You, a Deserted Island, and Three Books

What would you choose?

It’s not a new question, but always a fun one to answer. Fun in an agonizing sort of way if you have as many favourites as I do. I was recently more entertained by the answers of others in a group post, however.

If the answer given is honest and thoughtful, it says a lot about the person giving it. Some people will list books that supposedly raise their IQ by ten to twenty points. Others will list books they’re supposed to have read and enjoyed. They’re going to hate themselves when they’re trapped in solitude with those three literary gems. One of the answers simply stated: The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. Staring at those six words, I vacillated between amusement and horror. I also wondered if I’d read the books if I was trapped on an island with them. I probably would? In fact, it might be the ONLY way I’d ever be enticed to read them.

The more pragmatic folks listed how-to manuals covering subjects broad: How to Survive Being Stranded a Deserted Isle—to specific: How to Build a Raft out of Sand, Spit and Fifty Shades of Grey.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy featured in a lot of answers. I determined this choice represented wishful thinking. That being stranded on a deserted island would end up being a metaphor or something, and a door would open on the beach, invite the strandee to step through and then thank them for doing so.

Many listed the books of Robert Jordan and R.A. Salvatore. I listed one of Salvatore’s too. But I hesitated over that one because the ‘Legend of Drizzt’ is long and wonderful and could I survive with only one of those books, and if so, which one? I imagine the same would be true of the ‘Wheel of Time’ books. Of course, you might die of exposure before you made it through the prologue of one of those, though.

A lot of SF greats made it on to the list. I didn’t find this odd. The group is for geeks, after all. But there was a smattering of philosophy and a few considered classics as well. There were books I hated, that I’d rather live without, but again, if I had nothing better to do…

So what did I choose? I didn’t spend too long deliberating. I’ve a couple of deadlines looming, so I didn’t have time to take my favourites (hundreds) and whittle them down a few times using a scoring system and a spreadsheet. So, I chose three books that I’d like to read again, that I didn’t think I’d mind reading over and over, if I lived long enough to do so.

Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein

I’ve been afraid to reread this one as I’m not sure it will live up to the experience of reading it as a naïve twenty-year-old. What better time than when I’m facing death by sunburn and rabid sea monsters?

The Ghost King, R.A. Salvatore

I wavered between this one and The Companions. Honestly, I think I’d be content with any of his books, but those two were the books I felt really showcased Salvatore’s love of his characters and world, and his dedication to them.

Earth Abides, George R. Stewart

Holds the distinction of being one of the maybe five books I have actually read more than once, and would consider reading again. Also, it’s my stand in for a survival manual. Or the more moral than practical variety. I’ll start my new society by gathering the seagulls and taming them.

..

Which three books would you choose?

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.

Drizzt, Drizzt and a little more Drizzt

I met Drizzt by accident. A long, long time ago in a land far, far away, I read a book. The only details I remembered were a hero with dark skin and a castle. And that it was one of a series. I recalled being utterly captivated by the character and the story, however. I still don’t know the name of that book or character, but when I mentioned my search to a friend, he thought of Drizzt, the dark elf, and handed me a copy of The Crystal Shard (The Icewind Dale Trilogy, #1).

(As a side note, when I rolled a monk for our D&D campaign, the same guy handed me The Cleric Quintet. I think he hoped to influence the alignment and disposition of my monk. Didn’t work.)

The Crystal Shard, first published novel of R.A. Salvatore, introduced me to Drizzt and his companions. I got caught up in their story and read book after book after book.  Currently, there are twenty-four novels making up The Legend of Drizzt, and it is an amazing series. The books are well written, well plotted and the perfect size for an adventure. The characters endure, even as their world changes around them, but they don’t stagnate. The combat is gripping and the emotional ties between the Companions is compelling. I have a lot of love for these books.

With the upcoming release of The Companions: The Sundering, Book I I’ve devoted my blog to Drizzt and his companions this week, which has involved doing more research than I usually do when I read and review a book. I’ve read wikis, virtually stalked R.A. Salvatore and browsed fan art. One of the neat things about these particular books is that they are part of a much beloved world, The Forgotten Realms. There are wikis of the wikis, forums of forums, pages and pages of data gathered and sorted by fans, and so much art and fan art. It must be an awesome experience as a writer to have such a wealth of information on hand, and to appreciate the dedication of the fans.

In this post I’d like to share some of awesome stuff I found.

Continue reading “Drizzt, Drizzt and a little more Drizzt”

Review: The Companions: The Sundering, Book I

The Companions by R.A. Salvatore

The Companions, by R.A. Salvatore, is the first book in a new series from Forgotten Realms called The Sundering. Each book is penned by a different author and will explore the events of the Sundering from various points of view. Salvatore’s entry continues the story of Drizzt Do’Urden and the title is a call to hearts, or to be slightly more (or less) dramatic, an answer to prayers.

The book opens with a glimpse of Drizzt, whose fate at the end of The Last Threshold (Book XXIII, Neverwinter Saga, Book IV) was uncertain. He is at Bruenor’s Climb, a lone mountain in the middle of Icewind Dale that is meaningful to the Companions. The peak has marked many beginnings. We continue to hear from Drizzt throughout the novel, in the usual series of thought-provoking journal entries. I’ve come to think of them as letters to the reader, and those included in The Companions are amongst the most stirring. He reflects on his life and the choices he has made, his friends and companions, the meaning of love, honour and loyalty. There is a sense Drizzt is preparing himself for the inevitable and that urgency underscores the journeys of the Companions as they embark on a quest unlike any other.

Yes, I said the Companions.

Continue reading “Review: The Companions: The Sundering, Book I”

The Transitions Trilogy by R.A. Salvatore

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.

Companions of the Hall

Continue reading “The Transitions Trilogy by R.A. Salvatore”