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.


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.

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”

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”