The Sentinel: The Sundering Book V
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Cost: $27.95 (Hardcover)/$18.39 (Hardcover at Amazon)/$15.37 (Kindle)/$7.19 (Paperback)
Page Count: 304
Release Date: 04/01/2014 (Hardcover and Kindle)/10/7/1014 (Paperback)
Get it Here: Amazon.com
It’s hard to believe that this is the penultimate book in the Sundering series that will take the Forgotten Realms from Fourth Edition into Fifth. I’m probably showing my age when I admit I can remember the Time of Troubles saga occurring as a child, taking AD&D from first to second edition. This is of special note because the author of the final book in that series, Waterdeep, was written by the man who has written The Sentinel – Troy Denning (although Waterdeep was written under a pen name). I’ll admit, right off the bat, that I’m a huge fan of Troy Denning’s work. He IS Dark Sun to me, and as a big fan of Chill, I see his name every time I pick up the core rulebook or one of its supplements. So even though Richard Lee Byers is my favorite modern D&D fiction author, The Sentinel is the book I was looking most forward to, not only because I’ve missed his D&D novels, but because it’s also his first novel for Wizards of the Coast in over a decade.
If this is your first look at The Sundering, I do have to warn you that Denning just jumps straight into the action with this one, without really explaining what The Sundering is. This is actually a common trait with ALL of The Sundering novels. You more or less end up picking up what the event is about as you read the novel, which is good or bad, depending on your preferences. One great thing about The Sentinel is that it is newcomer friendly, which was a problem with the first three novels in the series. The Companions, The Godborn and The Adversary were all continuations of other series, featuring characters with heavy back stories and constant references to events that occurred in those previous novels. There was no attempt by the authors to make their Sundering books newcomer friendly. They were written with an assumption that readers had already read all twenty-some Drizzt novels or the entire Everis Cale set of novels. This was both a disservice to newcomers and to The Sundering event as a whole, as it meant the very beginning of the series was going to thoroughly perplex newcomers, in addition to writing for only a fraction of the potential audience. Again, The Sentinel, like The Reaver, does not suffer from this issue. It is completely a stand-alone novel with almost all entirely new characters, so everyone is starting off on the same level, whether you have read every D&D novel ever or The Sentinel is your first one.
It was also great to see that The Sentinel explains more about what The Sundering actually is than any of the previous novels. Some barely touched on the idea, like The Companions. By the time you are done reading The Sentinel, you know exactly what the event is, even though it takes much of the book to reveal it. In a nutshell, it’s erasing all the bad ideas caused in Fourth Edition. Aberil-Toril is becoming two worlds instead of one, and the gods are jockeying for power and position through human pawns referred to as The Chosen. Each Chosen represents some aspect of the God they willingly or unwittingly server. Once the event is done, we should have a new version of the Forgotten Realms that will look more like 2nd or 3rd Edition D&D and a slightly changed lineup of Deities. Don’t worry – this isn’t a story spoiler. It’s merely something the first three books in the series really should have been more transparent about.
Now, while The Sentinel is a great book as a stand-alone, it also directly refers back to previous Sundering novels, which is a first for the series. The Godborn‘s climax is mentioned towards the beginning of the novel, and how it relates to Shadovar activity in The Sentinel. The events are referenced just enough to not spoil the core plot, but in enough detail that you don’t feel like you have to read The Godborn to make sense of The Sentinel. It’s more a treat for those who have read through all five books so far. The novel also has notable ties to The Time of Troubles and two AD&D Second Edition novels that directly tied into that trilogy. You don’t need to have read any of those five books to get the full effect of The Sentinel though. It’s like a second layer of the book. Newcomers will read the novel and won’t feel like they are missing out on anything. People who have read Prince of Lies or Crucible will get a nice surprise at the beginning of the novel where they are in on a secret reveal a few chapters before the less experienced reader has this twist revealed to them. So this nod to the TSR days is masterfully done, as it merely gives longtime fans of Forgotten Realms a slight head start on an eventual event reveal. By the end of the novel, everyone will still be on the same page. The only difference is newcomers will get more of a surprise from the reveal, while longtime fans of FR will be in on the bit from the beginning.
The Sentinel has an ensemble cast. Each of the four main characters is a Chosen of a different god. Kleef Kenric is the Chosen of Helm (God of Protection), or as much as one can be when your God has been dead for a century. Arietta Seasilver believes herself to be a Chosen of Siamorphe (Goddess of Nobility), although that might not actually be the case. Joelle Emmeline is the Chosen of Sune and Malik el Sami yn Nasser is the Chosen of Myrkul (God of the Dead) who, like Helm, died some time ago (during the Time of Troubles to be exact). Joelle and Malik have stolen the very Eye of Grumish itself, a powerful Orcish artifact crafted by their chief god Grummish himself. They must travel for many months to deliver the Eye to Grumbar, the anthromoprhic personification of Earth itself (the element, not our planet). To fail in doing so means that Grumbar will leave Toril for Abeir when the two worlds separate, leaving the Shadowfell and Shar (Goddess of Bitterness and Nihilism) as one of the most dominant, if not the most dominant, power on the planet. It’s a pretty straightforward plot in this regard, but there are a lot of twists and turns along the way. The Shadovar want to capture the Eye for Shar so that she can succeed in her goal, and also turn Grumish into her slave. The Orcs of Toril want to recapture the eye for their God, and in turn punish Grumbar and his lover (who also happens to be Grumish’s mate). Cyric, the God of Betrayal and Strife, also has his own plans for the eye, and this band of Chosen is perhaps the most influential in this book. Of course, Denning has written Cyric since the beginning, so I wasn’t at all surprised to see him show up here. Indeed, being such a major god in Forgotten Realms, I was surprised he hasn’t shown up until now! I guess the other writers saved him for Denning. I should point out Cyric does only have a cameo in the novel, and the rest of the time he is affecting things subtlety from afar, but he does have a major impact on the novel. Along with Helm, he’s the only god who truly directly manifests in the book.
The core antagonists are Orcs and Shadovar, but there are interpersonal disputes amongst the party as well. Malik is pretty unlikeable, to readers and to his allies. Two different love triangles take place within the party, and there are occasional squabbles and petty disputes along the way. After all, they are four people serving four different gods with four different goals. Still, the party is united in the fact they want to stop the plans of both Shar and Grumish, so for the most part, the quartet works well together. I will say that one of the four doesn’t make it out of the book alive, but you’ll have to read it to find out which one dies (and how). All the characters are written extremely well. The core characters and even the supporting players have pretty rich backstories, nuanced personalities and show an excellent range of emotions. Characters grow (figuratively, not literally) as the tale goes on, and the party at the end of the book is very different from the party at the beginning of the book. The book flies by remarkably quickly, even though much of the tale is “Let’s avoid another ambush!” One would expect the repeated attempts on the group would get old or repetitive, but they do not.
In the end, I have to say that Troy Denning has really outdone himself here. While the book doesn’t change the landscape of the Forgotten Realms as a whole like Waterdeep did, and it certainly doesn’t let him create a world from scratch ala Dark Sun, the book is definitely up there with The Reaper as the best of the Sundering books so far. I’m not sure which I would say is better though. I guess it just depends on which writing style and which gods you prefer. If you’re new to D&D or simply a casual fan of the Realms, you should pick up either The Sentinel or The Reaper (perhaps both!) and leave the other three on the shelf, as you really need to be intimately familiar with the previous books by the authors to get anything out of them. The Sentinel is something any fantasy (especially D&D) fan can enjoy. It’s a solid book with well written characters and a plot that will keep you entertained until the last page.