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.

Review: The Herald (The Sundering, Book VI) by Ed Greenwood

The Herald: The Sundering, Book VI

This is it; we’re at the end of a long road. We are at ‘The Sundering’. Set during the Era of Upheaval, ‘The Sundering’ is a multi-author event chronicling the adventures of Faerûn’s heroes, from those just Chosen to some of the Realms most enduring characters. The Herald, by Ed Greenwood, rounds out the series with a battle to end all battles. Actually, make that battles to end all battle. Or something like that. There’s a lot of combat in this one.

Elminster and Storm Silverhand, Chosen of Mystra, are rebuilding the Weave. They are interrupted by agents of the Shadovar (of course) and choose a new, more important mission. The wards of Candlekeep and Myth Drannor must be preserved. The pair split into two teams, El heading off by himself, Storm in the company of Amarune Whitewave and Arclath Delcastle.

The gang’s not all here, yet.

At Candlekeep, everyone is in disguise. Moving from dusty tome to dusty tome, monks who might not be monks eye one another suspiciously. If it wasn’t so serious a moment, one might giggle. (I did, just quickly.) At Myth Drannor, it’s straight to battle. No disguise, lots of hack and slash.

As the battles progress, purposes change and become compromised. Rebuilding the Weave becomes secondary to keeping the Wards out of Shadovar hands. Elminsiter is sorely tested, facing betrayal, action against old allies and a possible alliance with an enemy. Storm and her magical hair has no time to catch her breath. It’s battle after battle outside Myth Drannor, which makes for fun reading if you like that kind of thing. I do.

It’s hard to summarise the rest of the book without giving away some of the most wrenching and startling moments, except to say that lots of folks meet their end, gruesomely. For a while, El’s every chapter ends with a roof tumbling down on top of him. Oh and I learned my new favourite spell: Bone Rend. I think Ed Greenwood made it up just for this book. It’s spectacularly gory; the bones are pulled from a body, while that body lives. The end result is, well, quite bloody. The bones hold a lot of organs and musculature in place.

I’m not going to say much about the ending of ‘The Herald’, neither, except to note that ‘The Sundering’ happens, ready or not. Hopefully, the event’s passing means a time of renewal for Toril. It could sure use it.

Ed Greenwood and R.A. Salvatore were good choices to bookend this series. The Herald is about as different from R.A. Salvatore’s contribution, The Companions, as could be. The Companions is about birth. The Herald, overwhelmingly, is about the end or death. But, remember, in the Realms, death is rarely just death. More, it’s change.

I did find The Herald to be the least accessible of all the Sundering books. There are so many characters and points of view and little time is taken to fully introduce every player. If you have not read Ed Greenwood before and are unfamiliar with Elminster (as I was), it’s a little difficult to immerse. There is a lot to take on faith. This is somewhat understandable, really. It’s the final battle. There isn’t the time for leisurely introductions. I did warm to the main characters and I did come to care for their fates. They are written with great empathy. A solid familiarity with the world and the setting and the event itself does smooth many of the wrinkles. There were also other familiar characters in the mix, which made for a nice cross-over in my mind.

So, that’s it, ‘The Sundering’ is done. In my opinion, it was a wonderful enterprise. I got to meet many of Faerûn’s iconic characters and experience the writing style of several new authors. I added many new books to my shelf and plan to continue to dwell in the Realms for some time. Now I’ll be looking at the follow-up novels that tie into this series. I’ve already read one: ‘Night Of The Hunter’ by R.A. Salvatore. Really, the stories will never end, which is great news for fans and those just discovering this world.

Written for SFCrowsnest.

The Herald
Featured image is Elminster, for The Herald, by Tyler Jacobson


Review: The Sentinel (The Sundering, Book V)

SentinelCoverSet during the Era of Upheaval, The Sundering is a multi-author event chronicling the adventures of Faerûn’s heroes, from those just Chosen to some of the Realms most enduring characters. Troy Denning’s novel, The Sentinel, is the penultimate entry in the series. As such, it is suitably thrilling from beginning to end.

Like many during the Era of Upheaval, Kleef Kenric has spent his life worshipping a long-forgotten god. It is said that so long as one person carries a god in their heart, that god is not dead. Helm, The Watcher, god of guardians, could not save his father. While others accept bribes and trade favours for knighthood, Kleef stubbornly clings to the tenets of his faith – coming to the defense of those who ask, leaving his career with the city guard stalled at the rank of Topsword. Kleef’s unswerving faith has turned him bitter.

While battling to win free of Marsember, Kleef accepts payment from a merchant in order to clear the way. He uses the gold to motivate the guards beneath his command to do the job they are already sworn to do. His guilt over the act is not easily rationalised but with priests holding up the evacuation with their theatrics and Shadovar threatening the city, he has little choice but to rally his men the only way he can.

While tracking the Shadovar, he comes to the aid of a mysterious pair, Joelle Emmeline and her short and odiferous companion, Malik. Kleef fights back wave after wave of Shadovar and Joelle and Malik flee across a bridge toward the noble house of Seasilver. They are observed from the balcony by Lady Arietta Seasilver, a young noblewoman who believes she is the Chosen of Siamorphe. Taking up her bow, Arietta joins the fight. Thus fate combines four destinies of four people trying to serve their gods.

The Sundering refers to the separation of Abeir from Toril. While the living (and sort of living) denizens of the world deal with the fallout of the Era of Upheaval – from the Great Rain to falling earthmotes to the literal upheaving of earth – the gods are battling for supremcy. Often, they do so through their Chosen. Joelle and Malik are on a quest for Sune. They carry the Eye of Gruumsh as a gift from one god to another. As such a gift would foil Shar’s plans for the Ever After, the Shadovar are keen to get their hands on the Eye. So are the orcs. The Eye is one of their sacred relics.

Their journey to the Underchasm is frought with adventure. Arietta sacrifices her family and Kleef feels he is sacrificing his principles for a woman who will never return his ardent regard. Joelle uses her god-given charm to ensure everyone follows her plan and Malik is obstinate in his deviancy. By the time the four arrive at Grumbar’s Temple, alliances have shifted many times – as has each companion’s idea of what it means to be Chosen.

It’s this last that really captured my attention while reading The Sentinel. Kleef’s struggle to defend his faith, to himself and those around him is heart-wrenching. In order to succeed on this quest, he has to do away with his bitterness and regret. When he finally does, I reached for the tissue box. Arietta’s journey is equally compelling. She has only been told she is the Chosen of Siamorpeh and as such, has taken her role for granted. This revelation rocks her ideas and ideals, and ultimately brings her closer to what she really wants to be.

I really enjoyed this book and as has happened every time I pick up a new volume of ‘The Sundering’, I am inspired to look for other works by the author. Troy Denning’s writing is accessible and easy to digest. I read The Sentinel in two devoted sessions, breaking only for dinner. As mentioned above, what really makes this book stand out are the characters, particularly Kleef and Arietta. Their thoughts and actions were so appropriate to their situations. At no point did either feel unreal or overwrought. Malik was fascinating in his own grimace-worthy manner. Though he is not likeable, I did manage to muster empathy for him. I’m still trying to decide how I feel about Joelle. I think perhaps she is actually the most devious and unsympathetic of that pair.

The conclusion to The Sentinel was another tissue box moment and another step forward in the world event. Overall, this is an immensely satisfying book.

‘The Sundering’ is nearly done. Only one volume remains: The Herald: The Sundering, Book VI by Ed Greenwood. Through all six books are linked only tenuously, I have enjoyed the experience of reading several stories surrounding the same event. Each has advanced the world narrative and each has introduced me to another, smaller world of characters. My only complaint would be the steadily growing pile of books behind me as I discover new authors whose voices I must further explore.

Written for SFCrowsnest.


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.

Review: The Reaver (The Sundering, Book IV)

 ‘The Reaver’ by Richard Lee Byers is book four in the multi-author event, ‘The Sundering’. Set during the Era of Upheaval, each novel tells a smaller story, which often include beloved characters and some of Faerûn’s iconic heroes. ‘The Reaver’ takes us to the Sea of Fallen Stars where a small boy is trying to be the voice of a god everyone believes has passed. It’s a good time for the return of Lathander, also known as the Morninglord, an aspect of Amaunator, god of dawn, renewal and spring. The Great Rain seems endless. The lack of sun has crops failing and, well, everything is wet, all the time. It’s a miserable existence.

Not everyone is averse to endless rain. The evil sea goddess Umberlee likes it just fine. As the sea rises, so does her influence or so the waveservants say. Small acts of evil endear ordinary folk to the Bitch Queen, pitting friends and families against one another as they struggle to survive misery and starvation. Understandably, Umberlee would like Stedd, the prophet of Lathander, dead. As Stedd is one of the Chosen, the preferred method of disposal is ritual sacrifice. With a hefty price on his head, Stedd quickly learns he can trust no one, not even the servants of more benevolent gods. Worshippers are jealously guarded, after all.

Enter Anton Marivaldi and Umara Ankhlab, the reaver and the red wizard. They are just two of the agents attempting to capture the boy in order to exchange him for the reward. Anton’s motivation is primarily pecuniary, Umara is driven more by duty. She identifies as an envoy of Szass Tam, who I understand is one of Byers’ regular cast of characters.

Thrown together by circumstance and individually beguiled by the boy, Stedd, Anton and Umara become unlikely allies. Together, they battle their way east. Separately, they each vow to take the boy to complete their own quest. But as Stedd’s power grows, the good within each is illuminated. They stick by him through the proverbial thick and thin, battling friend and foe, Chosen and their gods, and the remnants of the Spellplague, so that Stedd might realise his true potential and purpose.

Again, I slipped seamlessly into another world. The authors of the ‘Forgotten Realms’ write well, really well. ‘The Reaver’ is devilishly easy to read. The story takes off from the first page, quickly gaining momentum before settling into a easily deciphered adventure that combines elements of ‘The Sundering’, Byers own characters and the surrounding lore of Faerûn.

I like Anton. I get the feeling he would outwardly disdain such a comment, but be inwardly pleased. He’s the bastard with a heart of gold. Umara is more difficult to like, but I think she would appreciate that comment as well. With her shaved head and tattoos, she has spent some time perfecting her façade. The woman within is easy to connect with, however. Though Stedd inspires Anton and Umara to help him, they stay true to character throughout. Umara is a red wizard and Anton is a reaver and they use what they know to prevail: dark magic and piracy.

‘The Reaver’ is epic fantasy at its best. Swords and sorcery, swash-buckling action and illusion, twisting and turning politics of men and gods. Combat is fast-paced and some of the battles are truly grand in scale. Byers makes great use of all the tools available to a ‘Forgotten Realms’ author, peppering his pages with fantastic creatures and stunning magic. He definitely makes each his own, however. His characters felt truly unique in a world governed by archetypes.

The plot of ‘The Reaver’ was fairly simple, which is refreshing. The shifting alliances and motivations of the characters and the twists in the purpose of certain situations provided all the complication necessary to give the story a weighty feel. It also adds a great chapter to the Era of Upheaval, and advances the general plot of ‘The Sundering’.

Richard Lee Byers is the author seventeen or so novels for ‘The Forgotten Realms’. From what I can tell, Anton is a new character. I found mention of his name in ‘Queen Of The Depths’, which is from another multi-author series from ‘The Forgotten Realms’. Anton is written so confidently, I was sure I’d find a series about him. I’d like one now, please. The further adventures of Anton and Umara would do nicely.

Written for SFCrowsnest.

The Sundering:

The Companions by R. A. Salvatore (August 6, 2013)

The Godborn by Paul S. Kemp (October 1, 2013)

The Adversary by Erin Evans (December 3, 2013)

The Reaver by Richard Lee Byers (February 4, 2014)

The Sentinel by Troy Denning (April 1, 2014)

The Herald by Ed Greenwood (2014)

Featured Image from the artwork displayed at the D&D website where you’ll find an excerpt (chapter one). Art by Tyler Jacobson.