Review: Night of the Hunter: Companions Codex, #1

Night of the HunterNight of the Hunter is the first book of the ‘Companions Codex’ and book twenty-five in the legend of one of the most enduring heroes of the Forgotten Realms, Drizzt Do’Urden. In cracking open the cover, there is the weight of more than twenty-four previous books looking over the reader’s shoulder. The legend of Drizzt also touches two side series, ‘The Sell Swords’ and ‘The Cleric Quintet’, and directly impacts the multi-author series, ‘War of The Spider Queen’. I mention the last as the central theme of Night Of The Hunter is the ongoing conflict between Lolth, goddess of the Drow, and Mielikki, Forest Queen and goddess of forests and rangers. Drizzt is among her chosen.

There is also the fact Night Of The Hunter follows up on two pivotal events in the legend: The ‘Transitions Trilogy’, wherein R.A. Salvatore tore our hearts asunder and The Companions (volume one of another multi-author series, ‘The Sundering’), wherein he stitched them back together again. This is an important book. As such, it requires a basic knowledge of the realms, Drizzt’s legend and the other players, of which there are many. In other words, while many of the sub-sets of the legend can be read as standalone trilogies and quartets, we are now at the stage where foreknowledge (and a lot of it) becomes essential. Readers will want to have both ‘The Neverwinter Saga’ and The Companions under their belt before tackling this one.

With that preamble, let’s discuss the plot. It’s huge and it’s important. The Companions of the Hall are reunited. This is Mielikki’s gift to her favourite, Drizzt Do’Urden, but in the Realms, all gifts come with a price. The resurrection of the Companions may have ensured Mielikki won the last round, but Lolth is determined to have Drizzt’s soul. Therefore, Lolth is going to spend the bulk of this novel driving her faithful toward this end. The drow respond with their usual combination of fear and calculation. No move is made for the sake of a single gain and their manoeuvres eventually pull together many of the factions Salvatore has introduced and developed over the course of over twenty books.

We have the Companions: Drizzt, Bruenor, Regis, Wulfar and Cattie-brie. We also have Bregan D’aerthe, the elite drow mercenary outfit led by Jarlaxle Baenre, whose motivations are inscrutable at best. Next, we have Drizzt’s more recent companions, Artemis Entreri and Dahlia Sin’felle and the rest of their band. Then there are the many intersecting factions of the drow.

The drow have claimed Gauntlgrym or parts thereof, and have built a new city there. This endeavour will elevate the status of one house, causing the usual tension, of the backstabbing variety. Honestly, you couldn’t pay me to be a drow. Haunting the legendary dwarven kingdom is the vampire Thibbledorf Pwent. Naturally opposed to the drow, he has been causing trouble as best he can, though his grip on sanity is tenuous. Bruenor is determined to end the suffering of his long-time friend and so recruits the Companions to aid his quest. They all agree.

Entreri and his fellows want to get as far from Icewind Dale and Drizzt’s fate as possible. Unfortunately, nearly twenty years of enforced slumber hasn’t cleared the memory of all their foes. Jarlaxle gets word the band bypassed Luskan and sends his agents after them. Roll forward through an always amusing reunion with the Harpell family, combat of every thrilling variety and everyone ends up in Gauntlgrym. Cue epic showdown.

Obviously, there is much more to the plot than that. Salvatore has included the subtle and not so gentle tugs to loyalty, the battle between hope and fear, perfectly executed combat sequences and questions for every character. All the players have been changed, either by death or longevity, certainly through trials. Drizzt ponders this in his eloquent letters to the reader which prelude each part of the book. The theme of change is also remarked upon throughout the novel and while there is the overwhelming feeling that despite how much things might change, some elements always remain the same, we do see a different side of many of our beloved characters here. Most notably: Wulfgar and Entreri, though few escape a moment of introspection and self-regard.

Throughout Night Of The Hunter, I marveled at Salvatore’s skill in juggling so many characters while being able to write each clearly enough for their voice to be distinct. Similarly, I boggled at the number of plot threads intersecting here, hence my long preamble about the suggested preparedness of the reader. Despite the fact I sobbed until my face puffed up throughout The Ghost King, I still considered it Salvatore’s finest book. The Companions vied for the same honour for different reasons, the balm of the plot and the creative way in which he pulled it off. Night Of The Hunter challenges both. It’s an amazing book. There is also the feeling that Salvatore might have saved the best for last.

The plot of the entire legend is starting to come full circle here, leaving me to wonder if ‘The Companions Codex’ might be the beginning of the end. While I would miss twenty-five years of Drizzt, I do take comfort in knowing R.A. Salvatore is up to the challenge of finishing out his legend with superb skill and style. Of course, if he does find a new plot, I’ll always be first in line for the next saga.

Written for SFCrowsnest.

The front page image from this post is borrowed from Wizards of the Coast and features stunning artwork by Tyler Jacobson.

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