Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Gaming Fiction Review - Gauntlgrym

I started this one, set it aside for a few months, then picked it up again last week and read it fairly quickly. As of this volume there are about 20 books in the Drizzt saga depending on how you want to count the "Sellswords" trilogy where he only appears in the first book. There are 3 more in this particular series with 1 more (as part of "The Sundering") on the way so we're up to about 25 or so altogether. If you want to throw the Cleric Quintet into that (some characters show up in the Drizzt books) then we're up to about 30 novels in "Bob Salvatore's travels around the Realms". In my opinion, they're pretty good, around the top of "gaming fiction" as a genre. No, your kids aren't likely to be studying them in English or a Literature class but there are good stories and interesting characters here.

With all of those Dark Elf & Friends books out you're likely already either on board with them or not and I doubt this book will change your mind. If you don't like any of the earlier ones, you probably won't like this one and I wouldn't recommend starting with it anyway. If you do you probably read it a couple of years ago and are wondering why someone is just now posting a review. I'd label myself a casual fan - I get the books but not the day - or even the year - they come out. So I'm reviewing them at a casual pace and as that casual fan.

As an overview, this book continues the story of Drizzt and company though his companions are finally being thinned out by the passage of time. To me this is one of the great potential themes that the author has resisted until now: when you have an effectively immortal character who has non-immortal friends, what happens when time passes? How does it impact the character, a heroic figure in the setting, as his friends and family die off? There are a lot of interesting elements that could be layered on top of the original misfit/wanderer/outsider looking in themes of the early books. In the previous book in the series, The Ghost King, we finally started exploring these ideas and in this book it becomes a major theme and that's is 100% a good thing.

I won't get into spoilers too much here in case someone has not read the book but here are 3 things that stood out to me:

  • There is a lot of time passing quickly in this book. Decades pass between the beginning and the end and the timing of most of this story is just a few years before the 4E era of the Forgotten Realms. Timeline jumps are much easier when you're dealing with Elven and Dwarven lifespans.
  • The expected threat-of-the-book (pictured on the cover up there) takes a somewhat unexpected turn and despite the author's continuing preference for unique, signature weapons for many of his characters (see Drizzt, Athrogate, Cadderly, Jarlaxle, Artemis, Pwent, and others for examples) he manages to not bring it down to a simple confrontation between Drizzt and the expected signature villain. I thought the whole story was well done and the climax of the story was especially well handled.
  • There is a lot of dungeoneering in this book and it's a pleasant change from some of the cross-country stuff in earlier books. If you like dwarves they are a focus of this book, along with Thay and cultists of Asmodeus. The opposing forces in the book are an interesting and unusual mix of creatures too. The party Drizzt joins is an interesting mix as well and the pages fly by.
One thing I realized as I was wrapping up the read was that none of the main characters in this entire saga have children: Drizzt, Bruenor, Catti-Brie, Wulfgar, Regis, Jarlaxle, Artemis - none of them. In a lot of other settings and stories one way to handle the passage of time and mitigate the loss of favorite characters is to have their children grow to adulthood and begin having similar adventures. That's really not an option here. Why is that? I am not sure. Mr. Salvatore has children, so I know he's not against them in general. It's just odd that with all of the emphasis on home and family and friends and long term relationships that have their ups and downs that none of these characters appears to have produced offspring nor are they engaged in raising them beyond Bruenor's adopted humans in the first few books.I wonder if that will change down the road.

None of that changes the epic quality of the story - this is a tale that sets the stage for Neverwinter and the North in the 4E timeframe and it's a really good read, even moreso if you've read all of the others leading up to it.

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