ARCHMAGE by R.A. Salvatore

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Archmage (Forgotten Realms)
(Homecoming #1; The Legend of Drizzt #31)
By R.A. Salvatore
Wizards of the Coast – September 2015
ISBN 9780786965854 – 384 Pages – eBook
Source: NetGalley


It astounds me that R.A. Salvatore is still writing Drizzt Do’Urden novels with a sense of freshness, telling stories that still captivate and entertain. Salvatore does this by sticking to the simple themes and core characters that have helped make him so successful, while adding a tinge of complexity through additional characters to focus on. Hardcore fans of his Forgotten Realms novels shouldn’t be disappointed with the start of this new sub-series.
I had read the first ten volumes within The Legend of Drizzt (comprised of three separate series) when I began to feel bored enough with the familiarity of the plots and its characters to consider just stop reading any more. Characters seem to die but come back, Drizzt seemed too perfect, and supporting heroes had become too predictable. I returned to Salvatore’s universe with the chance to read The Companions as part of the multi-author series The Sundering. This skipped me ahead in the saga to book 27, and I reviewed it here. That volume seemed to offer a reset button of sorts, but suffered in my view from existing as merely a set-up for the series to come, without lets of its own. I missed the trilogy that followed that reset and come to Archmage now behind on the overall Drizzt story arc from two fronts.
Archmage certainly references many events in the books I haven’t read yet, but I can’t say it significantly detracted from my enjoyment of the start to this sub-trilogy. Readers who have been away from Drizzt’s tales for awhile should be alright picking things back up again. (Though if you’ve never read any of them, I suggest you go back to the very start, publishing-wise, with The Crystal Shard.)
Salvatore creates compelling characters well, particularly outsiders or those with dark sides who still show signs of humanity. He wisely seems to have chosen not to completely abandon his bread-and-butter character of Drizzt, while also giving the novels room to explore other personalities. In Archmage that other personality that caught my attention is Gromph Baenre, the most powerful drow male of Menzoberranzan, the archmage of the novel’s title. His plot thread interwoven into a larger tapestry dealing with the role of males in drow society may also have been a larger part of previous entries I haven’t yet read. But for me Gromph and associated politics of the drow city became the most fascinating part of this novel, compelling because it shows there may be more possible for the drow than simple villainy against Drizzt and company.
Gromph’s brother Jarlaxle has appeared in previous novels (including ones I’ve read) as a more roguish figure who is neither good nor really an enemy. He continues that role here and I look forward to seeing how it mixes with Gromph’s plans that are set into motion (some accidentally) in Archmage. However, Jarlaxle also becomes somewhat problematic in serving as a quick fix in the plot to getting Drizzt out of dire situations.
In the end Archmage is a fairly typical Drizzt novel. Enjoyable, but not the best. At over thirty books just in this series, these novels are obviously pulp. Salvatore generally writes it really well though. Archmage suffers from problems that plague such a long-running series, particular with its familiar heroes. As the first in a trilogy its impact is also lessened in setting up promises for what is to come with Gromph, rather than achieving the development now. But for such a long running series, focusing now on new evolutions/directions for drow society and how that impacts their relationship with outcast Drizzt kept this fun, and leaves me willing to come back to for more reading candy.

Disclaimer: I received a free electronic reading copy of this from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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The Companions, by R.A. Salvatore

The Companions, by R.A. Salvatore
Forgotten Realms: The Sundering Book 1
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
ASIN: B00BE24W0W
384 pages, Kindle Edition
Published August 2013
Source: NetGalley

Prior to this I had only read up through the “Legacy of the Drow” series of Forgotten Realms books by Salvatore and am fairly unfamiliar with the universe of Forgotten Realms as a whole. Jumping ahead in the stories of Drizzt, Bruenor, Catti-brie, Wulfgar, and Regis (The Companions) was therefore slightly harder to get into. Additionally, this is the first book of a multipart series of novels that are related primarily only in describing an event called “The Sundering”. Having no idea what this was, no clue what the “Spellplague” is, and no introduction to many of the groups and settings featured at the start of the novel additionally made it hard to start without doing a bit of research on background. So if you are coming into this new, I would say don’t, unless you are fine with a lot of aspects of the story being not entirely clear. Start elsewhere, or be prepared to look up background info. If you are familiar with the setting and characters then I imagine you would probably be already eager to read this. If you were like me and somewhat tired of Salvatore’s simplistic novels and mediocre writing, then you might want to give this a try.

I had decided to read the remaining Drizzt novels I owned at least, but wasn’t sure if I would continue. Reading this I am impressed with how far Salvatore’s writing has progressed since his earlier novels. This is the best I’ve seen of his work, and partially that may be from a plot that allows him to ‘reboot’ the characters in a way as they are reborn into new lives. Contrary to the cover, Drizzt and his magical cat are not really in it other than a few pages. The focus instead is on Catti-brie, Bruenor, and Regis as each struggles with the consequences of their choices to be reborn into new bodies with all their previous memories in an attempt to help Drizzt face a future danger. Rather than having the character’s each revert back to their usual well-known and now clichéd behaviors, Salvatore nicely has them struggle with their rebirths as they try to work out how much their previous lives will influence their new ones, and how involved they wish to become with their new families and opportunities for a second, perhaps different life.

In these ways the book is outstanding for the genre. The downside to it all, however, is that it doesn’t end up concluding like a true complete novel or story. Instead its entirety is merely setting up the varied protagonists and antagonists on the chess board. Thus, it ends up being like one big prologue with the only resolution being will they come back together and honor the agreement to help Drizzt or use their new lives to do something different. Despite the attempt to make things conflicted for each character, this all goes predictably for all the characters, re-raising the specter of limitability in Salvatore’s work. Whether caused by his own faults or by the unreasonable demands of his fans or publishers, Salvatore is incapable of closing the coffin lid on big, popular characters – good or bad. With this the book falls into children’s fare, simplistic hero stories with entertainment, familiarity, and predictability. While it is nice this has strong entertainment and improved writing, I wish Salvatore could take these tales into something a bit more complex and less obvious, not just a rebooted ‘twist’.

Three Stars out of Five