Elminster was once one of the most powerful mages on the face of Faerun. But the Cataclysm that unleashed the Spellplague and numerous other problems on Faerun, including the destruction of the Weave nearly obliterated his immense magical powers. He was stripped of his status as Mystra's chosen with Mystra's death, and his mind was invaded by the consciousness of other wizards he had killed after they attempted to kill him. Now, any time he casts a spell, it dangerously interferes with his sanity, and the stronger the spell, the worse the effect.
Luckily, another former Chosen, Storm Silverhand, has the power to heal Elminster of his madness, but doing so exacts a toll on her body, draining it of energy. Both of them are attempting to find and heal Alassra, better known as the Simbul of Aglarond. She, too, has descended into madness, and only stored magic from items can bring her back to herself. So Elminster has become an accomplished thief of magic, and seeks ever stronger magic items to drain of Dweomer to restore his lady-love to permanent sanity, for the stored magic quickly leeches away from the Simbul.
But now, after all these years of a shadowy life, someone has finally decided that Elminster must die, and it is one of his old foes, Manshoon of Thay. Manshoon survived the taking over of Thay by becoming a vampire, and he's used his long unlife to plot at the killing of Elminster. He doesn't take a personal hand in attacking his former foe. Instead, he primes the pump by setting up groups of foes to fight Elminster, knowing that they will eventually wear him down by their constant attacks.
However, as Elminster returns to Cormyr to try and retrieve three powerful magic items that he hopes can restore the Simbul permanently, little does he know that powerful conspirators are coming together to try and change the face of Cormyr and who sits on the throne. But Elminster, alerted to the threat, finds that he cannot leave Cormyr to die and collapse, no matter than people now seemed more focussed on their own interests rather than the interests of King and Country.
But there are a few left who can be persuaded to try and save the country. The nobleman Arclath, a dancer named Amarune, who turns out to be the only living descendant of Elminster's Daughter, and the Ghost of Alusair Nacaia, the daughter of King Azoun of Cormyr, now haunting the palace as a Ghost, must come together to save the country from its conspirators and the fallout of Manshoon's plots, with the help of a former friend long imprisoned in a magic item. But can Elminster himself survive when so many seek his death?
I'll admit, I am not a fan of fourth edition D&D. In fact, I don't even think it deserves the name. But I like Ed Greenwood, and I like Elminster, so I decided to pick up this new book and see what it was like. And I found it interesting. But honestly, when all the interesting characters are from a previous version of your game system, what does that say about your game? Why are there no really interesting characters from 4e? Why are all the popular characters from previous editions of the game? I'll tell you why, because 4e characters are generic. They are optimized for combat, so there are some very good combinations of powers and after a while, everyone in a specific specialization starts to look the same. And with all that combat, games become more focussed on roll-play and not role-play. Where is the need for a backstory if your combat monster character is all about eviscerating everything that comes into his path. It's not so much roleplay as becoming Master Chief or the nameless marine #246 in a First Person Shooter game. It's lazy.
I was raised on the Original D&D, which is to say, before the basic set. And I've played every iteration of D&D since, with the exception of 4e, which I tried, but which didn't float my boat. So it was nice to see the staples of AD&D 2e return. Oh, I'll admit to a lingering resentment of how the characters were nerfed at the end of 3e because some players couldn't handle the idea that they were not the foremost and only heroes of the world- which just blew my mind, I'll admit. But, anyhow... So, Elminster is still nerfed. He can't use magic without going crazy, and his love, Alassra, the Simbul, needs magic to keep her sanity. Storm, the Simbul's sister, has the power to calm Elminster's insanity, but it takes energy from her, energy she doesn't always have to spare. And she's fallen in love with him as well, and sort of resents her sister for having Elminster's love while she, who is the only one who can keep him sane, doesn't.
Some things in this story were not well explained. Like how Elminster and the Simbul were still alive despite not being the Chosen of Mystra any more. I mean, Storm's longevity is a side-effect of the Spellplague, but it isn't said where Elminster's longevity comes from (hidden stashes of Longevity potions?). That aside, all of their foes, with the exception of Manshoon were simply... forgettable, like cards in a deck. Oh, war wizards and highknights, certainly. But none of them really stand out. And like I said at the beginning, when all the interesting characters in the book were conceived in another generation of the game you are supposed to be promoting? That's a problem.
I have to say that the end of the book made me sad, in a way, but at the same time, it may have solved Elminster's problems. The kind of thing that he became (a Spectral Harpist? hard to tell, but he sounds and looks like Sylune sometimes) may actually be a "cure" for his madness when he uses magic. He does have a successor when it comes to helping Cormyr. but since this book is first in a trilogy, we'll have to see if he's tied to the place where his transformation took place, and what will happen to Storm and the Simbul now. So, is it a good book. Yes. And it kept my interest, but none of the new characters were in any way interesting to me as a protagonist. I really preferred the older ones, as they had tons more life. Recommended.