Havilar and Farideh are twin tieflings abandoned at birth and raised by dragonborn. Careless Havilar has an innocent soul and a penchant for trouble, and careful Farideh feels the weight of the world, her tainted bloodline – and her sister – on her shoulders.
In a summoning ritual gone wrong, Farideh ends up bound in a warlock’s pact with a handsome but sadistic cambion devil, and they are thrown out of the village. A lone dragonborn accompanies them out of compassion, and the three adventurers, often perceived as monsters themselves, begin to make a name for themselves as monster slayers.
But once they reach the encampments in the ruined city of Neverwinter, their simple plans of slaying monsters to make a living get tangled up in a devilish snare six layers deep. It will take every ounce of the twin’s skills – and some borrowed besides – if they are to have any hope of staying afloat in the deadly designs around them.
As far as plot goes, without ruining the book for anybody, the description is pretty much it. We follow several characters throughout the book, but the main two are Farideh, the twin who entered into a pact with a devil for reasons she can’t quite articulate; and Lorcan, the cambion with whom she made the pact.
Evans weaves us into the lives of the twins as they are forever changed and the unconventional family must flee their home village, becoming bounty hunters to survive as they seek out a way to get Farideh out of the pact. Meanwhile, Farideh seems to develop ideas of her own about her pact, the fiend who offered it to her and the exact use of the powers she gains along the way. We are taken along on the journey and brought into the minds of our heroines and their counterparts to explore the meaning of family, the burden of power and heritage and to find out just how far we will go to attain personal freedom whilst trying to “do the right thing”.
The villains are a great bunch, too. We have on one hand, villains who seem to be evil because it’s their nature and they really enjoy it; on the other we have a villainess-in-waiting who’s evil is more a matter of perspective. And, of course, we have Lorcan. He’s devious, self-interested and definitely up to no good, maybe with a touch of evil thrown in… but a few times you find yourself wondering just how despicable is he, really?
So, before I get carried away and ruin the book for you… let’s get into the highlights, eh?
Versatility- Evans manages to write a book which appeals both to long-time lovers of D&D and the Forgotten Realms setting and to newcomers to both D&D and fantasy.
Explanations of what things like tieflings are, and the hierarchy, history and politics of the Nine Hells are woven into the story so that newcomers feel comfortable (not too comfortable, though. It’s a dangerous place!) and familiar with the setting. At the same time those of us who’ve campaigned our way through Faerun once or twice don’t get bored with long-winded descriptions of the history of Neverwinter, every fantastical creature that crosses our paths and what the Spellplague is.
Realism- I know it sounds strange to say that a story which follows the adventures of the tainted descendants of a powerful and evil warlock, their scaly, fire-breathing adoptive father, and a runaway kid with sketchy access to divine magic following the making of a deal with a half-devil from the Sixth layer of the Nine Hells… is realistic. But you’ve just got to trust me on this one.
Writing believable characters and story arcs is difficult in any genre but when you delve into fantasy it’s tempting to throw away any sense of rhyme and reason and have things happen simply because it’ll look cool. Evans does a wonderful job of depicting characters who have realistic reactions to their situations and surroundings.
Our late-teen heroines are, predictably, crushing hard over boys who are best left alone. Our badboy extraordinaire, Lorcan, doesn’t suddenly and inexplicably reform his manipulative ways and heal from literal centuries of physical and emotional trauma simply because he meets a girl. And nobody is exactly forthcoming with the deeply personal and sordid details of their past just because it’d be nice for all our heroes, heroines and antiheroes to bond over a camp fire.
‘Regular’ people are also suitably sceptical and suspicious of folks with black pools for eyes and horns on their heads. Just because you’re in a fantasy setting, doesn’t mean that everyone is comfortable with horned and scaly people running around doing magic and wielding weapons with deadly precision.
Characterisation- Related to the above point, Evans builds strong and relatable characters.
I’ve read a lot of books and watched a lot of movies (oh, the sparkles!) that were let down by poor character analysis and development. Evans’ characters don’t feel like caricatures or stand-ins for concepts. They feel like people. Farideh and Havilar are separate and distinct personalities in their own rights, but as is so often the case with twins, you get the feeling that they’d be incomplete and miserable without each other. Even though they fight and misunderstand each other constantly, when push comes to shoving a claive into an enemy’s torso they’re inseparable. Their adoptive father Mehen is clingy and overprotective in the way that you’d expect someone who’s lost all the people they ever loved to be. As for that shady priest and the runaway… they’re interesting people, too.
Because I’m an impatient reader, especially when there’s an event that’s been foreshadowed and I’m trying to get to it ASAP… I’ll admit I skipped a few pages. I can’t say there was anything wrong with the pace of the novel. In fact, the fact that I only skipped literally a few pages is a testament to how engaging the book was.
Recommendation: Put on your most epic music playlists (I’m a fan of Versus Music on YouTube), call in sick from work or school for the next day or two, arm yourself with a large selection of snacks and enter into one of the most iconic fantasy settings of all time with your new friend Farideh and the badboy extraordinaire, Lorcan.
Trivia: I looked up the meaning of a few of the names in the book. I didn’t find anything for Havilar, but Farideh is apparently Persian and means “delightful” whilst Lorcan is Irish and means “silent”, “fierce”, or “little fiery one”. You learn something new every day!
I’ll finish up with a cautionary note. The book not only contains some explicit content, but also some rather mature context. I’m not saying not to gift it to your 15 year old nephew or niece (I dearly wish somebody had given me this type of book when I was 15), but it’s definitely not a kids’ book. I’d say it’s a 14+ kind of novel, and there’s definitely no upper age limit.
You can find Erin M. Evans on her website and follow her on Twitter and Facebook from there.
Get Brimstone Angels and its sequels at your nearest bookstore or from an online distributor.