The Orc King marks the 20th book in R. A. Salvatore's bestselling Drizzt Do'Urden series, and is essentially the completion of the previous Hunter's Blades trilogy, comprised of The Thousand Orcs, The Lone Drow, and The Two Swords, tying up loose ends left dangling at the end of The Two Swords. That trilogy follows Drizzt and his companions as they struggle to survive the seemingly unstoppable march of Orc King Obould as they sweep across Icewind Dale. The Orc King picks up where they end and makes for a much stranger, slower read. Obould has, for reasons known only to him, halted his march into Icewind Dale and begun to build orc settlements. Does this mean Obould desires peace, or is there something much more nefarious at play?
The book sports its share of action, battle and sword-play, but centres less on survival and more on political intrigue, in this way marking it as closer in thematic material to the books in Salvatore's second DemonWars trilogy. Bruenor, King of the Battlehammer dwarvish Kingdom, refuses to believe Obould means peace and goes in search of the legendary lost Dwarvish city of Gauntylgrym for answers to the vexing problem of the orcs. What he finds will change the face of Icewind Dale forever. Drizzt and the others aren't so sure of what the orcs intend, and the book seems to play off this ambiguity with an enjoyable result. The increasing factions among the orcs similarly don't seem to know what Obould intends, and many fear Obould has lost his will to fight.
The intrigue and conspiracies rotate around the orcs in Obould's court. This is both a positive and a negative in terms of the structure of the book. On the one hand, it makes for a richer story. On the other, of course, it means that Drizzt and his companions are physically in less of the book. The chapters which feature our heroes seem shorter, and the orc chapters seem to drag. After all, when I pick up a book about Drizzt, I expect to be reading primarily about Drizzt. In The Orc King he takes a backseat to everything else that is going on, almost getting lost in the mix.
In short, the book is a solid entry in the Drizzt series, but not by far one of the best. With the largest middle chunk of the book spent not knowing who the enemy is, the adventure seems always on the brink of vanishing into a morass of moral angst, threatening to drain the fun from the book. It never quite gets to that point, but it teeters on the edge of it a few times.
Review by AT Ross
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