Sunday, December 18, 2011

Gauntlgrym (Neverwinter Saga 1) review

    Drizzt Do'Urden.

    Wow, that's a name that brings back memories.

    For those unfamiliar with the character, he's the protagonist of an extraordinarily long fantasy series written by R.A Salvatore. Drizzt's thing is he's a Dark Elf rebelling against his evil upbringing and homeland. He's one of the Forgotten Realms' best swordsmen and gets into adventures with his party of mostly dwarf-raised adventurers.

    The series has its ups and downs. Some of the stories are stereotypical, even by the standards of D&D fiction, involving Drizzt and company fighting against stereotypical enemies. Others are quite good, especially the ones involving Menzoberrazan or Artemis Entreri. I have a particular fondness for The Thousand Orcs, which was an epic story war story with lots of surprises.

    The series hit a snag with the 4E reboot of the Forgotten Realms. Just about everything recognizable as the Forgotten Realms was changed with whole nations being obliterated out of hand. I'm not going to go into a rant against it but it definitely made a continuing story more difficult, especially since it involved a hundred year time-skip. Really, I thought the Legend of Drizzt series ended quite decisively in The Ghost King.

    However, R.A. Salvatore seems to have decided that the series should continue. Either that or he's been paid a lot of money to continue. Honestly, it doesn't really matter because Gauntlgrym is good. It's a nice adventure that gives us an epilogue to the adventures of the Companions of Mithril Hall (Drizzt's adventuring party) before opening up new adventuring possibilities in the revamped Realms.

    The story isn't really terribly complex. Drizzt and Bruenor Battlehammer are searching for the lost dwarf city of Gauntlgrym. Likewise, a group of villains are searching for it. The only problem is that Gauntlgrym contains the imprisoned spirit of a Primordial, more or less an Elemental God with the power to destroy the world. Our heroes don't want it released, our villains do.

    Wackiness ensues.

    The characterization in the book is quite interesting with Drizzt losing some of his "holier than thou" attitude. Part of the problem with the Legend of Drizzt series is he's always had an almost zero personal flaws. This wasn't too bad, because his concern with morality was a major part of his characterization, but it hurt the narrative. In this volume, Drizzt has developed a serious chip on his shoulder. Given what he's gone through, I don't blame him.

    I liked the change and enjoy the ambiguity it brings to his interactions with others. The new Drizzt isn't quite as eager to help as the old one. It doesn't get to the point that you think he's on the verge of becoming a bad guy but it's obvious Drizzt doesn't think of himself as the world's personal protector anymore. Really, he's mostly out to fight and enjoy his remaining centuries of life.

    My favorite character in the book is newcomer Dahlia Sin'felle. Dahlia is a bit like Artemis Entreri in that she's not so much evil as the kind of person who is created when you kick around someone so much they decide their chief goal in life should be to kick back. I think she's a bit over-the-top at times but her interactions with other characters are always entertaining. I hope to read much more about the character in future installments.

    If I have any real complaints about the book it's that the story of Dahlia contains a great deal of sexual violence. It's not terribly graphic but I can't say I'm particularly fond of rape as a plot device. Really, the Forgotten Realms depicted in the book is far darker and grittier than the ones in previous books. For some, this might be a selling point. For me, it was just something I wish R.A. Salvatore had written around.

    In conclusion, I really enjoyed Gauntlgrym and recommend it to anyone who is a fan of the Legend of Drizzt novels. The adventure continues! I will state, however, that anyone who is coming into this series here would get a lot less out of it than someone who has read all of the prior novels (which is quite a feat). So, my recommendation for new readers is that they should probably look up the originals.  As part of a series, however, the book is just plain good.


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