Legend of Drizzt

The Lone Drow, by R. A. Salvatore

lonedrow I am weak, perhaps, or I am a fool.  Whichever the case, I am not yet ready to stop this war I wage; I am not yet ready to abandon the warmth of the spilled orc blood.  These beasts have brought this pain upon me, and I will repay them a thousand thousand times over, until my scimitars slip from my weakened grasp and I fall dying to the stone.
-Drizzt Do’Urden

In The Lone Drow, the longtime readers of the adventures of Drizzt Do’Urden see why this series is called “The Hunter’s Blades”.

Way back, in the Dark Elf trilogy (which I believe is being reprinted at this writing), when Drizzt left his homeland, he submerged all of his more noble instincts to the more primitive ones, where one had to fight or die-or to be more accurate, to kill or die, all by instinct.  It was the only way to survive outside of Menzoberranzan.  In time, though, he was able to come out of such a state, and learn to truly live again.  He’s always been an extremely dangerous fighter; but acting as the Hunter, he’d even make the assassin Artemis Entreri wet his pants (hm, now that’s a really disturbing image…).  But that was a long time ago.  He found a cause worth fighting for, and friends worth dying for.  Unfortunately for Drizzt, at the end of the last book, it appears to him that he would never get the chance to die for them-for they are all dead (or so he believes).  Now, he is The Lone Drow, and the only thing he lives for is to kill the orcs that took his friends away from him.

This offering of the trilogy has a number of different tracks to follow, some of which converge, and some that do not.  Obviously, the big draw is Drizzt’s plot; not only is he dealing with the death of his friends, but he’s also having a little crisis as he realizes that he will (barring his own death by the sword) outlive almost everyone he would care for.  He’s able to put these questions aside for the most part, mainly because of his methodical goals of killing as many orcs as possible-perhaps even get to Obould.  At the same time, his friends are out to defend Mithral Hall-well, most of them; Bruenor is mortally wounded, leaving…well, let’s just say it shouldn’t be any surprise to longtime readers who is named Steward to lead the dwarves in this dark moment.

But there’s a lot more here.  Drizzt is shadowed by a pair of elves from the Moonwood, who want to warn him about one of their own who wants him dead-not realizing that she has already faced the dark elf (and didn’t come out of it).  The Bouldershoulder brothers are still here, helping along with the dwarves from Mirabar.  Speaking of Mirabar, the sceptrana Shoudra Stargleam and her gnome aide, Nanfoodle, are also on hand, under orders from the mad Marchion to ruin the ore of Mithral Hall-yet Nanfoodle is affected by the courage and honor these dwarves demonstrate (and believe me, Nanfoodle offers one of the most fun moments of this book-I wish I could even hint at it, but it’s just too good to spoil).  I can’t neglect the continued presence of the quartet of dark elves; I especially liked a theory from Kaer’lic concerning Drizzt and how he manages to avoid getting killed by servants of Lolth-and it even makes sense, in a twisted way.

Salvatore does his usual job of portraying massive warfare from the point of view of the main characters; while there are huge amounts of orcs (along with giants and others) that assail the forces of Mithral Hall, we primarily see only portions of this, as seen by Wulfgar and Cattie-Brie, and by Drizzt.  Even though small groups aren’t much of a threat to these heroes, the fact is that the orcs can afford to lose a few dozen-and our heroes can’t even afford to lose one.  And one cannot overestimate the danger Obould represents-for in the beginning of the book, he gains the blessings of the orc god as well.  All through the book, it’s apparent that Obould is something special…well, as far as orcs go.

As usual, the star of the show is Drizzt; the character is going through a substantial crisis.  He’s still not as lost to the Hunter as in the past, however-a legacy, perhaps, of his time with Bruenor and the rest, and he does get some help as the book progresses.  All of the Companions of the Hall get substantial face time (well, mostly; Bruenor isn’t exactly in the best of shape); Regis trying hard to be a good Steward in Bruenor’s absence, and having to make some really tough choices; and Cattie and Wulfgar have a meaningful discussion on the merits of loving a dark elf (and I want to especially mention how impressed I was with how Wulfgar is portrayed here; being married himself now has certainly done wonders with him) while trying to cope with an invasion of orcs at the same time as facing a future without the dwarf who effectively raised them both.  It’s these character moments that really made this book stand out, even beyond the efforts of the dwarves to fend off what is increasingly looking like a doomed struggle.  The Lone Drow should satisfy Salvatore fans-but it will also whet the appetite for the final book in the trilogy.

Categories: Forgotten Realms, Legend of Drizzt, The Hunter's Blades | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The Thousand Orcs, by R. A. Salvatore

There are times when I so wish that things could be different, that tidy and acceptable endings could find every tale.
-Drizzt Do’Urden

Orcs get no respect.

It’s true.  While the Lord of the Rings movies may reverse that trend a bit, the fact is that ever since Tolkien, orcs have done the grunt work.  More than your average city guardsman, these guys are the cannon fodder; they exist for the sole purpose for heroes to carve through them like a hot knife through butter.  They rate slightly higher than goblins.  But King Obould Many-Arrows is looking to change that perception, at least in an indirect manner.  He’s an orc, and he’s got a desire to take back a former citadel of his, before a batch of dwarves came along and took it while he was busy with a rival band of orcs.  However, his ambitions are destined to put him along with his army against the most famous heroes of the North.  But why should he worry?  He’s got The Thousand Orcs.

The first thing to understand is:  if you’re looking to see Drizzt Do’Urden, famous drow ranger of the Forgotten Realms in a steel cage match against a thousand orcs, forget it.  In spite of what the inside cover and back cover say, this is not a solo Drizzt book.  Besides, if a scene like the one on the cover ever actually happened, our hero would be in serious trouble.  Plus, I figure he’d avoid direct confrontation, staying in shadows…!

Enough of that.  Time for the basics.  As of the close of the last book Salvatore wrote, Sea of Swords, Bruenor Battlehammer had gotten word that the King of Mithral Hall had finally died-which meant it was time for him to once again resume the throne (long story).  But Bruenor has it in his mind to have one last great adventure, rivaling the finding of Mithral Hall in the first place-an ancient stronghold known to the dwarves as Gauntlygrym.  Another motive to find it is the fact that the city of Mirabar is also looking for it, mostly because their mining business has been hurt by the work of the Mithral Hall dwarves.  In the process, however, they find themselves sidetracked by evidence of orc raids, aided by significantly larger allies.  And behind them in the shadows, a quartet of drow elves who are (amazingly) not interested in ruling the surface or hunting down Drizzt, but are instead rogues from their assorted cities.

Salvatore’s books over the last couple of years have been fairly solid stand-alones.  In other words, they weren’t so much a series in that sense of the word as much as they were about single stories.  While it was certainly helpful to have read previous books, it wasn’t highly required.  Well, with The Thousand Orcs, we’re beginning a trilogy; the first book means this is as good as it gets as far as backstory-the next two will probably not be as kind.  Salvatore’s going for more of an epic feel off of this trilogy, though, and the titles of the rest of the trilogy should give a foreboding feeling as to the tone those books will take.

Yet this one starts in a hopeful manner-for the first time in a long, long time, the Companions of the Hall are together again, adventuring together again.  Wulfgar, Cattie-brie, Regis-they’re all here.  And each of them have a fair amount of time giving the reader insight into their current characters-mostly during scenes in which it makes sense.  There’s a number of interesting subplots going on in the background too.  Even setting aside Obould’s plans and the drow rogues, there’s intrigue going on in Mirabar, where its ruler has crossed the line from being a rival to the dwarves of Mithral Hall to an outright enemy; this move has a chilling effect among some very important dwarves in Mirabar, threatening its peace.  Speaking of dwarves, a pair of dwarves known to readers of some of Salvatore’s earlier works are making their way to Mithral Hall themselves (and if you understand the significance of “doo-dad”, then you know who I mean!).  Salvatore also manages to work in some contemplations on the relationship between Cattie-brie and Drizzt, recognizing some very significant obstacles to it, as well as a greater appreciation for the nature of mortality.

The Thousand Orcs is a fairly action packed story, which I’ve come to expect from Salvatore; it keeps the reader turning pages until the rather chilling epilogue (which is all you’re getting from me until the next book is released).  It represents a turning point in the lives of the major characters, and foreshadows a danger to the entirety of the Spine of the World.  So don’t think of orcs as cannon fodder; think of them as the biggest danger Drizzt Do’Urden and his friends have ever faced.  Really.

Categories: Forgotten Realms, Legend of Drizzt, The Hunter's Blades | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Sea of Swords, by R. A. Salvatore

Like old times?
We didn’t win many of the fights in the old times.
-A conversation between Morik the Rogue and Wulfgar

It’s been a few books, but R. A. Salvatore has returned to his most well-known character.  Sea of Swords is the fourth book in the “Paths of Darkness” series, the other books being The Silent Blade, The Spine of the World, and Servant of the Shard.  Although the book centers strongly on the dark elf Drizzt Do’Urden, it is as much a story about the barbarian Wulfgar as it is Drizzt.

The book opens in Icewind Dale, where Drizzt, Cattie-Brie, Bruenor and Regis have once more settled.  Settled, however, doesn’t mean they’ve retired-in the process of dealing with bandits, they discover that their leader has a rather odd brand-one that matches a unique symbol inscribed on the magical war hammer known as Aegis-fang.  The companions decide to find out just how the hammer ended up in bandit hands, and at the same time, discover the fate of the man who had owned it.

That man-Wulfgar-is also looking for his hammer.  Having lost it a some time ago (to put it kindly), he’s joined Captain Deudermont on the high seas to find the pirate queen who has it-a woman by the name of Sheila Kree.  However, Wulfgar’s also having a bit of a moral crisis; unlike his previous problems, attempting to recover from the torture of the demon lord Errtu, he’s now having a problem determining just who he is-a barbarian warrior, or devoted husband and father.  That makes him a little dangerous to have around, according the ship’s mage.

Even as all this is going on, though, an elf named Le’lorinel is hunting for a hated enemy-an enemy named Drizzt!

All three trails are destined to come together….

For a long time, I was rather put off by Salvatore.  I enjoyed his books, but I found that the way he “killed” Wulfgar way back in The Legacy to be rather offensive-it was obvious to me he was trying to clear the way for a romance between Drizzt and Cattie-Brie, who at the time was going to be marrying Wulfgar.  I thought Salvatore was taking the easy way out.  I was gratified to see the barbarian return, though, which I felt righted that wrong.  What Salvatore did with Wulfgar afterwards made perfect sense-a strong warrior being tortured for years physically and mentally wouldn’t return to normal life without scars-and those scars made up most of the first two books in the “Paths of Darkness” books.  Now I’m really happy to see that he’s making more profound changes in this book.

As for Drizzt, it seems that some of the darkness of previous books has begun to lift; the inside cover of this book, which has one of the popular “Drizzt journal entries”, made it clear to me that the character is beginning to enjoy life again, fighting the good fight.  For those who enjoy his staunch morality, take note that there are some things that have not changed one bit!

One of the things that kept me intrigued throughout the book was the reasons behind Le’lorinel’s hatred for Drizzt.  I’m sure some readers will hit on it almost instantly, but I was kept uncertain due to certain minor details until the very end.  As for the pirate Sheila Kree, she has an organization in place that makes it very believable that she’s eluded capture or worse for so long.  She has a number of interesting allies, from wizards to ogres.

Readers of the continuing saga of Drizzt and company will be sure to find that Sea of Swords continues his run of good books in this setting.  In many ways, it feels like things have come full circle (which is reinforced by the last few pages), and it will be interesting to see if the next Salvatore books is a new chapter of “Paths of Darkness”; especially since it seems that the darkest times have past.  (Heh.  Not likely!)

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Servant of the Shard, by R. A. Salvatore

I know not-that has apparently become the litany of my existence, Dwahvel.  I feel as if the foundation upon which I have built my beliefs and action is not a solid thing, but one as shifting as the sands of the desert.  When I was younger, I knew all the answers to all the questions.  I existed in a world of surety and certainty.  Now that I am older, now that I have seen four decades of life, the only thing I know for certain is that I know nothing for certain.
-A moment of reflection for Artemis Entreri

It’s been a long time since Salvatore wrote his first novel, The Crystal Shard, featuring a young barbarian, a grizzled dwarf and his adopted human daughter, and a dark skinned drow elf.  He brings the saga of the Shard to a close in this new offering, Servant of the Shard (although certainly not the end of Salvatore’s novels with his heroes-in fact, there is another one in the works).  Amazingly enough, it involves none of the characters that the Shard’s saga began with. In fact, the major characters are the villains of previous books!

The story opens in the Arabian-like city of Calimport, with one of the Houses of the city having been quietly taken over by the drow, the dark elves.  More specifically, it is taken over by Bregan D’aerthe, the mercenary band that operated out of the drow city of Menzoberranzan.  Its leader is an eccentric dark elf named Jarlaxle, who operates in a constant state of whimsy…which is not to be confused with “nice” humor.  Unfortunately for him, he also came into the possession of the crystal shard called Crenshinibon, an artifact of awesome power which has a habit of bending its owner’s will to its own.  In Jarlaxle, it finds itself in the hands of the most capable host it has ever encountered.

Allied with Jarlaxle, although initially unaware of the shard’s influence, is Artemis Entreri.  Readers of previous books will remember that Entreri is a cold-blooded assassin, and the fighting equal of Drizzt Do’Urden, the most popular character of Salvatore’s books.    Here, though, he finds himself over his head; the drow are far more deadly, more manipulative, and they outnumber him.  Entreri is looking for nothing more than a way to be free of the power they hold over him.  He finds it early on, but achieving that goal is substantially harder.  Entreri finds himself in the role of the manipulator as a result, with his life as stakes.

The book might be a little tricky to follow with all the backstory behind the crystal shard.  On the other hand, I found that it can probably stand fine if a reader has only read the previous two Salvatore efforts, The Silent Blade and The Spine of the World.  There are some disappointments, from my point of view…I would have liked to see a bit more insight on Entreri’s character-and make no mistake, while Jarlaxle is on the cover, this is Entreri’s book-and a bit more on the goals of the shard.  But on the other hand, there’s a lot going on in this book:  Entreri’s attempts to free himself from the tangled web of the drow, Jarlaxle’s fight against the influence of the shard, the manipulations of the drow and the assassin, and the final journey to deal with the shard once and for all.

This was not the book I anticipated when I first got word of it.  I don’t consider that a bad thing, though, as it shows that Salvatore is branching out from his signature character and on with other characters.  His last book featured the soul-weary barbarian, Wulfgar, whom he had unceremoniously disposed of for several books.  Now he’s looking at the bad guys-and it shows up as an entertaining story.  But don’t feel too much sympathy for these characters…while they show some sympathetic traits, neither Jarlaxle nor Entreri are going to win any Boy Scout awards.  In spite of that, Servant of the Shard makes for a nice read for an evening or three.

Categories: Forgotten Realms, Legend of Drizzt | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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