Gauntlgrym by RA Salvatore
Review by AT Ross
The creators of the Dungeons and Dragons universe have mandated change, and so has R. A. Salvatore. In Gauntlgrym both missions are accomplished with flair and drama. Over two decades have passed since the close of The Ghost King and the remaining Companions of the Hall have grown old with the weight of age. Even Bruenor’s mighty beard has turned more gray than red and he wearies of ruling Mithril Hall. His aging eyes more and more burn to quest for the lost, legendary Dwarven homeland of Gauntlgrym. Drizzt, meanwhile, has lost the anchor to his peace on the surface, finding himself relishing the thrill of the hunt and the slaughter more than he should, more than he has in the past. He has become reckless in his loss of purpose. When old Bruenor and Drizzt finally set out on a quest to find Gauntlgrym, the always-faithful Pwent at their sides, it will set into motion a chain reaction that will reshape the face of Neverwinter forever.
Gauntlgrym almost entirely makes up for the sheer disaster that was Salvatore’s last entry in the Drizzt saga, The Ghost King. It is everything that the Ghost King should have been, but was not. It is emotional, respectful of its characters, intelligently written and structured, and finally summons a sense of nostalgic sorrow throughout, a sense of the inevitability of change and death. It is truly the ending of an era, spanning nearly a hundred years from its opening pages to the very end. Several more of our faithful, long-time companions are killed in the book, yet they go to death in a manner worthy of their history, and of the many, many books that have come before. As a long-time reader of this series, I can say that their deaths are tastefully done, and could not have been better suited to them.
Yet against the sadness, hope is constantly flowing beneath it all, the knowledge that life will go on, that Drizzt will go on into a new world. It is as much the opening of a new era for Drizzt as it is a close, and to this end Salvatore develops some secondary characters that seem as though they will become more central. Jarlaxle returns, though he is more in character this time than in the previous book, and proves to be the testimony that Drizzt will need to find himself once again. Athrogate, Jarlaxle’s strange and rhyming dwarf companion is given more space to develop into a fully-fleshed character, and reveals a side we have not seen before, which endeared him to me more so than in in the last few books. Salvatore also gives us some captivating new characters which have a depth and richness sure to make them long-standing new companions in Drizzt’s new world. Salvatore in particular spent his time crafting Dahlia Sin’Felle, a young elf with a horrifying past who now serves Thay – for the moment. She is more a mercenary than religious devotee, though her haunting history provides her with a strong dose of humanity that will eventually challenge her and her entire way of life. She bears a magical staff that can break into many different melee weapons instantaneously on command, and she bears seven diamond studs in her left ear, one for every lover she has killed, and two in her right ear for the lovers she has yet to kill.
Sylora Salm, one of Dahlia’s former lovers, and the Thay lich she serves, is another satisfying addition to the series, making for an excellent villain. Barrabas the assassin, and the Shadovar barbarian tiefling Herzgo Alegni he is forced to serve, are also both satisfying villains. None of them have received much development, and will no doubt be expanded in the coming books of this new trilogy. The Thay and the Shadovar, both religious fanatics, have begun a great war up and down the Sword Coast in the aftermath of the Spellplague. This adds an interesting element to the story, as the plot, and the hinge that forces the discovery of Gauntlgrym, revolves primarily around this war. Nevertheless, Salvatore provides us with nothing of either of their beliefs; we have no reasons for their war, only that they consider one another heretics or cultists. Perhaps this is knowledge simply assumed for those who play in the Forgotten Realms universe, but it is somewhat confusing for those of us that do not.
I've read both this book and Neverwinter, and loved them! I can't say that I've warmed to Dahlia at all, but I appreciate her complexity and contrasts to Drizzt. For Gauntlegrym, my favorite interactions were with Bruenor, especially after he and Arthogate teamed up to save the ancient dwarven homeland. I was intrigued and somewhat disheartened to see Drizzt so lost, but was strangely cheered by Jarlaxle's attitude about it. Both books have me hooked and waiting for the next book in the series, where I think Dahlia is going to experience her past come back to life. It should be mind blowing!
What did you think about Gauntlgrym?
Submit your own reader review and award the book the rating you think it deserves.