Lolth has abandoned us.
We have abandoned her.
Well, what could she expect?
-The Lichdrow Dyrr, and Matron Mother Yasraena Dyrr
There’s a lot to cover in Annihilation, book five of the War of the Spider Queen. So, I’ll get right to it.
The crew from Menzoberranzan has managed to capture a ship of chaos (complete with demonic captain), which they plan to use to travel physically to the Abyss and determine what has become of Lolth. On the downside, it’s not quite ready to go, requiring some additional “fuel”. The demon, on the other hand, doesn’t really feel like serving a bunch of dark elves, and demons have a sense of treachery equal to that of the drow. At the same time, Quenthel is finally losing what little grip on reality she has left, and Danifae Yauntyrr finally gets the opportunity to rid herself of a long-standing irritant. In the meantime, the siege on Menzoberranzan has come to a waiting state, with the minor exception of two extremely powerful wizards who look to finish each other off. On another front, Ryld Argith is having trouble on the surface reconciling his feelings for Halisstra Melarn and the fact that she’s been chosen to kill off his goddess.
And ahead of all of them: the Abyss, and the Demonweb Pits-and possibly, the fate of Lolth the Spider Queen.
As the penultimate chapter of this series, you could expect that big things are in store for our characters. Considering that the expedition consists of a bunch of drow elves, some of whom were ready to kill each other in the last book, one shouldn’t be surprised that nerves are frayed. Pharaun gets a chance to renew his “acquaintance” with a fiendish friend-who he’s not really willing to trust too far, since she’s marginally involved with forces attacking Menzoberranzan. Quenthel is…well, she’s at the end of her rope. She wasn’t exactly a personality well suited for extended waiting, and that does take up a good portion of this book. To say that the Mistress of Arach-Tinilith is losing her grip would be a kind way to put it-and among the drow, if you don’t exercise your power regularly, somebody is always happy to step in and claim it for themselves. Valas begins to wonder if he has too much more purpose in the expedition, while Danifae puts plans into motion to both gain in personal power and claim a heaping of vengeance at the same time.
On the surface, Halisstra is just about ready to roll in her appointed mission to do the impossible-but her lover, Ryld, has only stuck around for her; the swordmaster really doesn’t have any desire to worship Eilistraee, and he has a serious dislike for the World Above as well. Adapting to the dangers of the surface proves difficult-however, the problems of the surface pale in significance compared to the danger unleashed upon him later in the book. In Menzoberranzan, Gromph Baenre is about to have his rematch with the lichdrow-after regaining his sight in a rather…messy…manner. Let’s just say it’s a bad idea to be a captive of the archmage, and leave it at that.
While this book spends much time getting the ship of chaos up to speed, Athans does an exceptional job of keeping it from being boring. The captain of the ship is cunning enough to cause a number of problems for his “crew”, and really rubs Jeggred the wrong way (and the final resolution of this little conflict was one of the high points of the book-I just loved Jeggred’s last word on the subject). Danifae’s plans demonstrate a skill with treachery that show that the battle-captive is as skilled as any high priestess in plans for revenge. A fight on the World Above is a marvelous set of sequences that brings in not only Ryld and his relentless opponent, but also some folks who were unlucky enough to be on hand to add more confusion to the fight.
The real fun in this book (besides the climax, which I am not even going to hint at) is the duel between Gromph and the lichdrow. Reading about Gromph’s preparations for this conflict, and then the actual battle itself between two extremely powerful wizards was a joy. The methods of magic in the Forgotten Realms setting has always seemed ill-suited to a one-on-one battle between wizards, but Athans pulls it off perfectly. As a bonus in this conflict, we finally get to see the true nature of Nimor Imphraezl and those of the Jaezred Chalssin; I’m not ashamed to admit I didn’t see it coming, but it makes sense.
In the end, I can say that Annihilation has set a high bar for the final book in the War of the Spider Queen to reach; the climax of the book changes the tone of everything. But even before that end, the book keeps a lively pace, and has set up the series for what I anticipate as a stellar ending in Resurrection.