Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Neverwinter (Neverwinter Saga 2) review

    Neverwinter is the second book of the Neverwinter Saga, the latest trilogy of books starring Drizzt Do'Urden. For those of you unfamiliar with Drizzt Do'Urden and who didn't read my previous review of Gauntlgrym, he's basically the sole good member of the Drow race. At least after a bizarre series of events turned the majority of good Drow into a non-evil subrace of elves.

    I'm not making that last part up.

    Anywho, the story opens with Drizzt traveling with his new love-interest, Dahlia Sin'felle. It's an interesting dynamic to see Drizzt paired up with a ruthless anti-hero and their relationship progresses significantly faster than Drizzt and Cattie Brie. Of course, given his relationship with Cattie Brie didn't get beyond hand-holding and mild flirting for a dozen books, I suppose it would have to.

    The central conflict of the book is Dahlia's quest for revenge on her former master, Sylora Salm. It's a contrast from previous books to see Drizzt on such a quest. Usually, he's on some noble quest of one sort or another. Here it's a personal vendetta and Drizzt is just along for the ride. It's a stark change and we get some nice commentary on Drizzt's character. He wants to be a good person but he's the type to take adventure wherever he can get it.

    Likewise, a substantial section of the book is devoted to the actions of Barrabus the Grey. There's a spoiler about him that long-time fans of the book which will pick up on immediately but, suffice to say, I'm very glad the character was included in the book. Barrabus is a warrior who is, much to his disgust, enslaved by the Shadovar. For those unfamiliar with the Realms, the Shadovar are an evil group of mages with a vast empire. In the Neverwinter Saga, they've taken to employing a bunch of barbarian Tieflings lead by a psychopath.

    Slavery is rarely depicted well in books but it's treated here as a nightmarish experience which strips you of dignity and self-worth. The irony is, in Barrabus' case, he's still possessed of significant skill and willpower. It's just in a place like the Forgotten Realms, there are plenty of ways to enslave a man. One of the more sobering passages of the book describes Barrabus' attempts to escape his enslavement by suicide and how that isn't an option in a world with magical healing.

    Barrabus' sections are probably the most interesting of the novel and I was anxiously awaiting his confrontation with the book's heroes. Needless to say, when events finally came to a head, I was eager for Book III.

    Neverwinter isn't particularly deep fiction. It definitely falls under the "Sword" in the "Sword and Sorcery" category, with a substantial portion of the book devoted to the heroes killing things. Still, it's remarkably well-written. The characters have fun interactions and play off each other well.  Dahlia isn't a perfect substitute for the Companions of the Hall but the character who joins their group at the end was a welcome, if inevitable, surprise that I'm looking forward to reading more of.

    One character that I could use less of is Herzgo Alegni. Established in book one as a rapist and mass murderer, he's as vile a character as you can get in a PG-13 series. The guy actually, somehow, manages to get worse as the book continues. I'm really looking forward to this guy getting his but his very presence causes me to want to reach into the book and throttle him. Sometimes less is more and that's definitely the case with Herzgo Alegni. Unfortunately, he looks to be the big bad of book three.

    In any case, I heartily recommend this book. R.A. Salvatore is at the top of his game and he's only gotten better with age. Really, getting rid of the old cast has its disadvantages but Drizzt has never been more entertaining than when dealing with his unpredictable new allies. I suggest all Realms fans pick up this series.


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