The Books I Recommend More Than Any Others – Part 3

Here they are, the final ten.

When I decided to list my top thirty in alphabetical order by author, I thought that might eliminate the need to organize the books from bestest best favourite to one of my favourites (or however you’d label the books below number one). But the truth is, for as much as I have LOVED all of the books listed thus far, I’ve been looking forward to talking about these ten. Many of them really are my bestest best favourites.

Continue reading “The Books I Recommend More Than Any Others – Part 3”

Review: Archmage by R.A. Salvatore

Archmage (Homecoming #1, The Legend of Drizzt #28)

Archmage numbers twenty-eighth in ‘The Legend of Drizzt’. As always, I’ll preface my review with the caveat that you will get more out of these later books if you’ve read those that came before. At this point in the saga, a lot of foreknowledge of the world and the characters has to assumed, or R.A. Salvatore would spend half the novel catching everyone up.

The war for the Silver Marches is over, a tentative truce declared between the orcs and the combined forces of the dwarves, elves and humans. The Darkening – a drow dweomer that darkened same region – has been dispelled. With the orcs banished to the Spine of the World and the stronghold of Many Arrows disassembled, efforts to rebuild Nesmé and refortify the rest of the Silver Marches are underway. Old alliances are reformed and strengthened. Peace is restored (for now), and Bruenor Battlehammer has turned his eye back to legendary dwarven city of Gauntlgrym.

For the drow, this should be a time of consolidation. Their plans were thrown into disarray with the orcs’ defeat. The dark elves are among Salvatore’s most inscrutable races, however. The only predictable thing about them is the fact they will do the unexpected. They thrive on chaos. So the many divisions in drow society feed beautifully in this, making their losses akin to a bad day on the stock market. Investors immediately alter their strategy, and key characters begin padding their retirement plans.

All of Menzoberranzan (the drow city, and Drizzt’s birthplace) will be affected by the dwarves’ resolve to reclaim their own slice of the underdark. Gauntlgrym is currently operating as a satellite to Menzoberranzan. For Archmage Gromph and Jarlaxle’s band of mercenaries, however, the dwarf intrusion presents the perfect opportunity to meddle with the status quo. When would Jarlaxle not take advantage of that?

Far below the Prime Material Plane, we have the true seeds of chaos. Lolth, Demon Queen of Spiders, has plans of her own concerning…well, everyone and everything.

There isn’t a lot of Drizzt in this book. If I had a complaint about the last trilogy (The Companion Codex), it would have been that. The story has been growing wider for a while now, however, and many of the bit players have become important enough to have their own agendas which in turn affect the plot of the world – and every book. This latest trilogy, while perhaps a part of the Legend of Drizzt, feels less a part of his legend than part of the entire history of Toril. Drizzt is an important component of this story; we just don’t get a lot of time with him. I suspect that will change as this story arc continues, however.

We also lose touch with a couple of other key characters here. My guess is that with such a huge cast, Salvatore obviously had to send some folks off on their own quests in order to stay focused. I’ve always appreciated the fact these books rarely stray over the 400 page mark. Longer books can be intimidating.

Now that I’ve covered my quibbles, I’ll move on to what I liked about Archmage. Honestly – and I’ve said this before – I don’t think Salvatore could write a story I didn’t like. I’ve been reading his books for seventeen years with good reason. So the short answer is: I liked this one. I really liked it. Archmage is an emotional book, which shouldn’t have surprised me. There are a couple of touchpoints here that will tug the heartstrings of devoted fans. Usually books that delve deep into Menzoberranzan and drow politics lose me a little, but I found myself quite invested this time ‘round and that would be because of Gromph’s weightier story arc. The Archmage has always been an interesting and conflicted character, if harder to like than Jarlaxle. Probably because he has no sense of humour. Very few drow do.

The rest of the book is concerned with the effort to reclaim Gauntlgrym. One of my favourite aspects of Vengeance of the Iron Dwarf was the coming together of the dwarven armies under one banner, for one purpose. This continued alliance in the name of retaking the Delzoun birthright makes a great story. As expected, they will not be able to walk in and set up camp. There will be blood, from skirmishes to epic battles, and the cost of Gauntlgrym may be more than any of us suspect.

Written for SFCrowsnest.


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: Vengeance of the Iron Dwarf by R.A. Salvatore

Vengeance of the Iron Dwarf (Forgotten Realms: Companions Codex)

There are nearly thirty books in the Legend of Drizzt and a number of side ventures. When you get this far into a series, spoilers are inevitable. So if you’re not familiar with the legend, much of the content of Vengeance of the Iron Dwarf will confound, and perhaps ruin you for everything that comes before.

For those who have journeyed this far, vengeance is sweet.

At the end of Rise of the King, the hundred year peace between the orcs and the dwarves had shattered. Nesme had fallen and the dwarves were besieged. The surface elves had yet to decide how the conflict affected them and the drow elves were so busy stabbing one another in the back, it was a wonder any of them survived until the end of the book. Toss in Jarlaxle’s fiddling and it was a very long wait for the next instalment in the Companion Codex.

In Vengeance Of The Iron Dwarf, party lines shift and align – as they have to. The orcs outnumber every other army combined, so breaking the siege isn’t simply a matter of killing the enemy. The dwarves have to fight smarter. They have to fight together. The elves and humans can bolster their efforts, but everyone has to stop thinking about what’s in it for them. Of course, the drow contingent thinks only of what’s in it for them and I spent a good portion of Vengeance wondering what was in it for Jarlaxle. His help is often the dubious sort, but over the last century or so (Toril-time), he’s become a little more predictable and he definitely has a soft spot for Drizzt.

I enjoyed reading about Team A – the Companions of the Hall – and Team B – the remnants of Drizzt’s new crew who work together here. Personality clashes were inevitable, but so were the spell combinations, to borrow an RPG term. Having everyone on the board also fostered the feeling that grew throughout this book, that the fate of the dwarves didn’t matter only to the dwarves. The shining moment, for me, came when Bruenor revealed his plan. He’s no longer the king of Mithral Hall and knows well he can’t wear that crown a third time. But he cannot watch all he strived for fall into confusion. I also delighted in reading Wulfgar and Regis working together. They are such an unlikely, yet compatible pair.

There are several side bets won and lost as the dwarves attempt to break the siege, providing a few story threads that will complicate future tales. But aside from a couple of interesting revelations, the plot here isn’t twisty. Vengeance Of The Iron Dwarf is a straightforward book of tactics, where Salvatore pits two forces against one another and crunches the numbers back and forth. Any trickery is reserved for combat and it’s all well fought.

Where to go from here? Bruenor has a throne to claim and hold, so it will be back to Gauntlgrym to kick some drow backside, once and for all. Hopefully!

Written for SFCrowsnest.

Reading Challenge Update (June)

Right, so in looking back over this year’s blog posts to determine when I last reported in on my reading challenge, I discovered that I haven’t for a while. I thought it had only been a month. Or so. Maybe longer. I was surprised to find out it had been three months. I did post in April, but about books I had been reading outside my chosen challengers.

Better late than never, eh?

I haven’t got back to Destiny’s Road by Larry Niven. I’m not sure if I will. The book definitely falls in my interest zone, but it feels like a slow read, which means it requires patience. My schedule doesn’t allow much time for patient reads at the moment. Maybe later this year.

In May, I read Embedded by Dan Abnett. I discovered Dan Abnett while reading Armored, which is one of my favourite anthologies ever. As often happens, however, I got my wires crossed and bought Embedded thinking Dan Abnett had written a different story in the anthology—one set in the midst of a conflict, soldiers suited up in power armour, wondering if they’d make it home.  That story was “Hel’s Half Acre” by Jack Campbell and I’ve since dived into his Lost Fleet books (and enjoyed them). The story Dan Abnett contributed to Armored was “Death Reported of Last Surviving Veteran of Great War” which is an interview with a man whose life has been extended by the use of powered armour.

Regardless of my error, I greatly enjoyed Embedded. Here is my review as posted on Goodreads:

There is a quote on the cover of my copy of Embedded. SFX thinks ‘Abnett is brilliant’. I have to agree. His brilliance leaps off the page, regardless of whether you’re reading about a tired old reporter, soldiers, chicken-effect, bullets whistling over head or the sound of live rounds leaving holes in a wall. He also knows what to leave out. Anything that can be assumed is assumed. Let’s get on with the meat of the story, all right? And let’s pepper it with phrases that will be funny, even when those bullets are whistling overhead. I chuckled every time someone said they were wealthy and I got a kick out of sponsored expletives. More, though, I enjoyed the subtle effect these touches had on the story as a whole.

Great characters, solid plot and excellent page-flipping combat. I raced to the end of this one in record time.

During the month of June, I finally got to Gauntlgrym by R.A. Salvatore. Gauntlgrym is the twentieth volume in the legend of Drizzt Do’Urden and the first book in the ‘Neverwinter Saga’. I had skipped ahead to read The Companions and Night of the Hunter, books one and two in the ‘Companions Codex’ (twenty-four and twenty-five in the legend), but had always intended to go back. I’m so glad I did. Despite knowing the outcome of certain plot points in advance, the book still managed to surprise me. I hadn’t been spoiled for every twist in the tale.

I didn’t review Gauntlgrym, not officially. I rated it five stars on Goodreads because I loved it. I really can’t imagine not rating one of R.A. Salvatore’s books five stars at this point. I find he is an accomplished writer whose books are easy to read. He knows his world and characters inside and out, and astounds me with his recall of people and places with every novel he churns out. And the books are just damned entertaining. Hack and slash, monsters and mayhem, friends and foes and, of course, Drizzt.

Next up (July), I’m waffling between Ship of Magic  by Robin Hobb and Sundiver by David Brin. Both are part of a series, the first of their trilogies. I’ve been in a bit of science fiction mood lately, so I can see myself picking up the Hobb first, for a bit of a change of pace. Otherwise, I’ve always got plenty to read for review, including Trial by Fire, by Charles E. Gannon Savior, by Tony Daniel and David Drake, and Sword of the Bright Lady by M.C. Planck.

Happy reading, everyone!