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Shadowhawk takes a look at the first novel in the new Forgotten Realms crossover event The Sundering.
“A thoroughly unexciting novel that is all about the setup and little else. An unexpected disappointment.” ~Shadowhawk, The Founding Fields
I haven’t read all that many Forgotten Realms novels. My reading so far has been limited to the War of the Spider Queen novels, Paul S. Kemp’s Erevis Cale novels (I’m in the middle of the sixth novel at the moment), and Erin M. Evans’ Brimstone Angels novels. That’s really it. Outside of that, I’ve read the first Drizz Do’urden novel, Homeland, and then there’s this one. In short, my Forgotten Realms reading has been extremely selective, largely because it is a setting that I’m very slowly coming to understand and appreciate, and it doesn’t help that there are some three hundred novels to choose from whenever I want to read something. And pretty much most of it is for a trilogy or something. Very daunting.
Wizards of the Coast recently announced the Sundering event, which would cause significant changes throughout the worlds of Faerun and Toril and perhaps even beyond. It is said to be an event to rival the Spellplague at the least, which was the last big event of the entire setting if I understand correctly. It seems to be a really good place to jump on with some Forgotten Realms reading, especially since there are going to be some 20 novels in the series, and all the prominent Wizards authors are going to contribute a novel to the series, featuring their characters with their own plots but paying heed to an overarching vision.
This is why I picked up the first novel in the series, The Companions by R. A. Salvatore, released last month. I quite liked Homeland and though The Companions is set several years after that, after some 20+ other novels, I thought it’d be a good point to get stuck into the character and the setting. How wrong I was. Because you see, this novel has very little to do with Drizzt Do’urden himself, tangentially at best. As the name says, the novel deals with three of his companions, his friends: Cattie-brie, Bruenor, and Regis. Wulfgar, another companion, makes an appearance at the start of the novel, but he has nothing more than a cameo. The Companions charts the “new” lives of the three main companions as they are reborn in the world, returning in a second life because Cattie-brie’s goddess wants them to.
One of the main problems with the novel is that we never really get a convincing reason why this whole process of rebirth happens, other than the will of Cattie-brie’s goddess. Sure, the inference can be drawn that this all has to do with Sundering, and that this is why all this is happening, but its a very thin reasoning. This created a disconnect with me very early on, and I was never able to really get into the narrative.
Second, the life that the three companions live are very… pedestrian and unexciting. Cattie-brie, reborn as a daughter to a desert tribe, has some excitement since her life intersects with some powerful sorceresses of the Shadovar, out of Shade Enclave, who are one of the bad guys in Forgotten Realms. This created some really interesting drama and tension, but ultimately, it was all rather boring, because the narrative doesn’t justify the whole rebirth angle. Bruenor, reborn as a dwarf, had an occasional flash of excitement to his story, but was no different in the main to Cattie-brie’s story. And another issue was that Bruenor, formerly a dwarf high king, now has to do everything from the ground-up and basically re-do his previous life in his current incarnation. All the frustration that Bruenor feels, I felt it too. I wanted the plot to go somewhere, to actually progress. The worst was definitely Regis’ new life, reborn as a halfling. His narrative arc was always a rough slog of the worst sort and made reading the novel a real chore. I got through it with a great amount of difficulty.
Another thing is that we learn nothing about the Sundering. Extremely surprising given that this is the first novel about the event. It is the big opener, written by one of the pillars of Forgotten Realms fiction. The book ends up being entirely a set-up book, where the people are brought together for events that will happen later, but which don’t have any relevance for the moment.
Given that I didn’t know anything about these characters before this novel, it was both a good and bad thing. Good in that I didn’t have to know some 20+ novels’ worth of backstory. Bad in that I had very little reason to connect with their mindset, such as why they are all such good friends with Drizzt. Certainly a contradiction right?
If there’s anything else that’s good about this novel, it is the author’s world-building. Or rather, at this point in the tale of Drizzt Do’urden and his companions, it should be world-exploration and not world-building. Simple semantics in the end. I really liked how he portrayed the dwarfs of Citadel Felbarr, and the lives that they lead. As a fan of dwarfs from Warhammer Fantasy and Raymond E. Feist’s various Riftwar novels and Dragonlance, I loved all the sights and sounds of Felbarr, and the way that the author got into the details. The best bits here, certainly, were all the military training sessions, no doubt. The dwarf accent can take some getting used to, but it does feel familiar after a while and ultimately that’s what counts. It never felt uncomfortable or incomprehensible, as I’ve seen done elsewhere, where the author overdoes it. Here though, there’s a balance.
And there was also the brief introductions to each chapter, which are presented as being from some sort of journal entries written by Drizzt. They present a really philosophical side to the character and while being a bit dense, they were very interesting as a character study. Good stuff.
Inevitably, what this boils down to is the fact that the novel was just plain boring in the ways that really mattered. There was very little in it to keep me interested. And in that respect, it is one of the most boring and unexciting novels I’ve read to date. And given that I mostly enjoyed Homeland, I’m really disappointed. I expected far more from this novel and it completely failed to deliver. This was a book on my “Cover Art Mega-Post” list and it was something I’d really been looking forward to.
I’m hoping that the second novel in the series, Paul S. Kemp’s The Godborn will fare better! And I’m really hoping that since I’m reading Paul’s Twilight War trilogy at the moment (on the third book at the moment), which is the precursor to The Godborn, and so far I’m really impressed with it.