I was anxiously awaiting the release of The Rose of Sarifal because it was set in my favorite place in the Realms, the Moonshea Isles. The Moonshea Trilogy by Douglas Niles (Darkwalker on Moonshea, Black Wizards, and Darkwell) was the one of the first series written in the Forgotten Realms. Longtime realms readers will recognize names and places from the previous series but will see that some things do not stand the test of time.
Ms. Claiborne gave a unique voice to the realms with The Rose of Sarifal. It was dark and gritty, and fans of Joe Abercrombie will like this book, with bloody battles, torture, but at the same time some very heart warming and touching scenes. The characters are not necessarily dark and flawed; many are simple on hard times and looking to make a better way for themselves.
The driving force behind the group is Lukas, the captain of the Sphinx. All look to him as their leader and follow him (for the most part) without question. There are a mix of races in the group; human, gnome, elven, shape-shifter, and genasi. One of the things I like most about this diverse mix was the way they were portrayed. Their different ideologies and mannerisms were well written into the story. I especially liked how the genasi was portrayed in an almost alien fashion. Another unique aspect to the book was how the leShay and the gods were treated. The leShay are so long lived that one cannot begin to understand their actions and Ms. Claiborne works this well into the storyline. A few times I was left scratching my head as to why one of the leShay acted in a certain manner, but after looking back through the book it made sense. Again it added to the alien feel of the race. The godss Chauntea and Araushnee were portrayed in a much different manner than I have seen in the past. This was one parts of the book that did not make sense to me, but I think when taken in a Greek context, one could see that the gods are capricious and their ways are not to be understood by mortals. Again, this was one of the parts of the story that did not work for me. I would have liked to see their goals explained a little more clearly.
The group is separated early in the book and from there we get to know the characters better. We discover more of their backstory and how they came to be aboard the Sphinx. I especially liked the parts dealing with the Savage, the elf. Long time readers of the Forgotten Realms will notice some pre-Spellplague references. There are some excellent characterization and dialogue in these sections and which are some of the crowning achievements of the book.
Ms Claiborne's prose is magnificent and her descriptions were quite vivid. Here is one of my favorite examples, "The drow were beautiful, elves of the black night, eladrin of the shadows."
I was not pleased with the ending, it did not feel rushed so much as incomplete. It was abrupt and gave no sense of closure. I wonder if there was more of the story to tell but due to space constraints had to be left on the cutting room floor.
I enjoyed this book but I do not recommend it for readers new to the Forgotten Realms. There is quite a bit of history (Moonshea geography, past royalty, and deities) referenced throughout the book that, in my opinion, are critical to the story. Readers more familiar with the Forgotten Realms may enjoy the book more. If you are looking for a different kind of Realms book, give this one a try.