#073 Elminster in Hell by Ed Greenwood (Elminster 4)
Read 22/5/20 to 30/5/20
Book 4- and it's a hard row to hoe, or else more and less of the same all the while, the concept/conceit to begin with works- El is in hell, sorry... Hell (Avernus) and subject to the whims of Nergal* who has captured (sorta) Old Weird Beard and is in the process (or so the Arch Devil says) of scouring El's memories for the secrets of the ancient mage's silverfire. Nergal wants to know what secrets Mystra has whispered to her Chosen.
And so it goes, so it goes... for a very (very) long time. To begin with the writing style- snatched memories as the Devil wades through the treacle of Mystra's Chosen's fractured mind/memory, in which Nergal GETS TO SCREAM HIS THREATS IN CAPS, while El answers in less panicked italics
, and all the while the suffering goes on- [weeping, falling from light into darkness, pain, lost and alone].
So, Joycean- stream-of-conscious, mebs- but not quite. A delightful portmanteau (filmic rather than literary) in which fractured fragments slip and slide together to form something with greater meaning- Hmm, well... not really. So, just snatched moments from the great man's exploded memory- some of them (to the reader) entertaining or enlightening, but not all- there's a lot of chaff that needs winnowing, but I guess that's the point- El's mind is a mess (or else he's hiding the truth).
It plays out, longer fragments of memory- picked up, scrolled through, put down and left off- to no great effect/affect. Some of these snatched tales are interesting, many are less so- and repetitive. The best of El in action (but without the magic, remember he's keeping this hidden) so the soft parts exposed- memories/fragments of the women in El's life, and we're back to the Greenwood/El that I am less enamoured with. It's just the same kind of thing- again and again, lady's love El El Elminster (that was supposed to be a pun on LL Cool J, apologies for feeling the need to explain this).
And that's pretty much it.
The Simbul, Mirt, Khelben (Blackstaff), Halaster (Blackcloak) all come running to save the Chosen of Mystra, and they're good to look at and to listen to (for a while)- although the whole Avernus environ will no doubt also make it to my gaming table, the Devils- what little we see of them (except for Nergal) are by far the most interesting folk in the story, I'd love to spend more time with these folk.
But its not about them, it's all about El- and that's most of the problem (see above).
It's less hell, more purgatory, after the first fifty pages of Nergal indiscriminately making mulch of Elminster's mind and body, well the threat becomes much reduced. The author tries hard but this is a (very) long game he's playing, and after 200 or so pages (or less depending on the reader's stamina) you're pretty much fed up of the same thing happening again and again- torture and pain become mundane, and even El seems to grasp this. The threat dissipates, the worst that can happen is it will end- the Chosen's life snuffed out, the torment at an end. The best that can happen is that somehow (think about it) the tables at some point will get turned. Nergal will get his comeuppance.
Can you guess which way it goes?
So, maybe 250 pages (or more) of snatched fragments from the life of El, combined with a few glimpses of Mystra's visions shared with her Chosen (at least that's the explanation offered). That's nice, nice and disjoined and for the most part, less than exciting. Maybe a 100 pages of a variety of super-mages and the like plotting (and attempting) to get their El back, with fifty or so pages of [mind blast, pain, suffering, turn the page, read on, rage, put the book down- walk away, the suffering doesn't stop, pain, go get the book again- read on, read on, read on- it has to end].
The measure of it imho is other than the geography, flora and fauna, politics, pecking order et al of Avernus being given a brief airing then... there's nothing much to see here. Don't get me wrong, in short bursts there were places I started to like it- I wanted to read on, to see what happened next, but they were mostly at outset- there was too much rinse and repeat- Elminster the Chosen, the beloved etc. Mystra's gift to the women of Toril… Yeah, got that- but, eventually, I got through it.
*Nergal, I'm happy to admit the only Nergal I knew of was/is Nurgle of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Fame, the two seem to share much in common- are they related, brothers?
Oh, addendum- Nergal gets the best lines in the book, he's got El figured- I found myself liking the devilish monstrosity more and more as the story went on. Go Nergal! Crush the tiresome wizard.