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The Legend of Drizzt Series by R.A. Salvatore (the fast food of fantasy)

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This thread made me pick up the latest Drizzt trilogy. It was decent. Sort of how I remembered RAS books. Felt a bit like maybe the last Drizzt books he would write. But maybe not. 

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The Icewind Dale Trilogy Book 2: Streams of Silver

Having successfully saved Icewind Dale from the invading army of the sorcerer Akar Kessell - albeit at a high cost - Bruenor Battlehammer, Drizzt Do'Urden, Wulfgar and Regis embark on a new quest. This time their goal is Mithril Hall, the long-lost homeland of Bruenor. Unfortunately, Bruenor was only a child when the hall fell and has no memory of its location. The companions set out for the cities of Luskan and Silverymoon, hoping they will find clues to the Hall's whereabouts. But danger stalks the party, for the assassin Artemis Entreri is on their tail, seeking the halfling Regis, whilst the mages of Luskan are anxious for news of the Crystal Shard and are determined to recover it.

Streams of Silver (1989) is the middle volume of the Icewind Dale Trilogy but mercifully escapes "middle book syndrome" by virtue of Salvatore not planning a trilogy in the first place. The Crystal Shard had to stand well enough alone so that if it bombed, readers would not be left on too much of a cliffhanger for a sequel that would never come. Fortunately, the book did very well and two sequels were commissioned, which are more tightly connected together (the "standalone+duology" school of trilogies, which has an honourable precedent in the original Star Wars trilogy).

Streams of Silver is a less tightly-plotted book than The Crystal Shard and less epic in terms of having large armies clashing, but it's much more of a traditional Dungeons & Dragons adventure. We have our party, who even now get a cool name (The Companions of the Hall™) and they have a quest which takes them across the Savage North of the Forgotten Realms. Many, many later books would also focus on this region but it's interesting to see it in a nascent state here with a lot of the worldbuilding still in a fairly embryonic stage, to the point where Salvatore overlooks the existence of the later very high-profile city of Neverwinter, which is amusing, and Alustriel Silverhand, one of the infamous Seven Sisters, only has two sisters at this juncture. We get a nicely varied story as well, taking in political-magical intrigue in the city of Luskan, a semi-comic interlude in the whimsical wizard hamlet of Longsaddle, a more desperate long-running battle across the troll-infested Evermoors, an angsty stay in the city of Silverymoon (a bastion of peace and enlightenment where Drizzt hopes for respite, only to be turned away because of his dark elven heritage) and a final descent into Mithril Hall, presumably thoroughly checked by TSR's legal team to stave off the J.R.R. Tolkien Estate suing them into the next universe.

An interesting parallel storyline emerges where the assassin Artemis Entreri is hot on our heroes' trail and assembles an "evil party" to bring parity to their encounter, complete with its own wizard, tracker, magical construct and a reluctant guide in the form of Catti-brie, Bruenor's adopted daughter now turned hostage. Given that Catti-brie was barely even in the first book, it's good to see her have some character development in this volume.

There's a lot more female characters in general, including several among the villains, which remedies one of the oddities of the first book. There's a fair bit of action, although not quite as breathlessly over-the-top as in the first book (sadly Drizzt and Wulfgar don't get to take out two dozen giants single-handed, which was stretching credibility just a bit), and Salvatore's writing calms down. No more excited exclamation marks after every other sentence! His prose can still veer towards the cheesy (especially whenever he decides Drizzt needs to be introspective and ponder on the unfairness of the world), but it's easily accessible and straightforward. There's still more enthusiasm than skill here, but it's surprising how much fun that can be.

The novel is very much still in the "Big Mac with extra fries" mode of fantasy literature, but it does make some clumsy nods towards engaging with a big theme when it comes to racism. Drizzt is a dark elf or drow, whose people were cursed and outcast from the rest of elven civilisation ten thousand years ago after betraying the other elven peoples during the Crown Wars. As a result, Drizzt encounters extreme hostility from pretty much everyone he meets. Later Forgotten Realms fiction would cast this event as a grand tragedy, with many tens of thousands of innocent and "good" dark elves punished for the crimes of their evil brethren, with many drow fighting for redemption under the banner of the goddess Eilistraee. At this early stage in the setting's history, though, the worldbuilding is more that all the drow are evil all the time (apart from a small number who are merely totally amoral instead), and Drizzt is the only exception in the whole world. On that basis it's hard to make Drizzt's story about racism work when virtually all the other drow we meet are inherently evil (shades of Dragon Age trying to make a story about bigotry against its mages because the run the risk of being overwhelmed by evil forces, despite the fact that almost every single mage we meet does go insane and get possessed by a demon at one point or another). Later books, which introduce more nuance to the setting, do deal with the issue more successfully.

Streams of Silver (***½) is a reasonable follow-up to The Crystal Shard. Salvatore has improved as a writer, although this is still very much at the enjoyable pulp end of the literary spectrum, and makes a couple of nods at larger themes around racism, homelands and belonging in this book, which are not altogether successful. He does deliver a readable, action-packed story which moves with verve through an interesting setting. With the success of this novel a bit more assured, there's a cliffhanger ending leading into the concluding book in the trilogy, The Halfling's Gem.

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I agree that although Salvatore is definitely well-intentioned with the anti-racism themes and there are times when it is effective it's based on problematic foundations when it has a race who are 99% evil and can be identified by the colour of their skin. Perhaps that's the fault of the setting as a whole rather than anything Salvatore did, but it's still a problem for the books.

The book is also hardly the first fantasy to borrow heavily from Tolkien but calling the lost dwarven kingdom Mithril Hall did seem particularly blatant.

I do remember it being a fun book which does a decent job of expanding the scope of the setting and the plot.

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57 minutes ago, williamjm said:

I agree that although Salvatore is definitely well-intentioned with the anti-racism themes and there are times when it is effective it's based on problematic foundations when it has a race who are 99% evil and can be identified by the colour of their skin. Perhaps that's the fault of the setting as a whole rather than anything Salvatore did, but it's still a problem for the books.

The book is also hardly the first fantasy to borrow heavily from Tolkien but calling the lost dwarven kingdom Mithril Hall did seem particularly blatant.

I do remember it being a fun book which does a decent job of expanding the scope of the setting and the plot.

I remember this is partially why TSR made the followers of Elistraea (sp?) which infuriated Salvatore because they kind of undermined his books' entire premise.

OTOH, Bob was always very clear that the problem with Drow society was the horrific system they were forced into it and that the majority of Drow were victims of it.

Edited by C.T. Phipps

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It is dubious, when the "racism" is obviously justified because Drow are usually ruthless killers and extremely dangerous and also strange biology, because the Drow and most denizens of the underdark should be deadly pale, not dark-skinned (but whitehaired?)

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On 9/13/2020 at 11:35 PM, williamjm said:

I agree that although Salvatore is definitely well-intentioned with the anti-racism themes and there are times when it is effective it's based on problematic foundations when it has a race who are 99% evil and can be identified by the colour of their skin. Perhaps that's the fault of the setting as a whole rather than anything Salvatore did, but it's still a problem for the books.

No, that's very much the choice of Salvatore. Greenwood had a ton of notes on drow in the Realms and among those notes was this whole stuff about 25% of the drow race being made up of "good" followers of Eiliastraee, with entire drow cities dedicated to her worship, but for whatever reason that didn't really come out (Greenwood was very happy for people to call him and ask him for information etc but I gather that wasn't always clear). As the novels came out, Greenwood had to rewrite the lore and push all the "good" drow cities much further away from the North. Eventually they worked it out, but it did have some issues early on.

Quote

It is dubious, when the "racism" is obviously justified because Drow are usually ruthless killers and extremely dangerous and also strange biology, because the Drow and most denizens of the underdark should be deadly pale, not dark-skinned (but whitehaired?)

That's explained in the backstory. The dark elves were an ethnic group mostly based in Ilythiir on the far south coast of Faerun, along the Great Sea, not far north of the equator. They were originally called "jungle elves" and were dark-skinned. They established a colony at Miyeritar much further north, which the gold elves of Aryvandaar completely obliterated during Crown Wars, killing tens of thousands of innocents. This caused the Ilythiiri to lose their shit and wage war against Aryvandaar and its allies. That allowed Lloth to start corrupting the Ilythiir by offering them magical power and resources to use against the Aryvandaari (who otherwise had the edge in numbers and magical support). When the Ilythiiri became corrupt enough, they were outcast and exiled, forced to flee into the Underdark.

There's a huge amount of hypocrisy in the elves of the setting, even the gods, and this gets called out in some later books. In particular, the entire dark elf race being cursed was seen as hypocritical when the gold elves were not, because although Aryvandaar had become corrupt and brutal, there were dozens of gold elf kingdoms that were not, many of which waged war against Aryvandaar. So the elven gods tarred all the dark elves with the same brush, but not the gold elves. So the dark elves are still dark-skinned because their ancestors came from equatorial regions, and there hasn't been enough time (only ~12-15 elven generations) since the Descent for their features to change. The white hair, though, I think is a mark of the curse.

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Actually I *believe* the dark elves weredark as in brown-skinned, and it Correllon (sp)’s curse thst made their skin actually black and their hair white. 
Not sure if retconned or not

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13 hours ago, Derfel Cadarn said:

Actually I *believe* the dark elves weredark as in brown-skinned, and it Correllon (sp)’s curse thst made their skin actually black and their hair white. 
Not sure if retconned or not

Ah, that might be the case. When they were pinning that stuff down (ten years or so after the Drizzt books started) they realised the drow were problematic started emphasising the fact they weren't all evil and they weren't "dark" in the manner of any real-world ethnicity.

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On 8/21/2020 at 8:15 AM, Werthead said:

Just wrapped up the first one.  Certainly readable still as an adult, and during these crazy times, its kinda nice to have some fun fantasy that doesnt require much introspection.  There is some nostalgia in the simple tell me vs show me style of describing characters "cunning halfling" "smelly troll" "wise councilman" etc, that calls back to simpler (aka younger) days.   Do the Weiss and Hickman DL novels hold up at all past the teenage years?  I do wish that they would offer up these sets on kindle as a bundle though, the supposed 11 1/2 hours of reading that my kindle suggested was probably closer to 2.  Yet, at the end of the day, its a pretty minuscule cost for entertainment.

Edited by horangi
typo

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9 hours ago, horangi said:

Just wrapped up the first one.  Certainly readable still as an adult, and during these crazy times, its kinda nice to have some fun fantasy that doesnt require much introspection.  There is some nostalgia in the simple tell me vs show me style of describing characters "cunning halfling" "smelly troll" "wise councilman" etc, that calls back to simpler (aka younger) days.   Do the Weiss and Hickman DL novels hold up at all past the teenage years?  I do wish that they would offer up these sets on kindle as a bundle though, the supposed 11 1/2 hours of reading that my kindle suggested was probably closer to 2.  Yet, at the end of the day, its a pretty minuscule cost for entertainment.

I think Salvatore has held up better than at least the early Weis & Hickman, which I reread last year and were very, very basic.

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Weiss and hickman use this strange narrative device of "here's a paragraph describing events we could've made a while 'nother book outta."

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IIRC The first Dragonlance (autumn twilight?) reads almost like an RPG script, the "twins" trilogy is far better. Although I have not re-read these in ages and don't intend to. Stay away from prequels, sidequels etc.

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5 hours ago, Lightsnake said:

Weiss and hickman use this strange narrative device of "here's a paragraph describing events we could've made a while 'nother book outta."

That's because they did. The quest to recover the Hammer of Kharas (between Autumn Twilight and Winter Night) was in the original adventure modules but they didn't have time to cover it in the novels. The same with Kitiara's alliance with Lord Soth and Raistilin's solo adventure to take down Fistandantilus. Those three side-quests were fleshed out into full novels later on (Dragons of the Dwarven DepthsDragons of the Highlord Skies and Dragons of the Hourglass Mage)

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Read these novels back when I was in my teens, and consuming a lot of D&D novels.  I actually read Homeland and its sequels first, so remember the first Crystal Shard book being a little jarring.  

I haven't touched the D&D books in, well, decades, but have very fond memories.  

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On 9/16/2020 at 6:29 AM, Werthead said:

I think Salvatore has held up better than at least the early Weis & Hickman, which I reread last year and were very, very basic.

Oh the first one absolutely.  The second and third were stronger, if still based off the modules.  They were very up front that the first book came out of the game sessions while working on the overall system...

The Twins trilogy still holds up well, I think. Re-read it again at the start of the year and it's still enjoyable.  

 

On 9/17/2020 at 7:15 AM, Werthead said:

That's because they did. The quest to recover the Hammer of Kharas (between Autumn Twilight and Winter Night) was in the original adventure modules but they didn't have time to cover it in the novels. The same with Kitiara's alliance with Lord Soth and Raistilin's solo adventure to take down Fistandantilus. Those three side-quests were fleshed out into full novels later on (Dragons of the Dwarven DepthsDragons of the Highlord Skies and Dragons of the Hourglass Mage)

Man, when I was a teen reading the original trilogu, I wanted to be the one to write those missing chapters...of course, it was only later I realized they just skipped over using those specific modules in the narrative structure.  But I was smugly pleased that I had identified the correct missing pieces when that side quest triology came out.  It was stretching thin some parts of the overall tale to make sure it fit, but it was fun.  

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The Icewind Dale Trilogy Book 3: The Halfling's Gem by R.A. Salvatore

The Companions of the Hall have successfully located Mithril Hall, the ancestral home of Bruenor Battlehammer and his clansmen. Unfortunately, the quest was completed only at great cost: Bruenor was lost in combat with the shadow dragon Shimmergloom and the halfling Regis was captured by the assassin Artemis Entreri. Entreri is now taking his prisoner back to the great southern metropolis of Calimport, leaving Drizzt Do'Urden and Wulfgar with no choice but to pursue them, whilst Catti-brie organises the armies coming together to retake Mithril Hall. The pursuit is long and dangerous, and Drizzt must decide whether the recovery of his friend is true motivation, or the knowledge that Entreri is the first warrior to have ever matched him blade to blade, and how eagerly he seeks a rematch.

The Halfling's Gem (1990) wraps up R.A. Salvatore's first fantasy series, The Icewind Dale Trilogy. The Crystal Shard had introduced the world to the dark elven ranger Drizzt Do'Urden and his companions and Streams of Silver had given them an epic, Tolkienesque quest to undertake. This concluding book sees them divided and hot on the heels of one of their kidnapped fellows, a scenario ripe for pulp fantasy adventure, and that's what we get. Drizzt and company visit the grand cities of Waterdeep, Baldur's Gate, Memnon and Calimport; engage in all manner of hijinks on the high seas; and are then pitched into battle with a shadowy thieves' guild and its allies, a mixture of wizards, giants and wererats. It's mostly splendid fun.

By this third book, Salvatore has become a reasonable writer of straightforward action adventure and delivers an entertaining book in that mode. It does feel like he has larger aspirations to write an engaging travelogue of the Sword Coast (the west coast of the main Forgotten Realms continent of Faerun and the focus for many of the works in the setting), and in that respect falters; 320 pages isn't really enough time to do that and  both Waterdeep and Baldur's Gate get decidedly short shrift in this book. Calimport is more fully fleshed out, but it's questionable to what extent Salvatore consulted the source material: the city's distinction of being divided into many dozen drudachs or subdistricts, each walled off from its neighbours, is not mentioned at all. As a result the unique character and flavour of Calimport is lost (Salvatore is also smarter than to rely on Arabian stereotypes for the city or Calimshan as a whole, although one hapless Memnon merchant does start leaning in that direction).

Characterisation remains reasonable and Salvatore explores some interesting ideas, such as Drizzt using a magical mask to pass as a surface elf and avoid the racist appraisals of his character stemming from his skin colour alone, and facing a crisis of identity as a result. Drizzt also has to face his motives for dealing with Entreri, and whether these stem from a desire for revenge, a desire for a rematch with a worthy foe or a genuine desire to save his friend Regis. Wulfgar also gets a fish-out-of-water storyline as he finds himself trying to survive in civilised surrounds for prolonged periods for the first time, and we meet a few more characters who will become important in future volumes of the wider Legend of Drizzt series, such as Captain Deudermont and the crew of the Sea Sprite.

On the minus side, there isn't much. This very much remains an action-focused, fast food meal of a fantasy novel and is enjoyable on that level, but those looking for a deeper, richer experience best look elsewhere.

Otherwise, The Halfling's Gem (***½) wraps up this trilogy reasonably well. From this book readers can go back to experience Drizzt's backstory in The Dark Elf Trilogy or press on to find out what happens to the Companions of the Hall and Mithril Hall next in the Legacy of the Drow Quartet (I'd strongly recommend the former). The book is available now in the UK and USA.

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On 9/14/2020 at 4:10 AM, Jo498 said:

It is dubious, when the "racism" is obviously justified because Drow are usually ruthless killers and extremely dangerous and also strange biology, because the Drow and most denizens of the underdark should be deadly pale, not dark-skinned (but whitehaired?)

I admit, I just make my Drow purple when dealing with the Underdark kind.

Why?

Underdark radiation.

Edited by C.T. Phipps

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