What did you mean about that last bit? About the betrayal?
About each of us betraying someone? Why, I couldn’t begin to guess. It’s the nature of magic to offer cryptic predictions like that, threatening little riddles that you have little hope of solving until it suddenly becomes obvious that the event you feared has come to pass. If only one of us doesn’t have some shocking act of treachery to pull off in the near future, I must say I’d like to know who’s sleeping on the job. He’ll tarnish our reputation if he’s not careful.
-Jeggred and Pharaun Mizzrym
Our merry band of dark elves have had a time of it in the previous book. The Spider Queen remains silent (and it has become more and more obvious to the reader why), and a drow city has fallen in a rather spectacular fashion, and now they’re in the last place they want to be-the surface. Now, they need to seek out the only lead they have to find out why Lolth has seeming withdrawn her favor from the drow. Unfortunately, there’s a number of turns along the way. In the meantime, things are moving in Menzoberranzan, as the usual intrigues are mixed with the plans of Nimor Imphraezl, the Anointed Blade of the Jaezred Chaulssin-who is manipulating dark elves, gray dwarves, and fiends to a single goal: the destruction of Menzoberranzan.
Condemnation picks up right where Insurrection left off, as the “envoys” of Menzoberranzan are in the desert of Anauroch with a couple of additions to their group-Halisstra Melarn and her battle-captive, Danifae, both formerly residents of Ched Nasad before its effective demise. It doesn’t come as a surprise that the pair have their own motivations, which evolve a great deal (especially in Halisstra’s case) in the course of this book. With them in tow, the crew of Pharaun, Ryld, Quenthel, Jeggred and Valas travel all over-from the deserts of Anauroch, to a city of the gray dwarves, to the doorstep of the Spider Queen’s realm. Along the way, they have to deal with not only the various assorted challenges along the way, but also with the rampant distrust that colors their entire culture in microcosm.
A very significant amount of space in the book is also dedicated to Nimor’s work. We finally get a good look at just what mortal forces are stirring things up in Lolth’s absence. The Patron Fathers of Chaulssin, City of the Wyrmshadows, seem to have managed a conspiracy that stretches across at least three cities of the drow (well, two now…). Admittedly, they seem to have gone a little too far with Ched Nasad, but they see that with Lolth’s absence, they’ll never have a better opportunity to change the nature of the drow forever. Nimor himself manages to set into motion the fall of Menzoberranzan, with allies both outside of the city, and within it-and some of those allies are powerful enough to give even the Archmage of Menzoberranzan pause.
As far as Quenthel’s gang goes: well, it’s nice to see that some things remain constant. While the constant bickering between Pharaun and Quenthel is nothing new, we’ve now got the Ched Nasad contingent in the mix. I wasn’t all that surprised to see that the two are doing their best to find a way to make themselves valuable to Quenthel; I also wasn’t surprised that Danifae also had her own ideas of her future, which preferably not include Halisstra-who is in the process of having trouble figuring out her own future in light of the continuing divine silence. Valas is beginning to look like the most rational character there, followed closely by Ryld-although Valas does find himself in a rather ticklish situation later in the book. It’s not always good to know more than a priestess of Lolth….
The pacing of the book feels just right, too. There was only one portion of the book that felt a little rushed, but it’s at the back end of the book, just before the final leg of the journey. The book switched at the right times between our group of drow protagonists and the work of Nimor and his allies-never seemed awkward. And the final chapters of the book make it clear that while our “heroes” have reached an important destination in their trip, more questions remain. Condemnation moves things along nicely, and makes it clear that this series isn’t so much a war of the Spider Queen as much as it is a war against her-and the outcome of this war is still very much in doubt.
(Talk about not being sure who to root for…!)