realms fan, aspiring writer and high school student (in that order). We welcome his latest contribution and hope you enjoy his review of the Ed Greenwood Omnibus: Elminster Ascending.

The first novel’s title, The Making of a Mage, is a misnomer in some ways. For most of the first novel, Elminster abhorred magic and all who used it, hunting and killing many of them. He ran into the Magister early on and was awed by the power that magic could bring, but his mind was yet to be changed. The later two novels deal with Elminster apprenticing himself to various other Mages and Sorcerers, and occasionally only being beholden to Mystra, the goddess of magic herself.

The Making of a Mage deals with Elminster through his adolescence and young adulthood before he became the most powerful and well known Mage in the Forgotten Realms, and before he became one of the Chosen. Elminster was the Last Prince of the realm of Athalantar, also known as the Stag Throne. As magic became more and more prominent in Faerun, Elminster’s older relatives took on more responsibility as Court Mages. Eventually, those Mages overthrew the Stag Throne in all but name.

Elminster’s father, the ruler of the village of Heldon, was killed by one of these Mages. After witnessing his father’s murder, a young Elminster took the remnants of the Realm’s ceremonial blade, the Stag Sword, from his father’s charred remains.

After a harrowing run-in with the Mage who killed his father – and the Dragon that was doing his bidding – Elminster went back to the town he grew up in, only to find that it was utterly destroyed. He swore to his dead family that he would get revenge by killing the Mage responsible for destroying the village.

Elminster then fell in with what at first appeared to be Highwaymen, but later turned out to be the True Knights of the realm. They were loyal to the Throne, not the Mages, and were forced to flee the Capital and hide in the backlands. There, they destroyed patrols sent out to find them with relative ease.

Elminster gained great skill with weapons during this time, but never came to enjoy or even be comfortable with killing. Because of his aversion to killing, he moved into the capital of the realm where he became a Thief. He started his own Thieves’ Guild and ended up in a rivalry with the Moonclaws, a Mage-Backed group already working in the same area. Again, however, he moved on in pursuit of vengeance.

This time, he left what could have been a comfortable and lucrative lifestyle because of an encounter with the goddess Mystra. She told the Last Prince that he had to learn of magic and worship her. He agreed and she enacted her first test upon him.

Elminster the man was transformed into Elmara the woman, a form that forced the Last Prince to learn the ways, trials and hardships of women. He spent many years as a woman, eventually meeting Myrjala. Myrjala taught Elmara a great deal about magic and eventually helped her become Elminster the man once more.

After a time, Elminster enlisted the aid of all of his friends and allies to reclaim the Stag Throne. He enacted his vengeance and gave the throne to the leader of the outlawed Knights, an older man named Helm. Elminster left the realm in pursuit of greater magical knowledge which is where the story picks up when Elminster in Myth Drannor began.

Mystra commanded Elminster to journey to the city Cormanthor in the realm of the Elves. There, Elminster was apprenticed to the first in a line of powerful but cruel Wizards. Due to actions he takes on a dying Elf’s behalf, Elminster was named a Knight of the Realm, which caused a great commotion among the Nobility.

The Coronal of the Time sought to open the realm of Elves to other races, an idea most of the Elves he ruled over disliked. His grand plan was to put up a Mythal, which would allow the Elves to remain in control of the city. Elminster took part in this endeavour and achieved the narrowest margin of success in making the Mythal by the end of the second novel.

When The Temptation of Elminster began many years had passed since the events in the first two novels. A band of adventurers opened a Netherese tomb, and inside they found Elminster in stasis. It was unclear exactly how long he was trapped, but it was a very long time before being revived.

He went on several smaller missions of magic, and after completing one of these he met deity Azuth, Lord of Spells. Upon returning to the now-destroyed Myth Drannor, Azoth told Elminster that he must try to use as little magic as possible for the next year.

Elminster was later apprenticed to another dark Wizard. She was an evil Sorceress who worshiped Bane, and tried to tempt Elminster from Mystra’s path. Their confrontation was epic and was an immensely satisfying ending to this series. The final novel ends with Elminster taking on the role of foster father to three little girls. (Those readers familiar with Realms lore can probably guess who they are.)

So far I’ve only read the first three novels in Elminster’s saga, but they left me hungry for more! I highly recommend this collection. I do caution readers that these are not as straight forward or as easy to follow as other Forgotten Realms novels. These novels are very intensive, especially when it comes to keeping track of all the characters and places where the story is told. The third novel is especially treacherous in this regard.

Each of the three novels collected in this omnibus are considerably longer than typical Forgotten Realms novels. This is actually a good thing in my opinion because it allowed the author to make an even more compelling story. Where I usually just breeze through most Forgotten Realms novels, these really held my attention.

9 on a d10

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Ameron April 15, 2011 at 1:45 pm

I’ve read a huge majority of Forgotten Realms novels and am a fan of most of them, but I must admit that I’ve never liked Elminster. He just seemed too powerful to be entertaining. I bought these novels when they were first release (don’t ask me why) and they’ve sat unread on my shelf for years. However, after reading Soklemon’s glowing review and learning that it’s not about Elminster the super-invincible-godlike being, but rather it’s his origin from relatively humble beginnings has intrigued me. I think I’ll have to work these into my reading “on deck circle.”

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