In preparation for R.A. Salvatore’s upcoming release, The Companions (Book one of The Sundering), I dove back into the Legend of Drizzt where I had left off a few years ago, picking up The Pirate King (Transitions II) and reading through to the end of The Ghost King (Transitions III). The Transitions Trilogy (which began with The Orc King) spells the end of an era in a legend that spans some twenty five books. It’s hard to read (on an emotional level), which is why I put down The Pirate King halfway through. But with the promise of R.A. Salvatore’s new title, I took a deep breath, grabbed a box of tissues and continued on.
If you have not read the trilogy, beware the spoilers below. I will try to make them vague, but as revealed in the opening of the first volume, R.A. Salvatore made a deliberate choice in naming these three books the Transitions Trilogy.
The Orc King opens with Drizzt wielding Cattie-brie’s bow in the defense of orcs and speaking of Bruenor as if he were long passed. I’m sure R.A. Salvatore feels a disturbance in the Weave every time someone reads through those first few pages only to drop the book to their lap and whisper: “What the…?” The reader is aware, at that point, that things have changed, dramatically, and as the prologue ends and the story begins, there is a sense of urgency, in the story and reader alike. You know you are about to find out what, how and why.
If we think back, the changes are not without prelude, even if the trilogy falls upon us without warning, volume after volume (only three!) of devastating loss and change. If I sound dramatic, it is Salvatore’s fault (and delight, I am sure). Fans have been destroyed by the loss of a single character after a single trilogy. Imagine that feeling drawn out over more than twenty novels, read over a number of years.
But I read on as King Bruenor and the Companions fight against the odds (again) to many ends. A fragile peace is achieved with the orcs and the Kingdom of Many-Arrows is established on the other side of Keeper’s Dale. Wulfgar finds peace as well, finally, after more loss than one man should reasonably bear. Cattie-brie is wounded, but survives (thank all deities) and begins to study magic. Regis continues to be Regis, steadfast and loyal, despite all his doubts.
Then, in The Pirate King, Captain Deudermont is called to fight the lich controlling the Host Tower of the Arcane that in turn controls Luskan. In essence, he is battling pirates in many guises. It’s an absolutely heart-breaking novel as Luskan is all but destroyed. At the end, the cost and consequences hardly seem worth the effort, and it is with a heavy heart that the reader contemplates the last novel, The Ghost King, knowing how much there is yet to lose.
The spellplague is wreaking havoc, unraveling Mystra’s Weave and causing magic to fail and spell casters to go mad. To complicate matters, the crystal shard (remember that?) has been touched by a thread of the collapsing weave and the seven liches who formed it are awakened. They and the dragon who destroyed the shard remember their enemies.
The Ghost King is at once the best and worst book of the entire Legend. While the Weave fails, Salvatore gathers the threads of plots that have bound the entire series together up to this point, and patiently untangles the knots. This is not a good thing! Not for the reader. I sat by helplessly as thread after thread fell away, taking beloved characters with it. I marveled at how everything could come together and fall apart in the same novel. I read the book in little more than a day and when I put it down, I cried. Messily. I wasn’t unprepared, but I was. There is magic in Faerûn and death can be simply a state of being, a prelude to something else. All the Companions have bounced back before, scarred but breathing.
Not this time.
One of the many things I have always appreciated about Salvatore’s Legend of Drizzt novels is that both the story and the Companions evolve. Though the same battle may be fought twice, the approach and the outcome are always different. Reading twenty some books about the same characters could be tiresome, but it’s not in this instance. Drizzt and his companions change throughout the years. They grow.
Moving into Transitions, you need to keep in mind the number of battles that have been fought, win or lose, and what real heroes chose to do when and if the dust settles. That is the beauty of Salvatore’s characters and stories. They exist to entertain us, yes, but they are also imbued with a sense of real being. They don’t respond to our whims and I suspect they long ago stopped listening to their author. It is their world and their journey and they will navigate it as they need to.
And, of course, Drizzt is an elf; he is long-lived. He was always going to outlive most of his companions.
There is a glimmer of hope for fans, however, and it lays in the title of the upcoming novel, the first of a new series that will cover the events of The Sundering from many points of view. R.A. Salvatore’s contribution is called The Companions and the title alone means we have not seen the last of a cast of characters we have journeyed with for many years.
Look for my review of The Companions on Wednesday!