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Wednesday, November 7, 2007

"The Orc King" by R.A. Salvatore

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The Orc King” (Transitions, Volume One) by R.A. Salvatore
Reviewed By: David Craddock

R.A. Salvatore'sThe Orc King”, the first entry in the author's new Transitions series, marks Drizzt Do'Urden's twentieth year adventuring with the Companions of the Hall: Catti-brie, Wulfgar, Bruenor, Regis, and Guenhwyvar. Death, resurrection, dysfunctional dark elf families, love triangles, songs to Tempus, magic rubies, close calls against an assassin antithesis, thousands of orcs, and crystal shards are just some of the obstacles Drizzt and his friends have had to overcome, so with the release of yet another Drizzt book, many are bound to wonder what could possibly happen next.

By the end of “The Orc King”, the possibilities are almost endless, and Salvatore's message is clear—chance can be terrifying, painful, glorious, and heartrending, but it is also inevitable, and it is coming to Drizzt's corner of the Forgotten Realms.

Initially, “The Orc King” starts off as more of the same; so similarly, in fact, to almost any other Drizzt book, that I was rather worried. Well-choreographed battles, more mentions of the abandoned-but-never-forgotten feelings that exist between Catti-brie and Wulfgar, hints at another war between dwarves and orcs.... The battle scenes, especially those involving Drizzt, are as exceptional as always, though I found some of them a bit too wordy and confusing, necessitating more re-reading than I would have liked. And another war between orcs and dwarves? We just had an entire trilogy based on that concept, did we not? We certainly did.

Thankfully, Salvatore's writing seemed to echo my thoughts. The winds of change began to blow, aiding me in the rabid page-turning that accompanies any of Salvatore's work, and as the author's aims became clearer, so did my interest—and surprise—at his objective.

King Obould Many-Arrows, the primary antagonist from the Hunter's Blades trilogy, is a primary focus in "The Orc King", a point that was obvious to all Drizzt readers once the book's title became known so many months ago. Obould astonishingly displays more brains than brawn by working toward a possible alliance with the surface races in the hopes that his race can co-exist and enjoy surface benefits such as trade and commerce. His plans must be executed covertly, as Obould is well aware that not all of his subjects would be as keen as he to make an effort at peace between other races, especially the dwarves. Unfortunately, while Obould painstakingly moves all of his pieces into place, Grguch, chieftain of a clan comprised of orc-ogre hybrids, sets his own plan into motion, one that would see King Bruenor—and King Obould—dead at his feet.

Transitions is a series aptly named, as the change in Obould's character is nothing short of dramatic and unforeseen when compared to the vicious dictator in The Hunter's Blades series. By the book's climax, I was surprised to find that my respect for Obould was almost equal to the amount I've come to garner for Drizzt since I first became a fan of the "durned elf" so many years ago. The extra layers of Obould's personality that Salvatore dared to expose reveal a more interesting character, one with greater ambitions than to continue a war that neither Obould nor his opponent could ever advance past a supply-and-life-draining stalemate.

Though Obould's "transition" could be seen as the most drastic of the new trilogy, some of the Companions themselves take groundbreaking steps that are equally as compelling. Bruenor's search for Gauntlgrym, a legendary dwarf city that the King of Mithral Hall believes will hold the answer to driving back Obould's orcs, forces him to reconsider many truths he considers to be fundamental and self-evident. Have the orcs always been enemies to his kin, he wonders? And even if the two races once co-existed, is it even possible to dream of resurrecting such a lifestyle with all that has happened between them in the present? Bruenor's journey of growth is compelling due to the realism with which it is written: denial, followed by anger, followed by anger and denial, followed by grudging acceptance when Bruenor finally faces facts, even though he'd prefer to bludgeon those facts with his axe.

After sustaining a leg injury during The Hunter's Blades, Catti-brie's disappointment at taking the proverbial backseat to the action is palpable, but serves to present her with an option she would otherwise never have considered: magic. At one juncture, the Lady Alustriel of Silverymoon grants Catti-brie the use of a magical wand should the Princess of Mithral Hall need to defend herself. Of course, the inevitable does occur, and without her magical bow or any other conventional weapon nearby, Catti-brie makes efficient use of the wand—and finds she enjoyed doing so. Given her physical handicap, will the next book in Transitions see Catti-brie seeking formal magical training? Only time—and Salvatore—will tell.

Wulfgar and Drizzt himself are the two characters who receive the least amount of exposure in "The Orc King", which could be due to their stories not being nearly as compelling as those of Obould, Bruenor, and Catti-brie. For the most part, Drizzt leaves the spotlight to his friends while he works from the shadows, and Wulfgar's journey starts out interesting, but ultimately revolves around a circular path that caused this writer to wonder why the barbarian made such a fuss about finding himself (yet again) in the first place. That is not to say Wulfgar doesn't receive some closure to events that have been haunting him since his return from the Abyss; he does, but in a way that makes the latter half of his journey in “The Orc King” seem rather pointless.

After completing the novel, I reflected that “The Orc King's” slow start was necessary, as the action it builds to is not of the fast-paced, visceral sort, but something even better: honest-to-God character development. “The Orc King” is not only a book with lots of orc bludgeoning (though rest assured, there is plenty of that), but rather, a look at the most fearsome enemy to all races, fantastical or otherwise: change, and what to do when we are forced to adapt to it.

6 comments:

raul said...

hey,

i have long been critical of ra salvatore's coasting on drizzt-fame(most of the original properties he wrote after word seemed to be variations on teh perfect solo ranger type)...but i really enjoyed the orc vrs orc feeling and many-arrows developement into a honestly interesting character.

Im not going to say its parallel to our real world, but territory disputes the world over by different cultures...its very interesting to see how 'peace-making' has to hide behind conflict appeasement in the books.

drizzt himself and cattie-brie(and most of the original cast actually) i could really care less about...but this new character developement has been fantastic.

David Craddock said...

Hi Raul,

While I disagree with your claim that Salvatore has been "coasting" on his Drizzt books' popularity, I do agree that Obould's transition was well done and easily the highlight of The Orc King.

I do think that Bruenor's personal journey was also interesting, and--as articulated in the review--I'm also a big fan of the possibilities that seem to be in store for Catti-brie. Bruenor's daughter, a magic user? Bring it on! It sounds like something that will spice up her character.

chrisd said...

My girlfriend just raves about Salvatore.

I started to read The Highwayman and could not get into it.

She suggested the original Drizzt stories. One of these days, I guess.

Anonymous said...

Although I have not read the whole book yet(because i decided to re-read all of the other drizzt books in order-starting from homeland) I did read the prelude and am surprised you dont mention how the very beginning of the book is actually set 100 years in the future, and seems to be set in a realm of more chaos than the modern day era in wich all the other books are set. I found this very fascinating and hope that it may be an actual prelude for future drizzt books.

roguefire28 said...

I am not certain how the book could be set 100 years into the future considering I highly doubt some of the original characters would still be alive . . . Or even capable of walking without canes . . . However, I have not finished the book yet and came make no presumptive judgements on the time frame despite the fact that 100 years seems like much of a stretch, even for RA Salvatore.

ito said...

I used to love Salvatore's books. I grew up with the Dark Elf series, but after discovering Steven Erikson, Glen Cook, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Abercrombie, Sanderson and R Scott Bakker I couldn't read Drizzt's adventures anymore. I always made the comparison to the above writers' characters and Drizzt and his friends became 'stale' for me. With the exception of Artemis Entreri. Now I still pick up his new books and try them out, but I dragged my feet through the Pirate King and had to give up on the Dragon King out of sheer boredom on my part. It feels like I have lost something now.

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