Archmage by R A Salvatore

Archmage by R A SalvatoreArchmage by R.A. Salvatore
Published by Wizards of the Coast on September 1st 2015
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 384
Format: Audiobook

The pall that had descended over the North is gone, and a new day has dawned on a victorious Mithral Hall, but no matter how bright things seem on the surface, Drizzt and his companions know that what lurks just under their feet remains steeped in evil and charged with unimaginable power. The dark elves of Menzoberranzan, including the powerful Archmage Gromph, aren’t done with Drizzt yet. And consumed by their own power struggles, feeling backed into a corner, the drow may just be desperate enough to call on demonic forces from the deepest reaches of the Abyss, and unleash a disaster even the Underdark could never have prepared for.

Drizzt Do’urden is one of the most iconic characters in the Forgotten Realms universe, and it was with some regret that I realised I had missed several previous trilogies written by R A Salvatore. It did not take long for me to catch up with where the world was at, as the author does a fairly good job of introducing the characters’ progression in a natural manner, although he does tend to belabour the point after a while.

Thinking back to what I really enjoy about reading the Drizzt series, I found myself reminiscing about the ‘good old days’ of Drizzt, Bruenor, Wulfgar, Regis and Cattiebrie all going on adventures together, to slay the nasty dragon, or to do something equally heroic. I think the author has moved away from that sort of formula, perhaps by necessity, as the characters aged, and acquired real life responsibilities, but getting away from that tight band of adventurers requires the reader to follow the exploits of a dozen or so characters.

Broadly speaking, this book is the tale of Drizzt and friends, and their personal armies, going on an adventure to reclaim the dwarven homeland of Gauntlgrym. Having missed a few series, I initially thought they had already been down this path previously. Opposing them are the ever-convoluted intrigues of the Drow of Menzoberrenzan, and it is as much a story of the ‘bad guys’ as it is that of the heroes.

Part of what I did not particularly enjoy about the book probably stems from the fact I was listening to the audiobook version, and that is the dwarves. Pretty much everything about them, from the ridiculous names, the absurd quasi-scottish accent, the magical shield that produces mugs of ale. (no really) All of this adds up to feeling like they are little more than a comedy routine, rather than serious fantasy adventurers. I know that Dungeons & Dragons novels exist in their own parallel uni-genre to traditional fantasy novels, and lack mass-market appeal as a result, but I just wanted things to be serious for a while, which is hard to do with The Three Stooges going on. With such a large cast of characters to follow, it felt like some of them disappeared for extended periods of time, which was disappointing.

Where Salvatore really excels is in his fight scenes – after a few years away, coming back to a tightly-written Salvatore fight scene is just a joy. All of the characters are given their moments to shine, and you can easily get caught up in the emotional and physical action.

At the end of the day I don’t think this book is going to appeal to a wider audience, beyond fans of the series and the Forgotten Realms setting in general. While I did enjoy the book, I don’t think it shaped up to its predecessors. It does require a certain stick-to-itiveness, as this is apparently the 28th book starring Drizzt. I know that Drow are long-lived, but I really feel like perhaps it is time to allow them to go quietly into the darkness.

Rating Report
Overall: three-half-stars

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