R.A. Salvatore’s latest Drizzt novel, Hero. Where to start? Let’s go back a bit.
I came somewhat later into the game, so to speak, in that I read my first Salvatore novel, The Crystal Shard, 10 years after it was published. So I’ve been reading The Companions of the Hall for 20 years instead of the 30 years he’s been writing them.
It’s been a long ride. It’s been a thrilling ride. It’s been an amazing, heartfelt, lighthearted, heavyhearted, adrenaline-pumping ride, one adventure after the next. It’s a continuous story not only of a group of fantastic characters, but also of an author who has achieved the feat of writing their stories for 3 decades and still keeping it fresh, exciting, compelling, and just plain fun.
This post is only partially about the book. The reason for this is because it is the latest in over 30 novels. If you haven’t read any of the books, you wouldn’t start with this one, and if you’ve read them this far, you don’t need me to sell you its virtues. You’ve either read it or are planning to. Instead, I’m going to talk a little about the book, and more about the characters and experience itself.
The Companions of the Hall couldn’t be a more unlikely group. A Delzoun Dwarf destined to be king, battling an invading barbarian tribe. A young barbarian in his first battle, defeated and later adopted by a merciful and kind-hearted dwarf. A human girl also adopted by the same dwarf. A lazy halfling with a large belly and an even larger heart. And a dark elf. A drow from the darkest place in all of Faerun. Drizzt Do’Urden, born in the drow city of Menzoberanzan in the Underdark finds that he cannot live amongst his people, a race of evil elves in a city where subterfuge, betrayal, and murder are simply a means to an end. After years of training to have eventually become the greatest weapons master in all of Menzoberanzan, Drizzt leaves and finds his way to the surface, to a place named Kelvin’s Cairn, and his fateful meeting with a great red-bearded, kind-hearted, tough-as-nails dwarf destined to be king. Bruenor Battlehammer.
And thus the beginning of the Companions of the Hall.
The story of these characters is truly something to be experienced for more than just how good the books are. Yes, there is magic aplenty in these books, for they take place in the Realms, after all. (Forgotten Realms, for those unfamiliar) But the magic I’m talking about here is different.
After traveling beside the Companions of the Hall for so long, they’ve become far more than just words on a page, created by an fantastic author. (yes, I’m a fanboy. I admit it) These characters have become real. Their adventures, triumphs and failures, gains and losses. I’ve felt it all with them. Across countless miles traveled, miles of dead monsters in their wake, many a town still standing due to their influence, the companions are legendary not only in their own world, but in the genre of fantasy as a whole.
I remember the first time I heard about Drizzt. While I was in University, a dear friend of mine was telling me about these books about this race of evil elves that lived underground. Their fighting prowess was the stuff of legend, and that everyone feared them. One of them was actually good, and came to the surface. My friend showed me his well-loved paperback copy of The Crystal Shard, and I was instantly intrigued. I went to the bookstore and bought the hardcover omnibus. And here I am, 20 years later, just as captivated after finishing this latest entry as I was with the first.
And I’ve forgotten to mention someone. Artemis Entreri
Entreri. This was a character I HATED from the minute he appeared. I continued to loathe him many books hence. A character without conscience, without remorse, without a moral compass and who simply enjoyed killing because he could. Irredeemable. Or was he?
I like Artemis Entreri now. A lot. Years into these stories we gain insight into Entreri’s past and what made him into the man he’d become. Over the course of many books we seem him experience a character arc that he experienced throughout all of the books saw his gradual change from coldblooded killer, to something else not quite good, but not the heartless thing he’d been. And then his unlikely partnering with a drow elf named Jarlaxle.
Jarlaxle. Probably my favorite character…..ever. Possessed of an unpredictable wit, cleverness I could only dream of having, and an endless array of resources he’s accumulated, Jarlaxle is not one easily caught off his guard. An invaluable friend to have, an enemy not to want.
And so we have 30 years building up to what was simply an amazing book. After so many adventures, so many ups and downs. Death, life, swords, arrows, magic, camaraderie, and undying friendship, we come to a book that left me very emotional at the end. An elf born of one of the most evil races in all of Faerun, becomes a hero known throughout the land. His exploits, moral code of ethics, and constant questioning of himself and his motivations, and striving to do the right thing, has a lasting effect on all he encounters. Perhaps his personal moral code could attract the attention of the Gods Themselves. Perhaps…even…a God one would wish never to encounter? Drizzt’s influence, the residual effect he’s had on the world has created heroes. The title of this book is for Drizzt….or is it?
Though I’ve loved every book, Hero sits as one of my favorites. These characters, the Companions of the Hall, and the friends they’ve accumulated over the years, are not just words on a page. Not for me, and I suspect the same for many others. For me, there is a very ‘realness’ there. Indeed they are in so many ways, real. And that…THAT, is proof enough that magic exists. And what a marvelous thing that is.