12 September 2011

Forgotten Realms week R.A. Salvatore part 1

This week I thought I would run a "Forgotten Realms" theme on the blog. Fantasy isn't such a big part of the general content, but I did grow up with it as a kid/teenager. I completely missed out on the D&D role playing experience, instead I was introduced into the world of fantasy through Forgotten Realms novels and computer RPG's based upon the D&D rules. This week will mainly be about those two things - novels and good old fashioned late 90's/early 00's RPG games for the PC.

When I grew up, and bear in mind I live in Sweden, there is not really a blooming culture of "nerdy" goodness in these parts and especially before the internet and internet commerce exploded. As such I was pretty much unaware of RPG's and didn't think of fantasy at all. But one day, while walking around town on my merry way to check out the latest video games - I stumbled upon this store which was something unique.

It was like a shrine filled with awesomeness, sci fi and fantasy novels, miniature wargaming, RPG games etc. Years later I can say for sure that finding that store (it no longer exists btw...) made me start with miniature wargaming in the first place (Warhammer).
It is really  fun to think back all those years and realize that this single store got me into PC Rpg's, fantasy litterature and miniature wargaming. The store had rows of book with cool covers, so I browsed a little while and pretty much picked one thick book at random.

The book was "The Icewind Dale trilogy" by author R.A. Salvatore. It was a compilation of 3 books, some 1000 pages in total, it was one of my first book purchases and I read that book in something like a weekend completely enthralled. It was really easy to get into, it really did keep the interest up and I loved the setting with the "Ten towns" located at the far end of the world of Faerun, scattered among the snow swept mountains. The essence of the story of the Icewind dale trilogy, and which re-occurs in some of R.A. Salvatores later work is that of the existence of an evil artifact, a crystal shard called "Crenshinibon". This crystal shard pretty much had similar corruptive influence over its owner as the ring in Lord of the Rings. So in the Icewind Dale trilogy we have a failed wizard wandering about the frozen tundra ready to die when he finds this artifact that lures him into using it and thus using the wizard as a vessel for its own hunger for power. With the shard in his possession the wizard starts raising an army, threatening the entire Ten Towns area.

The main heroes of the story, are all extremely memorable, Drizzt the Dark elf (Drow) ranger with his pet panther which he can summon forth, Breunnor Battlehammer a Dwarf clan leader, Wulfgar the Barbarian and Catti Brie a human archer (both adoptive children to Breunnor) and Regis the halfling. Together this band of "RPG classes" and fight the evil forces and truly kick ass. The descriptions of the action is good, the characters are great, the story is enjoyable even though perhaps not the most original one. Overall a great introduction into fantasy as the reader does not get overwhelmed and bored out of his skull with overly complex descriptions of every single leaf and piece of rock (yes I'm talking about LoTR *gasp*). And the Icewind Dale trilogy itself created all these superb characters that were used again and again in Salvatores later work.

There is in fact a trilogy of book compilations that make a huge story arc, that I would strongly recommend to anyone who liked the Icewind Dale original trilogy. It starts out with "Dark elf trilogy", a prequel story telling about the origins of Drizzt Do'Urden and his early life in the Underdark. Possibly my favorite book out of the saga, it tells the story of the feuding Drow households that are almost like city states  fighting each other. How the spider worshipping utterly evil Drow raid the surface for those soft tree hugging cousins to make perfect sacrifice victims, the enslaved races and the perils of the Underdark even the Drow are concerned about when wandering the cave like network of tunnels. The novels also describe how the Drow are divided into classes, how their matriarch system works, how Drizzt learns to be a badass fighter and how he eventually reached the surface and settled down in the Ten Towns. I found this book to be a bit more dark and serious in tone.

The sequel to the Icewind Dale trilogy is a book compilation called "Paths of Darkness", and it takes place after the events of Icewind Dale, reuses two of the suberb characters first introduced in Icewind Dale trilogy - the assassin Artemis Entreri, and from the Dark Elf Trilogy we get to know and see the Drow Jarlaxle a bit more. Artemis Entreri becomes the main villain and enemy of Drizzt - both being superb fighters and Artemis being obsessed with beating Drizzt. Jarlaxle is a chaotic character, a flamboyant fantasy character that is not outright evil but unscrupulous enough to do the thing that gives him the most personal gain at any given moment. If it suits his schemes to ally himself with the likes of Artemis Entreri or somehow help the heroes led by Drizzt he will do so. Dressed in various magical garbs and items he always seem to have  something cool to show off. Easily my favorite "bad guy" character that R.A. Salvatore has created.

Paths of Darkness lives up to its name and continues the slightly darker and more serious tone which was set in the Dark Elf trilogy. Wulfgar leaves his friends, completely mindfucked after having been imprisoned by a demon, Drizzt and the remainder of the gang try to figure out a way of destroying the evil artefact that is Crenshinibon with the aid of the cleric Cadderly Bonaduce. At the same time Jarlaxle is seeking the crystal shard for himself and Artemis is looking for that final fight with Drizzt which will prove which one of them is the better fighter.

All in all a great story arc. The continuation of the adventures of Drizzt and his friends is the "Hunters blades trilogy" which I have yet to find the time to read.

From what I've learned R.A. Salvatore has, with these books, created the most recognizable cast of fantasy characters and the most over exposed hero (Drizzt) in the Forgotten Realms universe. The question is whether an adult would find the same enjoyment out of these books as a younger person, I'm not completely sure about that. But I do think they are a great gateway into fantasy literature and more "serious" books and would really recommend them as a birthday gift to anyone around the age of 12-15 remotely interested in the subject.

5 comments:

  1. Drizz't triology (the lands and the drows) was one of my preferred set of books.

    Six books of pure fantasy goodness.

    But then, the fall... slowly, so the first new wave of books were enjoiable, but now the fall is complete, and there is no new ideas.

    All IMHO of course :D

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  2. They are a lot of fantastic novels. I have numerous stored up in my loft/attic/roof not sure what it would be called in Sweden. They are one of my favorite sets of novels. I picked up stacks off ebay. Elminster rocks!

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  3. I definitely loved The Icewind Dale trilogy, but then again, I loved the games to death, I'm not sure if that sole purpose made me love it, but it's damn good imo.

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  4. @ neatfit, nice to hear. I plan to review the Icewind Dale pc series tomorrow :-)

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  5. The Dark Elf Trilogy is just so great. Made me buy Dungeons & Dragons The Legends Of Drizzt, just so I can relive some of the memories... =)

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