The Best of the Realms: The Stories of Elaine Cunningham by Elaine Cunningham
I was cleaning and rearranging my bookshelves last night when I came across this book and several hours later (no further cleaning of bookshelves occured) I put it back on the shelf, gently read once more. Re-reading a book is like visiting an old friend, you are happy to see them again but a little sadder when they leave.
The Best of the Realms: The Stories of Elaine Cunningham is a collection of 15 short stories Ms. Cunningham has produced over the years. Three of them are published here for the first time and the others have been published in various “Realms of” anthologies and Dragon magazine. I found this to be a very enjoyable collection and highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys the Forgotten Realms series. One caveat, while these are all wonderful tales it does help if the reader is familiar with the Forgotten Realms, especially Ms. Cunningham’s works. Here is a listing of each of the stories in the anthology and a little bit about what I thought of each.
#1 – The Knights of Samalar – This story helps to give some closure to the events of the final Harpers novel “Thornhold”. This was an excellent story with an intriguing cast of characters. While “Thornhold” is one of the few books by Ms. Cunningham that I have not read, it stood well on its own.
#2 – The Bargain – This story takes place following the events in “Elfshadow”. Danilo Thann and Arilyn Moonblade are great characters because they both have such intriguing histories. I enjoy Danilo’s and Arilyn’s banter, it makes for a very enjoyable read.
#3 – Elminster’s Jest – While this is not a short story, but a ballad, it is still very entertaining. It kept me giggling for quite some time.
#4 – The More Things Change – This story gives a little history on my favorite of Ms. Cunningham’s characters, the moon elf, Elaith Craulnober. It goes back and gives the reader a little insight into how Elaith came to be who he is today, think “Batman Begins” in a very condensed form.
#5 – The Direct Approach – This story centers around Lirel, the drow from the “Starlight and Shadows” series. I am not as familiar with this series as I am the rest of Ms. Cunningham’s work but it was entertaining none the less and I really enjoyed the ending. Word to the wise, never under estimate a scantily clad barbarian with a really big sword.
#6 – Secrets of the Blood, Spirits of the Sea – I have always enjoyed “origin” tale and this one gives the origin of the sahuagin. I found myself really caught up in the story and thought the ending, while sad, was fantastic.
#7 – The Great Hunt – This is another story featuring Elaith and Arilyn. This time Danilo is absent and you get to witness the interaction between Arilyn and Elaith. On the surface they seem polar opposites but they have more in common than they care to admit.
#8 – Speaking with the Dead – This is another entertaining story involving Danilo, Arilyn, and Elaith. This time Danilo comes to Elaith’s rescue. I enjoyed the scene where you get to see a little of Elaith’s persona behind the cool facade.
#9 – Stolen Dreams – This the same story as “Speaking with the Dead”, but from another characters point of view. You get some interesting back story on some the nobles of Tethyr.
#10 – Fire is Fire – This was the darkest story in the anthology. I love first person narration and from what I have heard it can be difficult to pull off, but Ms. Cunningham does a stellar job. The story is told from the point of view of two combatants in the siege of WaterDeep (for those of who have not read The City of Splendors, I highly recommend it) that are battling each other. The ending left me speechless for a few moments. Tales of war are not as glorious as they might seem.
#11 – Possessions – Ms. Cunningham penned this as her first and only ghost story to date. It is certainly dark and rather depressing. I enjoy stories where the ghost doesn’t realize he or she is a ghost until later. This is also a story of actions and their consequences with a nice spell battle to boot!
#12 – A Little Knowledge – What would you do if you knew the potential outcomes to every situation? These characters are from the counselors and Kings series. Again, I am not as familiar with these characters as I am with others but that did not detract from the story whatsoever.
#13 – Games of Chance – This story features Elaith again. Aside from “The More Things Change”, this is my second favorite Elaith tale. You get a little taste of the rage that Elaith keeps chained away inside him. He releases a little in this story with deadly effect.
#14 – Tribute – This story takes place long before WaterDeep was established. It was a great story with the “maiden dragon sacrifice” theme but with a twist. Scenes from the movie “DragonSlayer” came to mind while I was reading this story.
#15 – Answered Prayers – This is another story featuring Lirel and her companions. I enjoy stories where characters grow. I am definitely going to finish the Starlight and Shadows trilogy get more back story on these characters.
My favorite story is “The More Things Change” thus it has been the most re-read one in the book. I love the insight we get into Elaith and there is one line in this story that has stuck with me all these years, and as a parent I find them particularly poignant, “Teach her the rules, and then tell her to question them.” Elaith’s emotion is palpable as he utters these words.
Unfortunately this book is out of print but I hope that it will soon be revived in ebook format. If you can find a copy in the mean time, I highly recommend reading it.