July 9, 2011

Review: Gauntlgrym, by R.A. Salvatore

Gauntlgrym: Neverwinter, Book I (Neverwinter Nights)Author: R.A. Salvatore
Title: Gauntlgrym
Series: Neverwinter (Legend of Drizzt)
ISBN: 9780786958023
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast (2010)

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My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"Drizzt joins Bruenor on his quest for the fabled dwarven kingdom of Gauntlgrym: ruins said to be rich with ancient treasure and arcane lore. But before they even get close, another drow and dwarf pair stumbles across it first: Jarlaxle and Athrogate.  In their search for treasure and magic, Jarlaxle and Athrogate inadvertently set into motion a catastrophe that could spell disaster for the unsuspecting people of the city of Neverwinter—a catastrophe big enough to lure even the mercenary Jarlaxle into risking his own coin and skin to stop it. Unfortunately, the more they uncover about the secret of Gauntlgrym, the more it looks like they can’t stop it on their own. They’ll need help, and from the last people they ever thought to fight alongside again: Drizzt and Bruenor" (GoodReads' Blurb)


The mass market paperback has just come out and I thought I’d celebrate it by writing a review of this era-starting novel. And the first thing I should probably say is that this is the first volume of the Neverwinter trilogy... but that it won’t make a lot of sense if you are not a previous Drizzt fan.

Be aware that old characters and past events are glossed over at best to the point that I had some trouble catching up – and I have only skipped the Ghost King novel while waiting for my local library to stock on the paperback edition!

However, the beginning was still enjoyable. Not overly original, as Bruenor once more shrinks away from his duties and runs off to seek something or other followed by his faithful Drizzt, but enjoyable. I thought the fresh wave of companions would make the trip interesting – an orc and a gnome? There was some potential there! – but then R.A. Salvatore proceeded to jump forward in time some eighty years or so.
I’m going to overlook the fact that Bruenor was already of a venerable age a couple of books ago in favour of the adventuring plot that would not have happened otherwise.

Said adventuring plot involves Jarlaxle and Athrogate, the rhyming dwarf, being outsmarted by a group of Thayans whose aim is to create a powerful necromantic construct in the heart of the civilized North.

Then, we jump forward a few more years.

And then Jarlaxle feels obliged to help his friend Athrogate to stop the whole process they contributed to jumpstart, and they join Drizzt, Bruenor and the woman who outsmarted them in the first place and who has become a Thayan renegade.

Action ensues until we reach a satisfyingly climatic end.

Gauntlgrym, other than being specially difficult to pronounce, is not a very special novel. It conforms to the norm of what most other Drizzt books are, so you’ll enjoy it if you enjoyed the previous ones. It is a nice enough read, light, action-packed, and easy to drink up – I have no trouble admitting to it.

There were, however, some points that made me frown and made me hope.

As for the former, there’s a matter of style and of character.

Style, because when action is so clearly the basis of the whole novel, action must be nearly perfect. And I’m aware that Mr. Salvatore is a fencer and should know what he’s talking about – I know he does from some of his earlier duelling scenes. But I am familiar with sword and nunchaku (we’ll get to the nunchaku in the next paragraph), and nearly half of his fight bits made me go “Uh?”. The description of Drizzt’s fighting left me wondering at a scimitar totting six-armed thing. It felt over-the-top. It felt surreal.

And about characters (and nunchaku), my main grip with Gauntlgrym involves Drizzt’s female counterpart and renegade Thayan. Don’t get me wrong, she’s an interesting addition. I’d probably have been mildly interested in her... if she had not been so obviously planted for Drizzt’s benefit. She’s a superb warrior with ultimate control of a magic weapon what changes its shape between staff, tri-staff, and pair of nunchaku. Well, alright. Even if Mr. Salvatore’s research of this kind of fighting didn’t feel as intensive as it should have been. But she can run as fast as Drizzt, even without magic anklets. She can use both her hands independently, just as Drizzt, and it starts to be suspicious. The fact that, for no apparent reason, she can use Drow Sign Language is just the cherry of the cake and I had to roll my eyes as Drizzt snapped out of mourning mode and decided that she was oh so very interesting and full of stories he’d like to hear.

That last part is a quote, by the way.

But Gauntlgrym also gave me a few reasons to hope for a good follow up, all of them character related.

On the one hand, Jarlaxle. He’s recovered his wits after the Promise of the Witch King and Road of the Patriarch ordeal and he’s back to being the obnoxious, cunning mercenary I’ve come to know and love. But he has also grown in ways the rest of the cast hasn’t, fulfilling the potential that was apparent by Servant of the Shard: a non-evil, non-heroic (stress on that last attribute, please) opportunist mastermind who has found the meaning of friendship after searching it for so long, and who can act when he must without being a fool for it.

And on the other hand, Drizzt himself. He seems to have lost the martyr streak, the self-reproaching streak, the hero complex (even if he goes around prancing in a unicorn barded with silver bells...) I can only hope that this change will continue, and not serve as a way to highlight a return to paladin-hood in full force.

So, to sum up this review in just a line or two: another Dirzzt novel with the same strengths and weaknesses of the previous ones, but showing signs of possible future improvement. Or possible catastrophe, but let’s be positive.

I’d tell Drizzt followers not to give up the never-ending series with this volume, and I’d recommend everyone else to start the reading somewhere else for clarity’s sake.

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