What 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 hundred pages.

The End.

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.

Die Hard 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 Mexico), but have never bothered to read them.


Author: R.A. Salvatore
Published: 1993/1994
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Cover Price: $7.99/$7.99



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