Friday, July 07, 2023

Karen S. Wiesner {Put This One on Your TBR List} Book Review: The Dark Elf Trilogy by R.A. Salvatore

{Put This One on Your TBR List}

Book Review: The Dark Elf Trilogy by R.A. Salvatore

by Karen S. Wiesner

I came into the character of Drizzt Do-Urden through a side door. I hadn't read the author R.A. Salvatore's first trilogy, Icewind Dale, featuring this dark elf (or drow), nor did I have the slightest experience with the world of Dungeons & Dragons Forgotten Realms campaign setting, or the Underdark, one of its most popular locations. Nor had I ever played any of the videogames set within this realm. Apparently, arguably, Drizzt was the most famous and most influential dark elf within the fictional settings created for and by these mega popular games and books. Yet I knew absolutely nothing about him when I purchased a used, very old collector's edition of The Dark Elf Trilogy. By that time, the drow had already become a legend.

Salvatore says that the idea for this iconic character came to him in his office while he was at his day job. He'd been asked to write the second Forgotten Realms novel and the senior editor at that time wanted him to create a new sidekick for the character of Wulfgar, a young barbarian in the region of Icewind Dale, where Drizzt had settled. Salvatore said he'd get right on that…but the editor didn't have time to wait a week. She was heading into a meeting at that very moment and she needed to sell this proposal. On the spot and off the top of his head, Salvatore came up with a drow ranger named Drizzt Do-Urden of D'aermon N'achezbaeron, Ninth House of Menzoberranzan. The author intended him to be nothing more than a sidekick, like Robin to Batman. Instead, after writing the first chapter of The Crystal Shard, the first installment in The Icewind Dale Trilogy, Salvatore knew a star had been born.

I had no expectations for The Dark Elf Trilogy--a prequel to Icewind Dale that tells the origin story of Drizzt--when I opened the massive 805 page collector's edition which had all three novels inside it. I will admit that I tend to stick with the fantasy series I've known and loved most of my life--Tolkien's Middle Earth and Terry Brooks' Shannara and Landover series novels. While I've always found most fantasy novels to have some of the highest quality of writing, there's something about the sprawling, enormous tomes that intimidate me, and I think the culprit is that fantasy novels tend to be intricate and slow-moving with an almost oxymoronic amount of high action that seems totally at odds with just how plodding they tend to be in terms of their meticulous setting and character building. In fantasy stories, nearly everything has to be created from scratch--and that absolutely demands that readers have patience in allowing the development required to tell such a complicated tale.

The Dark Elf Trilogy is no exception to everything I said in the last paragraph. However, I was instantly sucked into the first story, Homeland, in no small part because the Underdark absolutely enthralled me. Imagine if you will a prodigious, connected subterranean network of labyrinthine caverns and tunnels that run beneath entire continents and form an underworld for places on the surface. The prelude of Homeland begins with a description of the setting:

Never does a star grace this land with a poet's light of twinkling mysteries, nor does the sun send to here its rays of warmth and life. This is the Underdark, the secret world beneath the bustling surface of the Forgotten Realms, whose sky is a ceiling of heartless stone and whose walls show the gray blandless of death in the torchlight of the foolish surface-dwellers that stumble here. This is not their world, not the world of light. Most of who come here uninvited do not return.

               Those who do escape to the safety of their surface homes return changed. Their eyes have seen the shadows and the gloom, the inevitable doom of the Underdark.

               Dark corridors meander throughout the dark realm of winding courses, connecting caverns great and small, with ceilings high and lower. Mounds of stone as pointed at the teeth of a sleeping dragon leer down in silent threat or rise up to block the way of intruders.

               There is a silence here, profound and foreboding, the crouched hush of a predator at work. Too often the only sound, the only reminder to travelers in the Underdark that they have not lost their sense of hearing altogether, is a distant and echoing drip of water, beating like the heart of a beast, slipping through the silent stones to the deep Underdark pools of chilled water. What lies beneath the still onyx surface of these pools one can only guess. What secrets await the brave, what horrors await the foolish, only the imagination can reveal--until the stillness is disturbed. This is the Underdark.

               There are pockets of life here, cities as great as many of those on the surface…

You can read more of an excerpt at any book distributor's website. This world and the city of Menzoberranzan are unlike anything I'd ever read before this point. But it wasn't just the gasping setting descriptions that drew me into this story. The drow who live in this place worship the Spider Queen Lolth. In this dark locale of cunning, scheming, unscrupulous politics, there is no room for concepts such as honor, love, or even friendship. Drizzt was born into this society and was fated to be a sacrifice to the Spider Queen at birth. When one of his brothers kills the other, Drizzt becomes the second son, sparing his life, which is already laid out before him. Disobedience is not an option. Yet Drizzt is nothing like the others that make up this arena of ruthless and senseless violence. He's strange to those around him, an almost cheerful little boy with purple eyes and an unfathomable compassion and defiance against the norm in his disturbing world. After he's given to his sister to raise, she sends him to the finest weapons master to be had--Zaknafein--his own father, who allows Drizzt the forbidden: To think for himself.

One of the biggest reasons I was so fascinated by this trilogy was that, in normal stories, good characters are in a place where basically good is done and expected by all. A villain enters and disrupts that equilibrium. But in The Dark Elf Trilogy, we have a good character surrounded by the worst kind of evil, in a location where all of society and its' mores is centered on cut-throat survival of the fittest. This trilogy turned the anticipated right on its head and made for compulsive reading from start to finish.

Homeland leads into Exile, Book 2, and Sojourn, Book 3 as Drizzt's innate moral code is tested, develops, and leads him inexorably to the light. The fascinating characters he meets along the way only added to the intrigue of this trilogy and all the many Drizzt stories that follow. Some favorite characters of mine are Zaknafein; Guenhwyvar, the magical panther "statuette" companion that Drizzt can summon; a blind human ranger named Montolio Debrouchee; the dwarven king Bruenor Battlehammer, and his adopted human daughter Catti-brie.

I went on to read many of the other Drizzt stories, and I'll include a list of those available below, but the Dark Elf Trilogy is the one that will always hold a special place on my keeper bookshelf.

Below are all the Legend of Drizzt books in chronological order:

The Dark Elf Trilogy

1. Homeland

2. Exile

3. Sojourn

The Icewind Dale Trilogy

4. The Crystal Shard

5. Streams of Silver

6. The Halfling's Gem

The Legacy of the Drow Series

7. The Legacy

8. Starless Night

9. Siege of Darkness

10. Passage to Dawn

The Paths of Darkness Series*

11. The Silent Blade

12. The Spine of the World

13. Servant of the Shard*

13. Sea of Swords

*Book #3 of this series, Servant of the Shard, was moved to the The Sellswords Trilogy written by R.A. Salvatore, which includes Servant of the Shard, Promise of the Witch-King, and Road of the Patriarch and focuses on main characters Artemis Entreri and the Basadoni Guild instead of on Drizzt or his usual companions.

The Hunter's Blades Trilogy

14. The Thousand Orcs

15. The Lone Drow

16. The Two Swords

The Transitions Series

17. The Orc King

18. The Pirate King

19. The Ghost King

The Neverwinter Saga

20. Gauntlgrym

21. Neverwinter

22. Charon's Claw

23. The Last Threshold

The Sundering

24. The Companions

The Companion's Codex

25. Night of the Hunter

26. Rise of the King

27. Vengeance of the Iron Dwarf

The Homecoming Series

28. Archmage

29. Maestro

30. Hero

The Generations Series

31. Timeless

32. Boundless

33. Relentless

The Way of the Drow Series

34. Starlight Enclave

35. Glacier's Edge

36. Lolth's Warrior

The Collected Stories: The Legend of Drizzt Anthology contains stories written by Salvatore related to the Legend of Drizzt setting.

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series.

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