While I had read a few R.A. Salvatore books about the Dark Elf champion Drizzt Do’Urden a few years ago, I didn’t really start reading them as they came out until the “Transitions” series, where Salvatore started making huge changes to the mythos. I had thought the major changes were done with at the end of “Transitions,” but I was very wrong. Salvatore’s new book, Gauntlgrym, continues the frenetic pace of change even as Salvatore starts to take it slower in the story department. While the pacing in the book is a bit off and some of the plot twists are presented like a pig on a platter before they’re actually revealed, Gauntlgrym gets the “Neverwinter” series off to a rip-roaring start.
Decades have passed since two of Drizzt’s longtime companions (one of whom was also his wife) crossed into Death’s realm, and both he and the Dwarf King Bruenor Battlehammer are growing restless. Bruenor has decided to give up the throne and go on a quest to find the fabled Dwarven kingdom of Gauntlgrym with his old friend Drizzt by his side. Elves and Dwarves being very long-lived, they no longer feel the lust for life that marked their younger years, the passage of old friends taking a great toll on them. But other forces are at work, also looking for Gauntlgrym and the natural force that inhabits it. Will Bruenor and Drizzt find it before the evil is unleashed? And will Drizzt continue to lose himself in battle lust, no longer caring what happens to him after the long, lonely years he’s spent?
Gauntlgrym is a typical R.A. Salvatore Forgotten Realms novel: full of action and fighting, with some decent character work, though some other characters are too broad for my taste - namely the villains. Dahlia gets the most development, for reasons that become evident as the novel progresses, but even she is a bit too perfect a character at times. As for the vampire? The lich? And Sylora, the evil sorceress who is Dahlia’s rival, the broadest of them all? I didn’t find any of them interesting, though Dahlia becomes moreso as the novel goes on. I prefer my villains with a few more facets.
The other problem with the book is the pacing: long stretches don’t seem to go anywhere. I’m as big a fan of character-building as the next guy, so I guess these slow passages are the character-building of characters that I don’t really care about, making them seem awfully slow. Then Salvatore explodes into frenetic action, making years or even a decade go by, and setting the situation up for more violence and fighting. It’s an odd mix that is occasionally satisfying but too often jarring.
I do love the exploration of Drizzt’s character, in regards to how he really lives for nothing but the fight now. Considering how long-lived Elves are - and the fact that decades pass for him just in this novel alone - his living this way since the death of his wife is almost heartbreaking at times. This actually makes the budding romance heartening to see, even if Salvatore lays it on the reader with the subtlety of a brick through a window.
The prose is typical Salvatore: you’ll either love or hate how intricately he describes all the battle scenes. There is no middle ground. I actually do love it, though I do wish the quieter moments were better written. Nobody, other than Michael Stackpole perhaps, can write action like Salvatore. You can almost see it happening in your head, and if movies are ever made of a Drizzt series, the director will have his stage direction right there.
Gauntlgrym is a very good book, especially for fan of Drizzt or the Forgotten Realms. Non-fans probably won’t get much out of it, even though Salvatore does do a good job of writing it so that newcomers will not be lost. It’s not that they will have trouble following the story. It’s that they won’t really care to follow it.
But if you like good fantasy hack and slash with some pathos to help it go down, you’ll probably enjoy this one.