Author: R.A. Salvatore
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Genre: Fantasy Novel
Release date: 1988-1990 Second release: January-August 2007
Price: $7.99 each; $19.95 collected edition
The first book in this series, The Crystal Shard, is the first novel ever published by critically acclaimed author R. A. Salvatore. For the past couple of decades, this series has been revered as a classic by thousands people. Those who have read the series can certainly understand why.
These books have a cast of lovable and memorable characters who are well developed, tons of great action scenes, and many other elements that fans of the fantasy genre will love. As there is not much filler in these books, you won’t likely get impatient waiting for something important to happen. Almost every scene drives the story. The only thing that may make you flinch is the infrequent swear word or the mention of a bloody battle scene. Even so, the overtones are much less dark than the previous trilogy in this series, giving you a little breath of fresh air. (You can read our review of that trilogy here: Review: Dark Elf Trilogy: The Legend of Drizzt).
Though this is the second trilogy in the series, it was the first written. The Dark Elf Trilogy was made as a prequel to this highly-successful series, as an answer to fan request. So many things happen in these books we won’t be able to cover everything in this review, but we can get a good summary.
The Crystal Shard
In this book, we are introduced to Regis the Halfling and Wulfgar the Barbarian while getting a closer look at three characters from the previous trilogy: Catti-Brie, Bruenor Battlehammer, and Drizzt Do’Urden. They live within the community of Ten Towns, which is a group of (you guessed it) ten cities on the outskirts of the harsh, frozen tundra of the north. A group of barbarians plan to attack the villages, but the city leaders learn of the plot and the citizens of Ten Towns thwart the massacre. In the battle, Bruenor Battlehammer the dwarf takes one of the barbarians captive, though he cannot say why he spared the man’s life. Fate soon reveals the reason.
Elsewhere, a puny apprentice named Akar Kessell tries to impress a group of wizards in an effort to join their ranks. His deceptive comrades manipulate him and leave him for dead in the frozen tundra of the north. However, Kessell comes across an ancient, magical artifact which saves his life: the Crystal Shard. Using the magic of the shard, Kessell spends years building a crystal tower and amassing an army of goblins, orcs, giants, and barbarians. When Kessell leads a campaign to conquer the tundra, the epic battle for Icewind Dale takes place on the doorsteps of Ten Towns.
The five adventurers of the main party leave the Icewind Dale for the first time in many years. They follow Bruenor Battlehammer to the lost kingdom of his youth in the hopes of helping him reclaim his throne. Mithral Hall is famed for having rivers of the precious metal Mithral running through its halls. The problem is that the secretive dwarves were too effective in hiding their underground kingdom, and Bruenor was “but a lad” when he last laid eyes on his homeland. After quite a bit of searching and some chance encounters, they come across the location of the city.
The party traverses some of the most challenging terrain they have ever endured and battle powerful opponents — all this while being unable to seek refuge. No one wants a drow (like Drizzt) in their city, after all. The team, save Regis, is unaware that they are being followed by one of the most deadly assassins in the realm. When they reach Mithral Hall, they find themselves in a web of battles with dark dwarves and the assassin who followed them. They also discover why Bruenor’s people fled their treasured city over 200 years ago;
[toggle title=”SPOILER”]A black dragon spewing venomous breath has claimed the kingdom and its treasure. [/toggle]
The Halfling’s Gem
The assassin, Artemis Entreri, has gotten away with his target, Regis, and is traveling south to take him to guildmaster Pasha Pook. Drizzt and Wulfgar set off in pursuit of their captured comrade, first seeking a magical item to help them travel the well-populated south. Catti-Brie swears to avenge their fallen friend by reclaiming his throne. She summons an army of dwarves, barbarians, mages, and archers. With the onset of the impending winter, Catti-Brie’s army will hold up in Longsaddle until Spring, while Drizzt and Wulfgar are racing to beat the biting cold winds from the north.
Drizzt and Wulfgar gain passage across the Shining Sea aboard Captain Deudermont’s ship.
[toggle title=”SPOILER”]Bruenor makes a miraculous return and, against Catti-Brie’s request, catches up with the rest of their team in pursuit of the Halfling and his captor. [/toggle]
The team traverses miles of open ocean and brutal desert to arrive at the city of Calimport. Entreri sets a trap to force Drizzt into a battle to prove himself the greater fighter. The group ends up in a battle with wererats while trying to enter the thieves’ guildhall. The group overcomes insurmountable odds that nearly claim all of their lives, before finally reaching the main chamber of Pasha Pook in the final battle to save their friend.
Each of the characters in this trilogy brings a lesson to the table that Christians can take away while reading. In Drizzt Do’Urden, we learn how to overcome opposition from people who shun you. Most cities turn him away because of his appearance, but he protects the citizens anyway. Bruenor teaches us that our pride can blind us and push us down a path that leads to our ruin. He wants desperately to claim the throne that is rightfully his, but it almost gets him and his friends killed.
Wulfgar teaches us that when we see something wrong, we are to break off its horns and challenge it openly — even when the odds look overwhelming. When the barbarian king leads his tribe to do terrible things, Wulfgar mightily overcomes so he can lead his people in the right way. Catti-Brie teaches us how to be unafraid. Her fear of Artemis Entreri was complete and overwhelming, but she knew that her friends’ lives depended on her overcoming that fear, so she did it. Finally, we learn from Regis that greed and laziness can bring us into serious distress. Every time he went out chasing a trinket or a bauble, he got himself and his team into trouble; when he sat back thinking he couldn’t t help in a fight, he was captured.
If not for the incantations and spell-casting, this section wouldn’t need any notes. Wizards have to draw shapes on the floor, light candles, and chant to summon otherworldly demons and fiends. This is similar to some rituals that Satanists practice while worshiping. The characters also call on their false gods to do things like help them in battle and grant them luck in desperate situations. However, the gods never materialize, giving room to believe that the character’s blind faith is the only form in which the gods’ exist.
At the beginning of each new segment, Drizzt offers his thoughts in a first-person narrative of the events as if writing in a journal. In one of these writings, he pretty much spells out that we cannot have hope in a god. Fortunately for us, we know better. Drizzt somewhat contradicts his own writing in the next journal entry, so it is hard to pin him to any religious preference.
R.A. Salvatore is widely praised for his amazing battle scenes, so it should come as no surprise that these books have a lot of them. He doesn’t overly describe the gory parts of fighting, but he sometimes goes into detail about how the scenes play out. Blood is mentioned, but he doesn’t mention the spilling of entrails or similar pictures common in this genre. If you read fantasy frequently, the violence probably will not be more than what you are used to. Otherwise, you are looking at more of a PG-13 type environment in the realm of violence.
These books do not use much in the way of profanity or crude humor. There is an occasional d**n or b*****d, but you do not see language like sh** or f***. Coarse jokes (in the way of body parts or similar nature) do not stand out to memory.
Happily, aside from one scene were “voluptuous naked women” are mentioned, there is no content to report here. That one instance where nudity takes place is only a few sentences and does not go into great detail.
The only drug reference is when the group comes across a group of southern barbarians who smoke a pipeweed. The group visits a couple of taverns and a few of them have drinks. While the group does not get intoxicated, strangers whom they have the misfortune to meet do become drunk. There certainly is not a strong glorification of it.
I love the covers of the mass market paperbacks on these books. They illustrate an important scene in each story and give you a good basis for what the characters look like. (If you prefer to create your own image of characters when reading, you can put a paper bag over the covers.) The artist went into great detail to capture the imagery beautifully.
Salvatore does a great job painting the scenes for you, giving just enough description for you to easily fill in the blanks. I think this adds to the excellent speed of the books; I can’t remember wanting a scene to end in favor of the next.
Where the author does not give much descriptive visuals, he more than makes up for with character details and emotions. You always know why a character is doing what they are doing because their feelings and backstories are well described. This makes for excellent character development.
Grammatical errors continually happened with increasing frequency in these books, though they were lacking in the first trilogy. Several chapters have no mistakes, but then a chapter or two has a mistake every other paragraph. These types of mistakes do not bring everyone out of the story — in fact, a lot of people may even read over them — but some of us reread a couple of times to make sure we understood correctly.
There is not a lot of humor in the first book, but humorous moments take place as the series goes on and the characters begin to become comfortable with one another. The dwarf’s hardened demeanor gives the appearance that he does not have time for the mistakes of the newbies and the circumstantial humor will leave you chuckling. The jokes highlight the differences of personalities between the characters.
These books certainly live up to the title of “classic”. The driving pace and vivid action scenes make you want to know what happens next. Watching your favorite characters battle overwhelming odds, overcoming them, and turning into different people on the other side really makes you connect with the stories. Doing this with five characters is no easy feat!
When you see Drizzt turned away by another town because they fear him and don’t understand him, you feel his sorrow. As Wulfgar completes a mighty feat, you feel your chest swell a little bit. The emotions and the events correlate in a profound way.
Fortunately, this trilogy does not have as much of the darker material that is common in fantasy novels. Compared to the previous trilogy, the occasional mention of a sinister deed or a chanting spell is far preferable to the dark rituals of the Underdark, the evil things that their denizens do, and even the killing of children. The story doesn’t suffer for missing all of that. These are truly remarkable books and highly recommended.
You can buy the collected trilogy or the individual books by clicking the links below:
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