By now, many have you have heard about The Sundering, an event set in the Forgotten Realms. You can learn more if you watch the GenCon D&D Keynote here. I want to address three things with this post. First, a brief summary of what is The Sundering (both the event and the novel series), in my own words. Second, what my participation in The Sundering series means for The Cycle of Night trilogy. Third, my general thoughts and opinion about what The Sundering means for the Forgotten Realms.
What is The Sundering?
The Sundering is both an event in the Forgotten Realms and the title of a set of six novels that occur against the backdrop of that event. It is not a reboot of the setting. It’s not a retcon. Everything that happened, happened. The Sundering moves the setting forward, though it happens that that movement circles back to (what I believe are) the roots of the Realms.
As an event (and in brief), the Sundering represents the separation of the currently ‘overlapping’ worlds of Abeir and Toril (the worlds became ‘overlapped’ as a result of the Spellplague and its aftermath) and an end to the Age of Upheaval.
The gods know that Lord Ao will rewrite the Tablets of Fate at or near the end of The Sundering, and many of Faerun’s powerful know that as well, or speculate that it might be so, or least know that something is afoot. They do not, however, know what that might mean for them. As a result, lots of forces are put in motion during this time: armies, Chosen of the Gods, powerful clerics and archmages, all of them trying to figure out what is going on and how best they can weather it and/or turn it to their advantage, etc.
During all this, the six novels of The Sundering series tell their stories — smaller stories, stories that show the Sundering through the eyes of both ordinary folk and some of Faerun’s iconic heroes. Each novel in The Sundering is self-contained. There are some connections between the novels — some Easter eggs, if you will — but each stands alone. What they share is a common background, with all of them occurring against the backdrop of the Sundering.
Each novel in The Sundering series will be released in hardcover and ebook (with a mass market paperback release to follow about a year later, presumably). The novels feature some characters you’ll know (Drizz’t, Elminster, Farideh, Malik, and so on), and others you’ll come to know. The stories of these characters will continue after the Sundering.
So, the six books of The Sundering are as follows:
The Companions, by R.A. Salvatore
The Godborn, by Paul S. Kemp
The Adversary, by Erin M. Evans
The Reaver, by Richard Lee Byers
The Sentinel, by Troy Denning
The Herald, by Ed Greenwood.
Here’s the art of the characters from the novels. It’s incredible.
What Does This Mean for the Cycle of Night
Those of you who’ve read my Erevis Cale novels know that the next series I was to write featuring Cale and Company was The Cycle of Night, and Godborn (minus the ‘the’) was to be the first book in that trilogy. This has changed. Some background so that you understand how.
While writing Godborn, intended to be book one of The Cycle of the Night, I was approached by WotC and asked if I wanted to participate in what would later become known as The Sundering. Hearing that Bob and Ed were aboard, hearing that at least one purpose of the series was to circle the setting back to its essence, I jumped at the chance. When we talked about what that would mean for The Cycle of Night, we didn’t quite reach resolution (we had lots of options on the table) and decided we should just let the matter lie for the moment while we turned our attention to the upcoming Sundering story summit.
Fast forward to the story summit (which included all of the authors and various WotC luminaries), where we discussed ideas for the Sundering. Almost immediately, and I mean right away, it became clear to me that the story I intended to tell with The Cycle of Night was perfectly suited to the role I was to play in The Sundering. I mentioned this to the team (in a very long email), explained my thinking, and the others agreed. We decided that Godborn would become The Godborn, book two of The Sundering, and that The Cycle of Night Trilogy would not be written (as such; but stay with me).
So, The Godborn is going to tell the story I’d intended to tell with The Cycle of Night, but it’s going to do it in one big book, and do it as part of The Sundering (and it’s a better book for it, by the way). After The Godborn, the characters (again, some old, some new) from the book will continue in further books. I don’t know what the titles of those are going to be just yet, but there will be more books. They’ll be “sequels” to The Godborn in that they build on and occur after the events of the The Godborn, but the story of The Godborn will be standalone and complete in the one book (there won’t be some cliffhanger, for example).
So, that’s what that is. This is all very clear in my mind, but I’m not sure I’m explaining it all that well. So if you have questions, just ask in the comments and I’ll answer if I can.
My Thoughts About the Sundering and the Realms
What follows is entirely my own opinion/interpretation.
So, the events in the Forgotten Realms that precipitated the switch to the fourth edition of Dungeons and Dragons created a lot of controversy. The Spellplague changed the Realms in profound ways, as the worlds of Abeir and Toril “intermixed.” New continents and realms appeared, and old ones disappeared. Magic was changed. Many gods seemed to die or disappear. New races of beings appeared. The timeline for game products and novels was advanced 100 years. And the upshot of all of this was that the Realms post-Spellplague was a very different place from the Realms pre-Spellplague.
Now, lots of people liked the new Realms and still do. Lots of people didn’t and still don’t. What’s indisputable is that the post-Spellplague Realms was a very different place, with a very different feel, from pre-Spellplague Realms.
So, what did I think about this? I think I would have loved the post-Spellplague Realms if it wasn’t supposed to be the Realms, but was instead some new world invented from scratch. The cataclysm of the Spellplague and its aftermath (spell-scarred and plague-changed creatures and lands), lots of faiths whose gods had just ‘died,’ created a rich setting with lots of storytelling opportunities. Frankly, I think the designers and novelists did great work in the post-Spellplague Realms. But, in the end, this wasn’t a new setting. It was the Realms, the Realms 100 years later, and therein lay the problem.
To me, the post-Spellplague Realms felt unmoored from the setting material that had sold me on the Realms in the first place, way back in the time of the grey box. I have a hard time articulating why. The Realms isn’t post-apocalyptic or relentlessly dark. For me it’s about a layered setting rich in history and detail, fat with mysteries unplumbed, shrouded in a sense of wonder that invites you to come on in and adventure. It is, in the end, optimistic. Somehow the post-Spellplague Realms never spoke to me that way.
Consider this, from the DM’s Sourcebook of the Realms, in the original Forgotten Realms grey box, in a section called, “Recent News and Rumors in the Realms:”
Barroch’s Hold has been found. The fabled citadel of the first great bandit lord of the Inner Sea lies south and east of the cities of the Moonsea, in the Glacier of the White Worm. The adventurers who found it encountered a number of strange creatures and were scattered or slain. Two survivors reached Orm to tell the tale: Feenoch the Five-Fingered, a rogue of some infamy, and Yostur Ulhmond, a young fighter from the villages of the Snow People in Thar, blond-haired and strong as an ox. The two evaded queries about treasure, but there is talk in Hillsfar that they have been trying to gather together a large adventuring band with sledges.
That’s magic for me, just magic, and there are dozens just like it in the same section. That single paragraph communicates the idea of the Realms as a living, breathing, high fantasy world of interconnected people and events where the wondrous sometimes occurs right alongside the mundane. I love that kind of feel. That’s the feel of the Realms for me.
And based on all my discussions with the folks involved in the Sundering, that’s the vibe to which we’re circling back. The “Core Truth of the Realms” is a concept that I heard mentioned several times by those involved in the Sundering, and it’s necessarily a subjective term. But based on the discussions that I’ve heard and participated in, everyone is circling around the same guiding star — the roots of the Realms, its essence, its core. YMMV, of course, but for me that essence looks a lot like an adventuring company getting nearly wiped out in Barroch’s Hold, with the survivors, led by Feenoch Five-Fingers, returning to Hillsfar to drum up some additional blades and have another go at whatever dark creatures nearly killed them the first time.
In any event, I think the Realms are moving quickly and assuredly in the right direction. People seem to be in the right seat on the bus (with Ed Greenwood driving, while regaling us with tales of yore). WotC has listened and is listening to readers and players who love the Realms. The upshot is that I’m pleased, excited, and honored to be part of it.