Now that much of the contention has passed regarding the new 4th Edition version of the Forgotten Realms, I really feel that, for those who may have stayed away from checking out the Realms ala 1479 DR, now is a great time to take a fresh look at the new setting.
I will state my personal piece - when I first heard about the shaking up of the Forgotten Realms campaign setting - the Spellplague, that the timeline was being pushed a century ahead etc., - the information was met with an anticipation induced smile. I was happy to see a sweeping-off-the-table of the many high level npc's, that was one of the factors that turned me off to FR and drew me to the fresh, young setting of Eberron. I think Antioch, along with many many others, can relate to the attempt at running Forgotten Realms games and having players constantly interjecting with things like, "That river isn't supposed to be there," or "That inn is in Neverwinter not Silverymoon." - Well, you get the point. After so many years the Realms basically became just plain overused, and overused means boring.
But why bother completely up-ending a setting that so many people have come to love for decades and just release something completely new? Love for the Forgotten Realms, that's why. Wizards of the Coast could have easily let the FR game setting fall by the wayside and into the hands of a core group of fans while still making a killing from Salvatore novels. In my opinion they didn't want to see that happen, they (and many of us) knew that Toril had many more stories to tell - a new, fresh epoch was what was needed to make that happen - even if it took an event as big as the Spellplague to usher it in.
As the novel has long been the companion to the core game, it is still, gladly, the case today. Enter the new Ed Greenwood Presents Waterdeep series, and it's first installment: Blackstaff Tower. This series is based on the 4E incarnation of what is probably the most famous, (or infamous depending who you ask) grand city in probably all of fantasy (excluding maybe Lankhmar) - Waterdeep. Each book in the series is set to explore a different section of the new Waterdeep.
I picked up Blackstaff Tower the week it came out back in September and plowed through it pretty quick, hungry to soak in all of the new sights and sounds of a city I have come to love myself over the years. While I do think it really helps to have previously read Steven E. Schend's Blackstaff before picking this one up, it's not completely necessary. But it does help. Quite a bit.
Overall the plot is pretty simple - BBEG wants to usurp the power of the Blackstaff, for reasons not altogether evil in his mind, killing the current Blackstaff of Waterdeep, Samark. (Yes, Khelben is dead) And in doing so he leaves the young, foreign, exotic lover of Samark, Vajra Safahr true heir to the Blackstaff. This is where your typical, young band of adventurers comes into play. However Schend's descriptive style of writing really brings these characters to life. You really feel as if your running through the back alleys from the city watch alongside the young upstart Renear, or trudging through the sewers with beautiful Laraelra and the mountainous barbarian Meloon.
In the end this group of friends must come together and yet also face their innermost selves in order to protect their friend Vajra, and help her obtain the Blackstaff. Once the introductions are over and the plot gets going, this book gets pretty fast paced. Throw in a more than interesting battle at the end and you've got your self a great, albeit somewhat typical at times, adventure in a new yet familiar setting.
Pick this one up if you haven't already, especially if you want a taste of the new Forgotten Realms.