R.A. Salvatore has two strengths as a
First, he’s capable of writing fresh, detailed, and exciting battle
scenes – battle scenes which not only serve as really excellent set
pieces, but which also actively contribute to the plot. Salvatore’s
stories don’t get put on pause while his characters throw down.
Instead, each fight is an important part of the evolving drama.
Salvatore’s second strength is his ability to craft epic, rapid-fire
plots, cramming them full of the action scenes he writes so well, and
then moving the whole package along at a fast clip. He keeps you
entertained on every page.
For example, The Crystal Shard,
the first novel in the Icewind Dale Trilogy, stretches across half a
decade. It starts with a barbarian invasion, moves through a well-done
coming-of-age story, and then concludes with a massive military
campaign against the armies of an evil sorcerer. It includes
dragon-slaying, demonic machinations, and barbarian heroes becoming
That’s a lot of stuff to cram into 300 pages or so.
And Salvatore doesn’t slow down. In the second novel, Streams of Silver,
you’ll find a deadly assassin bent on vengeance, a beautiful elven
queen, a quest to reclaim a dwarven city lost to an ancient evil, a
circle of evil wizards plotting for power, bar-room brawls, back alley
dealings, and (of course) more dragon-slaying.
And in the third volume, The Halfling's Gem,
the trend continues: Desert intrigues, damsels in distress, wererat
thieves, battles with pirates, an epic duel between the two greatest
swordsmen in the world, and a portal to hell.
Salvatore’s narrative palette, as you can see, is drawn straight from
stock fantasy and adventure fiction. His prose (except for his
exceptional battle sequences) is purely pedestrian and frequently
marred by his penchant for repeating the same piece of information
(just in case you weren’t paying attention the first time he said it, I
suppose). But what makes Salvatore’s stuff fun to read is his ability
to reach a critical mass of sheer niftiness.
And that’s an important word: FUN.
If you’re looking for the next Great Fantasy Novel that will touch your
soul and live unmarred in the book and volume of your mind, this isn’t
it. But if you’re looking for some serious fun -- the type of
fun that used to be found in the best pulp fiction – then you can’t go
too far wrong by grabbing some Salvatore.
There are a couple of other qualities which make the Icewind Dale
Trilogy worth your while:
First, it feels like a really good D&D campaign. And I mean
that in the best possible way. I don’t mean that you can see the dice
being rolled or anything like that. Rather, I mean that the main
characters have that rare sense of camaraderie, witty repartee, and
ineffable chemistry that can be achieved when a gaming group really
gets into the groove. They feel like the Three Musketeers. Again, it’s fun. (Just in case
you weren't paying attention the first time I said that.)
And, speaking of characters, they’re another highlight of the trilogy.
The supporting cast is a bit cardboardy, but the main characters are a
memorable and entertaining bunch: Each has a unique voice and
personality. Each is given a distinct and interesting backstory. Each
is developed in detail, with meaningful growth and change.
In this last regard, Salvatore shows a remarkable degree of skill when
it comes to putting his characters into crucibles which serve to not
only actively reveal but also change their quality.
Perhaps the most notable of Salvatore’s characters is Drizzt Do’Urden,
a dark elf. Although the dark elves are known for their cruelty and
evil, Drizzt is possessed of a noble heart. An exile from the great
underground cities of his people, Drizzt is also an outcast in the
surface world he has chosen as his home -- perpetually judged by the
color of his skin.
Drizzt is notable because he’s probably the first swords-and-sorcery
hero of significance – cut from the same cloth as Conan, Elric, or the
Gray Mouser – to appear since Karl Edward Wagner’s Kane stories in the
1970s. (His status as an outcast seems to draw frequent comparison to
Elric, although that’s pretty much where the comparison comes to an
In the narrative of the Icewind Dale Trilogy, Drizzt is on an equal
footing with the rest of the main cast. But something about the
character simply resonated with the readers. Personally, if I had to
take a guess at what caused Drizzt’s immense and inordinate popularity,
I would point my finger at Salvatore’s inspired decision to not only
make Drizzt the finest swordsman in all the land, but to simultaneously
give him a villainous rival of equal skill and ability. Conan, Cyrano,
and the Gray Mouser are all clearly swordsmen of legendary prowess and
skill… but only Drizzt, after being similarly pumped up in the
expectations of the readers, gets to demonstrate his skill in a
life-or-death duel with a villain of equal talent in the form of
(For the record, Cyrano de Bergerac is still the finest swordsmen in
all the many worlds. Leiber is an idle boaster.)
Drizzt’s popularity lead to a prequel
trilogy dedicated to the telling of his personal history. And
from that point on, he became the main character of the series (which
is now referred to collectively as "The Legend of Drizzt").
THE CRYSTAL SHARD: C+
STREAMS OF SILVER: C+
THE HALFLING’S GEM: C