Sunday, 27 February 2011

The Dark Elf Trilogy: Collector's Edition Review

A Review of the collector's edition of R.A.Salvatore's Dark Elf Trilogy in which the origins of arguably one of the most beloved characters of the fantasy genre and certainly of the Forgotten Realms line of novels, Drizzt Do'Urden is revealed.

This is certainly not a current review by all means, the first book of the trilogy 'Homeland' was published over 20years ago (1990,) but this was my first exposure to these novels and thought I'd share the experience. Expect some spoilers.

A prequel to the Icewind Dale Trilogy where Drizzt Do'Urden was intended to appear as a support character, the author soon found how popular he would become and gave him a more central role. This popularity continued to grow to the point where an origin was near demanded by the fan base and the author himself was compelled to write by his own fondness for the character.

Accounted over another trilogy; 'Homeland' details Drizzt's life from birth to young adulthood (still a number of decades) in Menzoberranzan the greatest city of the Drow (dark elves.) 'Exile' and 'Sojourn' account his life after escaping from Menzoberranzan into the Underdark and subsequently emerging to the surface world.

Homeland is hands down the strongest of the 3 novels, the detail with which Menzoberranzan is illustrated is nothing short of inspiring as a DM. Society is painted to be equal parts chilling and intriguing. Males are seen to be the lesser sex, as only females can become priests of Lolth the spider queen, god of the Drow. And as favour with the spider queen is what drives the Drow society, families are constantly striving for a place in the top 9 houses. The means by which one house replaces another is to simply eliminate them,  priding themselves as masters of stealth and deceptive warfare this is actively encouraged by the Drow culture. Punishment is only delivered upon a family that fails to totally annihilate their target and leaves witnesses alive. The story covers both Drizzt's family House Do'Urden's attempts to reach the much coveted position of 9th house and Drizzt's own growth to become one of the greatest warriors in Menzoberranzan. Particularly accounting his exploits in Melee-Magthere, the cities warrior academy where he learns to think for himself and witness' first hand the cruel nature of his people.

The Drow society's is so compelling and entertaining, every plot of treachery against another family or even a Drows own family is described in detail. The Drow v Drow Battles are particularly entertaining as the writer goes into length about the specific tactics of  their warfare; the magic, assassinations and rituals of the priestess'.

Great action set pieces (not to mention near unpronounceable names become a mainstay of the trilogy,) but after the break neck pace of the first book, the wait for this action becomes all but evident in the next two chapters. While both are solid outings, for this reason they never really reach the level of readability that Homeland achieves. A particularly weak section of Exile is Drizzt's stay in Blingdenstone (home of the deep gnomes, or Svirfneblin.) While it can still be seen as an important turning point in Drizzt's life, it's dull, and R.A.Salvatore's weakness as a writer comes in to play. Relying so much on the silent friendship of Drizzt and his astral panther companion Guenhwyvar, when it comes time to writing dialogue and especially the banter, it all falls flat.

Homeland was without a doubt one of the most enjoyable reading experiences I've had in years but the other two books are still worth your time. There are still plenty of epic battles and Drizzt really is an infectiously bad ass character, so it's really a matter of opinion; do you complain that the latter installments suffer because of the down turn in quality or do you appreciate the trilogy as a whole? With that in mind: 
Homeland 19/ 20 
Exile  14/20

Sojourn 14/20
Or 16/20 as a whole

Note: I read the classic collection pictured on the left but it has now been repackaged in a really attractive and affordable boxset.