(expanded from a briefer review on Candlekeep and Goodreads)
I liked this book a lot. It's a nice diversion from the many fantasy stories that fill their pages with powerful wizards, mighty dragons, and sexy sword-women. OK, there is a wizard, a dragon,a and woman in this book as well, but they are a lot more down to earth. Several feet under even, in some scenes.
It is why I liked the characters in this book: they are capable but not overpowering. Ok, so I am unsure how powerful you need to be to animate stone... Gustin didn't seem very powerful, but letting a statue walks doesn't sound trivial. Still, he doesn't throw fireballs around a lot - something I am sure most people in his environment appreciate.
I also liked Sophrea. I don't often connect to the main character, but she does it for me.
I do think she should have gone and become a seamstress* at the end of the book though. It would have been a bit more unexpected (and there is nothing wrong with being a seamstress). Note that Sophraea made it in my top list of 'Ada's in D&D
One thing bothered me in this book though, and that is the way the Blackstaff (and in fact, every person in Waterdeep with any interest in preventing undead armies marching the street, like the guards, or the bad guy's cronies) was presented.
I mean, nobody thought about following the hordes of undead when they walked about for most of a tenday? There are 100+ wizards and no-one bothered to get down to where these undead came from by following them? It is not like they are easy to miss. Even if all divination spells fail, you have mundane ways to track. And the Blackstaff not knowing about the Dead End gate sounds rather far fetched.
My theory would be that the Blackstaff knew what was going on and simply deemed it not worth the trouble to interfere. (As the author commented on my original post at Candlekeep, the good lady is likely a bit preoccupied to worry about a few undead). Still, one would think someone of power would have been interested. And the Carvers dutifully fixing the gate every day and not bothering to put someone on guard at night, even after the gate is torn down several nights in a row, seems rather gullible. I would have put someone on watch after the first time someone opened the gate, just in case.
I also was a bit disappointed that the ugly, oily, fat guy was the bad guy. It would be nice to have an adventure where it is the other way around. I want an ugly, oily, fat guy to be the hero in a future book, please. (Rosemary wrote she'd consider it, so there is hope.)
Otherwise, the side characters are colorful and pleasant to read about. I can actually picture lord Adarbrent and Leaplow Carver, two great characters that well fulfill the roles that Sophrea can't - one an elder distinguished nobleman, the other an impulsive brawler.
Leaplow also appeared in a short story in Realms of the Dead, and in the Living Forgotten Realms adventure WATE2-01 Gilding a Noble. When playing that adventure, my PC, Samahara Creel, dated Leaplow (they got on well) - so I may be biased in favor of the character.
Like the main characters, the graveyard is pictured quite different from what we are used to in main-stain books and film.
The City of the Dead is a pleasant place - during the day, at least, a quite place to wander around, with a chance of conversing with the shrubbery. At night the place goes more grim, and the tale turns a bit darker. Up till then, the City of the Dead seems a place you would actually like to visit - if you can forget its more macabre purpose.
Overall Book Rating:
*) the needle-and-thread kind, in this particular case