Follow TV Tropes


Literature / Starlight and Shadows

Go To
Starlight and Shadows is a trilogy of Dungeons & Dragons novels by Elaine Cunningham, set in the Forgotten Realms setting in the year 1361 DR.

Fyodor is a Rashemi berserker who is unable to control his berserk rages. A danger to himself and others, he is sent away from his homeland on a mission to recover a powerful stolen magical artifact: the Windwalker, which might grant him the means to control his dangerous power.

Liriel Baenre is a drow who trained a wizard before becoming a priestess of Lolth. She has little interest in the savage politics of Menzoberranzan, instead longing to explore the surface world. In this, she faces an enormous obstacle: drow magic is dispelled by the sun's light, meaning she would lose all her magical strength. But then she learns of the Windwalker, which holds the potential to preserve her magic against the sun's light and make her dream of exploring the surface world come true.

Inevitably, their paths cross in their pursuit of the artifact. But they are not the only ones who desire it: there are other drow who realize the power that the Windwalker could give them, and seek to obtain it so that they might spread Lolth's dark reign to the surface. As Liriel and Fyodor proceed on their quest, they find themselves having to team up in order to battle mercenary followers of the Masked God, a powerful illithid crime lord, and a vengeful drow priestess. But the most pernicious threat of all is the corrupting influence of Lolth, who wishes to twist Liriel into her mortal champion.

The trilogy consists of Daughter of the Drow, Tangled Webs, and Windwalker.

This series includes examples of:

  • All There in the Manual: An article on provides a 3rd Edition character sheet for Liriel as she is at the end of the trilogy, giving such details as her level, classes, and Character Alignment (Neutral Good). invoked
  • Anti Anti Christ: Lolth selects Liriel as her Chosen One, who will carry the dark magic of the drow to the surface world and allow them to subjugate all other races. Liriel, however, has no desire for conquest, simply seeking to explore strange foreign lands; and once she learns of her goddess's intentions, she begins struggling to break free of Lolth's influence.
  • Back from the Dead: When Shakti escapes the Abyss, Lolth sends the soul of a deceased priestess with her to be resurrected as proof that Shakti bears Lolth's favor: Quenthel Baenre, who was previously slain by Drizzt Do'Urden in The Legend of Drizzt.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Liriel uses the Windwalker amulet to make her drow magic continue to work on the surface, instead of fading away over time, as is normal. What she doesn't realize is that it makes ALL drow magic work on the surface — not just for herself, but for other drow, as well. (see Nice Job Breaking It, Hero)
  • The Berserker: Fyodor. He has been sent away from his homeland because he is unable to control his berserker rages, posing as much danger to his allies as his enemies.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Dagmar, after being exposed as a traitor and surrounded by the warriors she betrayed, drives a dagger into her own heart before they can kill her.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Liriel is freed from Lolth's influence and able to live on the surface, but Fyodor dies.
  • Booze Flamethrower: Fyodor escapes Liriel for the first time by offering her a drink of jhuild, Rashemen firewine, and then setting it on fire when she spits it out. Since drow have sensitive eyes, Liriel is temporarily blinded by the flames.
  • Call-Back: Daughter of the Drow starts shortly after the Battle of Mithril Hall in R.A. Salvatore's Drizzt Do'Urden novel Siege of Darkness, which Menzoberranzan lost badly, destabilizing a society that already pretty much only worked at all because a major goddess wanted it to. This sets up part of the conflict in the trilogy.
  • Defector from Decadence: Liriel doesn't particularly dislike Menzoberanzan, but dislikes the extremely strict and rigid roles she's expected to fulfill by her family, and ultimately abandons the Underdark for the sake of adventuring on the surface.
  • Dragged Off to Hell: Shakti challenges Liriel to a priestess duel where they summon an avatar of Lolth, to see who truly has the goddess's favor. The avatar sides with Liriel and banishes Shakti to the Abyss. However, Liriel worries that Shakti could eventually return, as Lolth is well known for being capricious in her judgements. Indeed, impressed by the ruthless cunning Shakti uses to survive in the Abyss, and her continued loyalty to Lolth despite the goddess favoring Liriel over her, Lolth eventually praises Shakti's perseverance and sends her back home with additional power and blessings.
  • Evil Hand: When Rethnor loses his hand in combat, Shakti offers to provide him a replacement. Despite being suspicious of her sudden generosity, Rethnor eventually accepts. He quickly discovers that his new limb obeys her will, not his, and will strangle him if he disobeys her.
  • Exact Words: When Danilo's master, a powerful archmage, learns that Liriel is coming to Skullport to seek Danilo's help, he commands Danilo not to meet her at the docks. Danilo gives his solemn vow that he will not meet Lirel at the docks. The archmage, no fool, quickly notices the linguistic loophole and sends another apprentice to tail Danilo and make sure he doesn't meet Liriel anywhere else, either.
  • Gate Guardian: A major source of conflict in Tangled Webs is a magic portal; it has high potential strategic value, but is guarded by a powerful banshee which will not allow any living creature to pass through.
  • Giant Squid: The pirate ship Elfmaid is attacked by a giant squid, which Liriel and Fyodor manage to slay.
  • Humans Through Alien Eyes: Liriel is fascinated by human culture and customs. The fifth edition D&D Player's Handbook uses an excerpt from the novel in the section about how other races view humans.
  • Innocent Fanservice Girl: The drow. Liriel states that the only reason they wear clothing at all is that it is useful for armor and concealed weapons.
  • Kill It Through Its Stomach: In Tangled Webs, Fyodor is swallowed whole by a giant squid. He proceeds to cut his way out of it, killing it in the process.
  • Knife Outline: In Tangled Webs, Liriel fears that she has given Xzorsh too positive an impression of the drow, which is liable to get him killed if he ever meets any of her kin. She thus tries to frighten him off by flinging throwing knives at him, creating a close outline around him.
  • Let Me Tell You a Story: Liriel saves Fyodor's life from dangerous predators, then claims him as a slave in return. He entertains her by telling her a folk tale with the moral "old favors are soon forgotten". As soon as he's finished, he escapes from her, shouting as he does "old favors are soon forgotten!"
  • Man-Eating Plant: Kelpies, a type of seaweed which uses Charm spells to lure in prey and then drowns and consumes them. The Kraken Society has been weaponizing them by planting large numbers of them in the waters surrounding Ruathym.
  • Mayfly–December Romance: When Fyodor and Liriel begin a romantic relationship, he tells her that humans don't live very long compared to drow.
  • Meaningless Villain Victory: Throughout the trilogy, various factions of evil drow attempt to take the Windwalker from Liriel and claim its magic for their own. Shakti eventually succeeds in claiming it from Liriel, but that point its magic has been exhausted and it is worthless.
  • Missing Mom: In the prologue, after Gromph discovers Liriel's magical ability, he murders her mother so he can take custody of her.
  • Multiple Head Case: One of Liriel's friends is Zz'Pzora, a mutant Deep Dragon with two heads.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Liriel wants to use the Windwalker to carve a rune on Yggdrasil's Child that will allow her drow magic to function on the surface and endure the sunlight. Lolth seizes upon the magic of the rune and strengthens it so that all drow are able to use magic on the surface, furthering their plans for conquest.
  • Nude Nature Dance: On one of her trips to the surface, Liriel meets a group of drow followers of the goddess Eilistraee, who worship by dancing nude in the moonlight.
  • Older Than They Look: Liriel. Not only do drow age more slowly than humans, she's also small even for a drow. At the age of 39, she looks more like 12. Fyodor takes some time to get accustomed to the idea of Liriel being mature enough for a romantic relationship.
  • Out with a Bang: Female on male murder during sex is referred to as "the spider's kiss" among the drow, though in Daughter of the Drow Liriel uses it to save Fyodor's life, faking his death with a Tap on the Head when Vhaeraun cultists interrupt them.
  • Revenge Before Reason: After her obsession with getting revenge on Liriel gets her banished to the Abyss, and after watching Gorlist's obsession with revenge against Liriel likewise lead to his demise, Shakti concludes that the drow's biggest weakness is their penchant for revenge before reason. Therefore, she deliberately chooses to avert this in her final confrontation with Liriel, abandoning her chance for vengeance in order to succeed in obtaining the Windwalker.
    Shakti: This male wanted to kill you. He wanted that more than anything else. That wanting made him blind and stupid.
    Liriel: Not to mention dead.
    Shakti: That is the logical consequence of blindness and stupidity.
  • Stomach of Holding: Ssasser, a dark naga servant of Shakti, has the magical ability to swallow almost anything without harm and store it in an internal organ for later retrieval.
  • Stupid Evil: The series begins with drow society in danger of destruction due to their Stupid Evil behavior. Having recently lost a war against dwarves (see R.A. Salvatore's Legacy of the Drow Series), the drow are suffering disruption of leadership due to the death of many experienced commanders, a population shortage from the deaths of so many soldiers, a labor shortage due to the loss of many slaves, and increased danger from their Illithid neighbors who sense weakness. The drow respond to these problems by increasing murderous infighting between the few remaining experienced veterans over leadership positions, executing more of the dwindling population of slaves to remind them who's in charge, performing additional religious rites that involve sacrificing male drow who are desirable partners for reproduction, and gearing up for civil war between the houses rather than uniting against the illithids. It's so bad that Lolth, a Chaotic Evil goddess who openly encourages sadism and treachery, has to send them a divine avatar commanding them to tone it down for a while as they are in real danger of utterly destroying their entire race.
  • Succubi and Incubi: An incubus takes the form of a male drow and attempts to seduce Shakti. However, she recognizes its true nature and drives it off.
  • Talking Weapon: Sharlarra steals a sword to use as part of a disguise, and discovers to her annoyance that it is an enchanted Singing Sword which insists on singing operatic odes to her glory when drawn. This is rather counterproductive to her stealth mission, though she does get some use out of it when she learns she can instruct it to imitate the voices of others.
  • Throwing Off the Disability: Shakti is near-sighted; a significant flaw for a priestess in drow society, which values physical perfection. Eventually, she uses the clerical powers granted to her as dual traitor-priestess of Lolth and Vhaerun to cure her eyes.
  • Viking Funeral: Captain Hrolf is given one in Tangled Webs, burned along with his ship after his death.
  • Your Soul Is Mine!: Vestriss, a powerful illithid exile, traps the souls of her victims in a magic tapestry. This makes it impossible for clerics to contact her victims' ghosts, thus ensuring they truly do take their secrets to their graves, and also allows her to torture the trapped spirits for amusement.
  • Was Once a Man: Yochlol, hideous slime demons which serve as the Handmaidens of Lolth, are made from the souls of former drow priestesses. Shakti encounters one in the Abyss which still dimly recalls its former identity: Quenthel Baenre.
    Yochlol: Before you stands the glorious form to which a priestess of power and prestige might aspire!
    Shakti: You are not long dead. You still remember your life and your name.
    Yochlol: In time, all this will fade. The priestess will be forgotten. Only Lolth will remain.
  • Weakened by the Light: Drow are greatly weakened by sunlight, as it blinds them and dispels their magic. They crave the Windwalker because it could allow their magic to persist in the sun's light, eliminating this weakness and granting them a major advantage in their next war against the surface.