August 3, 2012 by Jeff
A while back I received a review copy of the latest R.A. Salvatore book, Charon’s Claw and in preparation for an interview I did with the author for The Tome Show, I read through the book this month. This is the third time in as many years that I’ve interviewed Salvatore and I have to admit, after the first couple of times getting to know the New York Times Best Selling author there were things that bothered me about his philosophy for writing Forgotten Realms novels.
I don’t know if I was getting a more sincere response, if he’s grown as an author, or if I’ve just gotten better as an interviewer and/or reader, but this year, I have set all those fears aside and have come to a much greater appreciation for Salvatore and his Drizzt novels.
Let me be straight, I have always enjoyed Drizzt novels but I don’t think I ever appropriately appreciated them. My journey goes a bit like this.
I started reading Drizzt novels in 9th grade. I found rollicking adventure stories that inspired my adolescent D&D mind. Over time I got more and more into gaming and more and more into the Forgotten Realms as a setting.
Whenever I went back to a Drizzt novel, however, I was working from the expectations of 9th grade me. That’s not a bad thing. It took me back to that time and place and pointed me towards a place of joy. This is probably why I loved the Ghost King novel so much. A villain who is an undead, psionic dragon with a powerful artifact fused to it’s horn really spoke to the over the top action I remembered loving from Drizzt.
Over time I saw the author trying to inject more serious themes and I struggled to take them seriously. He didn’t seem as steeped in Realmslore, instead writing what he wanted and making the setting adjust to him, and his admission, in previous years, that his Realmslore wasn’t strong and he didn’t have time to read other people’s work in the setting chaffed me. And like others, Drizzt felt a bit Mary Sue-ish to me. A character who never loses any battle, gets the girl, and has perfectly loyal friends.
And all of this was fine. I knew what I was getting and I really loved it for what it was.
Over the last few years, though, I’ve come to a realization. I haven’t given these stories enough credit.
This realization first came with the Pirate King novel when a friend, Jeremiah McCoy mentioned to me that the book was an allegory for the Iraq situation. He was right, there was a larger lesson there and because I came in with my 9th grade expectations I didn’t appreciate it, even when it was pointed out to me.
The last few years of novels have been a struggle trying to get a handle on the new situation for the character. Not only is he just 100 years in the future but his behavior seemed inconsistent to me compared with what I expected from previous books.
Sure, Salvatore had told me that the character isn’t as mature as I’d given him credit for, but his history, experience, and mature relationships (both romantic and friendships) told me otherwise.
Finally, in this new book, Charon’s Claw, I had an epiphany. I have started seeing the character closer to the way I believe Salvatore intended. Drizzt has a lot of experience and wisdom, sure, but he’s also very emotionally immature. That’s not combination we’re used to seeing because as humans it’s hard for us to understand someone who could be hundreds of years old and have the emotional maturity of a teenager. I think that was a key component I was missing.
The epiphany came in a moment when I realized just how unreliable Drizzt is as a narrator. He mentions something about Entreri not caring what others think about him…and then immediately Entreri gets mad about people naming stuff after him. Clearly he cares or he wouldn’t be mad, and Drizzt just doesn’t see it at all, doesn’t understand people’s emotions and motivations. Entereri continues to show how much he cares about what others think through the book.
It was from that moment that I started to see the flaws in the character going back decades. And not flaws as in problems, but flaws as in humanizing characteristics.
Salvatore also made it clear how much he does to to work within the canon of the Realms and mentioned that he has a “to read” list of FR books, which was nice to hear. He still struggles with Realmslore, a bit.
Throughout the book the Netherese Empire is a looming villain but his depiction of this realm is quite different than what I expected from other works on the subject. And he admitted in the interview that he didn’t know a lot about that part of Realmslore, but explained his interpretation of them and how he thinks they can fit into the larger setting.
One of the things I wish all FR authors did was better integrate Realmslore and tell stories that can only be told in that setting using the continuity built upon by their peers and Salvatore can still improve in this area.
But, it turns out, there are other places where he is leaps and bounds ahead of others and I never gave him the credit he deserves for all these years.
Charon’s Claw is a great example of great storytelling with fully detailed characters. No author I know takes the time to bring villains and side-characters to life quite like Salvatore does and it’s a rip-roaring good opportunity to see what it’s like when an author can tell a long form story that isn’t just contained within one book.
I still prefer the deeper story telling when it’s fully about the people in the stories in a meaningful and individual way and less about society and larger themes of the sort (like Pirate King), but Charon’s Claw does this better than I recall from other novels in the series.
In this case, it’s a story all about coming out from the things that enslave you, be it your past, your hatred, or a magical artifact as well as seeing what happens when you try to redeem those who might be irredeemable and how to cope with the loss of your life as you knew it.
If this is your first Drizzt novel I think you’ll struggle to really appreciate the story, but if you have a history with the character this is a novel that should serve you quite well.