|Targete's dramatic cover illustration|
There are times when one takes joy in giving a bad review: when one feels oneself or something closely connected to one's self wronged by the author; it's a sort of joy in holy destruction. But I doubt that anyone of goodwill who has had interactions with Ed Greenwood and Elaine Cunningham could enjoy delivering a bad review of one of their books. Their interactions with me online -- just one fan among so many -- shows them as gracious as they are imaginative. So I've been in no hurry to write this review, and even thought about not writing it.
There's a special kind of pain as a reader when one has gotten drawn in by a book and seduced by its attractions, only to find the ending disappointing. City of Splendors paints the best portrait of Waterdeep that I have found in fiction so far -- even more so than Cunningham's enjoyable first two Songs & Swords novels. I cared about the characters. The villains were interesting. I ogled the setting like a hungry tourist. What soured me on the book was the twist ending, which I found unbelievable on the level of characterization, as well as a bait-and-switch of my readerly sympathies. To compare it to the two novels I just mentioned, it has a lot more going for it up to the point where two of the main noble characters switch identities, but this critical misstep means that, as a whole, it squanders the advantage it has for the majority of the story on the surprise twist.
While I will continue to recommend it as a introduction to Waterdeep, it will be with the warning that an unpleasant twist lies ahead to soften the jar the reader will suffer. A denouement that undoes so much of what the novel previously accomplished must greatly effect my assessment of it as a novel. Since I can still see a use for it apart from plot resolution, I will soften the harshness with which I grade it.