You could have trusted us. We gave you no reason not to.
You are a dark elf. That alone is enough for me not to trust you, but beyond that, if you think we’re going to trust anyone in this cursed city, you’re the biggest fool I’ve met in a while.
-Halisstra Melarn and Pharaun Mizzrym
Ingredients: one underground city. Add a population of dark elves, complete with slave races and their own tendency for backstabbing and betrayal. Add a distinct lack of communication with their goddess. Stir until the nature of the dark elves start them looking to take advantage of each other, and the slave races start looking for payback. Finally, add a small group of powerful dark elves from another city into the mix. Shake well. That pretty much sums up the plot of Insurrection, the second of the War of the Spider Queen books. Don’t consider this a bad thing, though; I’ve omitted some of the secret ingredients that would spoil the book. But let’s see where things are at now.
After Dissolution made a general mess out of the city of Menzoberranzan, Thomas Reid brings us the drow city of Ched Nasad, and makes a bigger mess. Triel Baenre has sent off her sister, Quenthel, to find out if Lolth’s silence extends beyond Menzoberranzan, and to “reclaim” some trade goods there that are “rightfully” theirs. Sent with her are the pair Ryld Argith and Pharaun Mizzrym, a draegloth demon called Jeggred (who has some really vile eating habits) and Valas Hune, a mercenary scout with an unparalleled talent for stealth. The final member of their little crew is Faeryl Zauvirr, who is at last going home.
Sure sounds like a simple mission, doesn’t it? Of course, it’s never that easy. First, they have to get to the city-and they are harried through the caverns by an alu demon and her small army of orcish-like servitors. It doesn’t help that Quenthel is always keen on asserting her authority, ignoring even good advice (nothing like a little ego). While they’re trying to reach the city, an army of duergar dwarves have quietly infiltrated Ched Nasad, with help from one of the Houses there, to prepare for a little of the usual treachery that marks the time in a drow city.
I rather liked the descriptions of Ched Nasad. Unlike Menzoberranzan, which always struck me as a city like many others, if you got past the underground part of it, Ched Nasad is suspended among giant web strands (earning it the nickname of “The City of Shimmering Webs”), with buildings being built from what look like egg sacs. It also makes you wonder what spun those webs; you don’t want to know…. Still, the city does have some commonality with Menzoberranzan-the place is beginning to get nasty, as the knowledge of Lolth’s silence begins to spread, and anarchy begins to fall upon the city. By the time our protagonists arrive, things are just about ready to really get out of hand.
Believe it or not, roughly half of the book concerns getting out of Ched Nasad. While this may seem like a bad thing, Reid does a creditable job on keeping things moving quickly and in an exciting manner. I won’t go into much detail about why the characters are leaving, but if you’ve got a handle on drow psychology, it’s not hard to figure out. Let’s just say that it’s an object lesson as to the kind of things that happen when you don’t think your plans through 100 percent.
On the character front, Pharaun continues to be the break-out character; it’s amazing that he’s lasted so long in a society that does not encourage wit (or sassing off to a priestess who holds the power of life and death). Overly clever, confident, powerful, and possessed of a sharp sense of humor, it makes him stand out from almost all the other drow that we’ve seen in other Forgotten Realms books (except for Jarlaxle in Salvatore’s books; but that character’s an exception in many respects). I was taken by surprise by some of Faeryl’s actions, even though it seems obvious in hindsight; we also get a pair of additions to our merry band, which may end up causing some friction down the road (as if there wasn’t enough already!). And the major plot is advanced as well, as we discover just exactly how universal Lolth’s silence is, and the possibility of another nose being poked into this whole business. And the one-page prologue sure hints at really, really bad things for the Realms if I’m interpreting it right….
Insurrection continues the War in high fashion, and it’s quickly becoming apparent that it’s not a war in any conventional sense; it’s not even totally a civil war. Rather, it’s a war for the survival of an entire culture, and so far, it’s failing pretty badly. But then, it’s still very early in the series; in many ways, the fun’s just starting. This book continues the quality of the first book, and I find that I’m regretting picking up this series less and less. I’m happy that I had that empty slot….!