Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Now I Understand (a book review)

I used to like RA Salvatore.

I know.  I KNOW.  I mean, The Crystal Shard came out in 1988, when I was 13 years old, so I have some excuse.  But by that point I'd read Tolkien and Howard and Lovecraft and Herbert, so I really have no excuse.

I read all the Forgotten Realms books, the Spelljammer books, the Dark Sun books...  plus a ton of other books.  So maybe I do have an excuse.  See, I read a LOT.  Like, 2-3 novels a week, on average, and it used to be a lot more.  I can go through a short novel in one sitting, 3-4 hours and bam.  A Steven Erikson takes a bit longer, and the addition of my daughter to my life, while TOTALLY AWESOME, also cuts into my reading time (and sleeping time, and eating time, and... time).

But back to RA Salvatore.  I bring him up because I have a beBook Reader (http://mybebook.com/) and I picked up RA's new novel, Gauntlgrym, for it.  I've read his books on and off for years, mostly to just fill in the gaps between interesting books, but also because I've always had a fond place in my heart for the Forgotten Realms, and for Bruenor Battlehammer (but not for that fucking Mary-Sue Drizzt).

Before I go any further, I should point out that I have been a fervent, sometimes even vicious, defender of 4e D&D since it's arrival.  I think that many of the complaints that people have about the game are straight-up stupid, and have not shied away from pointing that out.

BUT!  Upon reading Gauntylgrym, I gained new insight into some of those complaints.  I felt the nerd-rage, I steamed about the arbitrary and seemingly nonsensical changes.  I DRANK THE KOOL-AID.  On top of the normal problems that I have with an RA Salvatore novel - the 1-dimensional characters, the juvenile attempts at creating a "gritty" world, the unbelievably over-detailed fight scenes, the CONSTANT use of the word "Blasted".  Besides all that, there is the 4e stuff that is just arbitrarily dropped into the novel.

OK.  OK, I know he's writing with somebody else's IP, so he has to toe the line here, but the Spellplague, this massive, horrible world-changing event, gets maybe 2 lines in the novel.  And tieflings get added pretty much out of nowhere.  He mentions them "no longer lurking in the shadows".  But there are about 1000 of them in the book.  That's some serious motherfucking shadows, to loosely paraphrase Jules Winfield.

Also, there is a Primordial.  Titan-like gods would presumably have been noticed by the inhabitants of a planet that they occupied, one would think.  And he throws in a couple of 4e attack-power descriptions, like "the axe snapped down like the jaws of a wolf".  Fuck. Off.  Seriously - I like the idea of the 4e attack powers, but I can describe them just fine without you pounding them into my head.

In addition to those niggling issues, the book jumps forward through big chunks of time, presumably to catch the timeline up to current Realm cannon, but the jumps are handled so abruptly and clumsily, it feels like I'm reading about the first time I drove a stick shift.  Fine, fine, fine.. sudden forward lunge, fine, fine, stall.

And the book can't help but stall.  There are just so many annoying minor characters/antagonists, like the bisexual elf warrior-chick who wears earrings that show that she murders her lovers, and the crazy dwarf warrior who says everything in rhymes and laughs "Bwahaha" all the time.  He actually types it out, "bwahaha", a bunch of times.  You have to read through chapters of this mess, with idiotic, unpronounceable names, tissue-thin motivations, and loving details of all the foot-movements and stance-shifts of each interminable combat scene.

So, non-4e fans.  This book made me feel your pain.  It managed to make me dislike several things that I previously liked - 4e, Forgotten Realms, RA Salvatore novels.  Man, talk about multi-tasking.


  1. I've never read any Salvatore. Can you recommend a good book by him?

    Congratulations on the parenthood thing, BTW. How old?

  2. Well, I liked the Crystal Shard... but I was 13. The first 3 books, Crystal Shard, Halflings Gem and Streams of Silver I consider worth reading. The Dark Elf trilogy is also worth reading, I think.

    You will at least gain a greater understanding of why there are so many dual-wielding drow characters in the world.

    After that, I wouldn't bother. It's more (so much more http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/s/r-a-salvatore/) of the same stuff.

    Thanks for the congrats. My daughter Iris is 17 months old now. It's good times - she's basically a human bumblebee - always busy, busy, buzzing around.

  3. Is the Crystal shard about what's his name, the dual-blade wielding drow?

  4. He's in it, yes. The Dark Elf Trilogy is the one that's really about him. Drizzt was a character in the first trilogy, became very popular, and was the subject of the second trilogy - a prequel, basically.

    And the problem isn't really that he's a bad character - he's a pretty good character. If one of my players had come up with him, I'd have been pleasantly impressed enough to let them play a Drow. But after he became a popular character... you couldn't help but trip over dual-wielding drow. Which got to be annoying.

  5. I honestly couldnt remember his name, but my interest in D&D waned from 1990-2000 so I missed most of the Drizzt culture

  6. Mine lasted a bit longer than that, but in about 96 or so it was pretty much Vampire or Warhammer for quite a while. Followed by lots of years of no gaming at all - basically the whole 3e era. But my uncontrollable book addiction kept me hitting the well, if only because I have to keep up volume.

  7. The Crystal Shard is definitely the one to try out if you're going to try any. It's the first one, and is pretty fast-paced, covering a good bit of ground and several classic fantasy set-pieces. The writing's not great, but it's definitely a fun D&D story.