I'm Reading #55 - The Legacy / Starless Night
The problem with The Legacy
is that Salvatore allows one of his strengths (his ability to vividly
describe fight scenes) to bloat horribly out of control. The plot, with
minimal spoilage, can basically be summarized as such: There is about
twenty pages of meaningful character interaction. Then there’s a big
battle between dwarves and goblins. This battle is extensively
described in both tactics and detail, but is ultimately meaningless: It
has no effect whatsoever on the rest of the book. Then there’s another
twenty pages or so of meaningful character interaction. And then
there’s another huge, rambling fight sequence that lasts for two
In fairness to the novel, while the battle between the goblins and the
dwarves is utterly pointless, the big fight sequence which makes up the
bulk of the book is laden with plot. But it’s still just a big fight
scene: It’s page after endless page of detailed thrusts, parries,
dives, cuts, blood, noble charges, and hard struggle.
literally has a narrative with more breathing room.
More damning, however, is that the plot is poorly formed.
(There are some meaningful SPOILERS
from this point forward.)
In my reaction to the Icewind
Dale Trilogy, I mentioned my belief that perhaps the biggest
reason Drizzt Do’Urden caught the imagination of so many readers was
Salvatore’s decision to give him a rival of equally deadly skill in the
formidable assassin Artemis Entreri.
I don’t waver in that conviction, but in reading the handling of the
Drizzt-Entreri rivalry in The
Legacy, I kept expecting one or the other to don a leather
jacket, hop on a motorcycle, and jump over a shark.
Let me see if I can sum this up: Mixed into the larger fight sequence,
Drizzt and Entreri fight. Their fight gets interrupted. They futz
around for a bit, and then they fight again… but this fight gets
interrupted. So they futz around for a bit, and then they fight again…
and this fight gets interrupted, too. So they futz around for a bit,
and then they fight again… and this time Drizzt wins by knocking
Entreri off a cliff. Entreri falls to his doom.
Except Entreri isn’t dead. He’s got a magical cloak that lets him fly.
So he flies back up and they fight again. Drizzt wins again, and this
time he knocks Entreri unconscious, causing Entreri to fly into a cliff
at literally breakneck speed. Entreri falls to his doom.
Except Entreri still isn’t dead. His now-broken magical cloak has
caught on a
rocky spur and he’s dangling from a cliff. So a completely different
character climbs up to Entreri, cuts the cloak off him entirely, and
then watches him fall to his doom.
For real this time.
(Just kidding. In the next book, it’s revealed that Entreri was
miraculously saved from his fall by people who had no reason or
opportunity to do so.)
There are just so many problems with this…
By the time Salvatore is done, the Drizzt-Entreri rivalry has been
robbed of its meaning and significance: While there was definitely room
left open for a rematch after the end of The Halfling's Gem,
the numerous fights between the two in The Legacy
eventually just become so much noise on the page.
Salvatore, to his credit, manages to recover from his mistakes by
providing a really powerful conclusion to the fight… the first time Entreri
falls from the cliff. By the third time that Entreri has supposedly
fallen to his doom, even that has been turned into a hollow mockery.
More importantly, there are only about fifteen pages of actual plot to
be found here, yet Salvatore has stretched that material to cover more
than fifty pages through sheer, dull-minded repetition. This is
infinitely worse than the wasted space in Exile: There you
had random encounters which served no greater purpose in the plot, but
at least they were interesting and original in their own right. In The Legacy, you
simply have bloat.
And this is just one plot thread. The bloat within the other plot
threads is not nearly as egregious, but all of them suffer from it.
Here’s what it really boils down to: The Salvatore who wrote The Crystal Shard
would have boiled The
Legacy down into about 50 pages of taut, action-packed
storytelling. Unfortunately, the Salvatore who actually wrote The Legacy gave us
a 300 page mess leading to...
Basically, Starless Night
suffers from the same problem The
Legacy does, although to a slightly lesser degree: Instead
of 50 pages of plot bloated into 300 pages of novel, it's 100 pages of
plot bloated into 300 pages of novel.
The actual, meaningful plot of Starless
Night is fairly straightforward: Drizzt returns to his
homeland and discovers that the dark elves are planning to conquer the
kingdom of his dwarven friend.
That’s a solid plot. It not only moves along the arc of the greater
story Salvatore is obviously trying to tell, it also offers up those
essential crucibles which reveal and develop character: Drizzt,
returning to the homeland he had forsaken, has a meaningful internal
struggle. His friends’ reactions to his decision are meaningful turning
points. And so forth.
But again, Salvatore can’t keep his eye on the ball: The plot wanders
off in a thousand random and meaningless directions. Several pointless
fights consume page after page of empty action. Narrative beats are
repeated again and again and again… and again until you’re reduced to
tears of boredom.
Characters also begin acting in a shallow and random fashion. Whether
it’s a dark elf priestess monologuing with Machiavellian glee over the
doom of our hero while the hero’s allies rally right behind her or a
dark elf mercenary, immediately after capturing Drizzt, launching an
elaborate and completely unmotivated plan to free him again,
Salvatore’s characters simply lack any believability.
(To clarify: Motivation is given to Drizzt’s liberator. However, the
motivation makes no sense. After being instructed by his employer to
kill all the witnesses to Drizzt’s capture, the character concludes
that his employer will make a public announcement that Drizzt has been
captured and, thus, screw things up. The character, therefore, decides
to free Drizzt and avoid the crisis.)
(Feel free to read through that again. But it won’t help.)
Salvatore doesn’t do himself any favors by introducing a plethora of
new characters. Mostly villains, these new characters aren’t
meaningfully vested with any identity or purpose: They’re given names,
shoved briefly onstage, and then hacked down. You have the
vague feeling that perhaps you should be cheering Drizzt on with
particular vigor when he confronts the drow priestess who’s been
torturing him… but since that torture was scarcely even mentioned
before the confrontation happens, you don’t really care.
And don’t even get me started with the half dozen people who all want
to fight with Drizzt so that they can prove that they’re the Biggest
Drow in Town. The final confrontation between Drizzt and one of these
would-be challengers was cleverly handled (with Drizzt’s natural
talents facing off against magically-enhanced skill), but since the
challenger had absolutely no personality or existence beyond “I want to
fight Drizzt!!!” the entire confrontation felt pointless. It was just a
fight for the sake of a fight.
These books are deeply disappointing after the fun times of the Icewind Dale
Trilogy and the Dark
Elf Trilogy. I own several more books in the series (having
bought them in bulk so that I could take them on a vacation to
but have never bothered to read them.
THE LEGACY: D+
STARLESS NIGHT: D+