Grasping for the Wind Rotating Header Image

Book Review: The Orc King by R. A. Salvatore

* Genre: Fantasy, Shared World Fiction, Sword and Sorcery
* ISBN: 0786943408
* ISBN-13: 9780786943401
* Format: Hardcover, 346pp
* Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
* Pub. Date: September 2007
* Series: Forgotten Realms Transitions Series, #1

Picking up where The Two Swords left off, The Orc King continues the adventures of Drizzt Do�Urden and the Companions of the Hall. King Obould Many-arrows seeks to create a kingdom of orcs, at peace with its neighbors, a thing unheard of in Faerun. Tosun Armgo continues to seek to be a new Drizzt, a dark elf of good character while fighting off the advances of Khaizid�hea the evil sentient sword. And Wulfgar, recently widowed sets out to find his lost daughter Colson.

R.A. Salvatore has been writing in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting for 20 years. Widely acclaimed for his creation of the dark elf Drizzt, he brought shared world fiction into the mainstream of genre fiction. (If such a thing can be said, it does seem like an oxymoron in some ways.) His novels are sold all over the world, and Drizzt is almost as recognizable a character as Gollum or Captain Kirk.

But (and remember this but comes from an amateur) for all his accomplishments, it seems that Salvatore cannot get out of a writing rut, when comes to his characters. The Sellswords Trilogy was received poorly, by even his most loyal readers (I among them) as it did little with its potential. With the return to the story of Drizzt, Bruenor, Catti-brie, Wulfgar and Regis, the hope of many of his fans would be that his creativity would sparkle once again. But The Orc King didn�t. Oh, it has the classic Salvatore elements. The Orc King has the great fight scenes both personal and on a larger scale that first drew his fans in. His continues the tradition of Drizzt�s introspections at the beginning of each section, setting up the stage for the following chapters. But what he does not do�and this is where the novel fails�is create a new behaviors for his characters or really make them grow.

In The Orc King, Wulfgar is still the introspective former captive of Errtu. Salvatore had already destroyed all that had made Wulfgar a great character to begin with. His had aged from a brave and intrepid youth into a simpering self-pitying character (for all his protestations otherwise). Wulfgar again leaves the Companions of the Hall, the very people who can help him, and sets off on his own, certain that this is the right course. He was just as certain a few books ago, and that certainty left him a wino that had lost Aegis-fang. I have always been of the opinion that this character development was one of Salvatore�s poorest choices in his writing. The Orc King continues Wulfgar�s lack of growth, to moving beyond the events of his past to happiness in his future. Wulfgar, as the reader will find out, always thinks the grass is greener somewhere else, and for some reason Salvatore won�t change that part of his character. Perhaps the next novel will show a change, as Wulfgar does move to greener pastures, but I don�t hold my breath.

The behavior of Bruenor is also odd. This odd dwarf king, who befriended a dark elf in the very first Drizzt novel, can�t seem to get over his prejudice of orcs. Now, I don�t know about you, but that seems odd to me. Obviously, Bruenor�s prejudice is necessary for the story, but it seems out of character for someone who not only saved a dark elf, but befriended him. Always Salvatore has made it clear that the �goodly� races fear dark elves more than any other of the �evil� races. Yet Bruenor can�t see good in an orc. This just seems out of character. Salvatore does try to explain it away by having Bruenor seem to be deluding himself in hope that Obould�s goal of a peaceful kingdom is not true but I just don�t buy it as a reader who has devoured all the Drizzt novels. It seems out of character.

All right, enough vitriol. Yes, the two characters were either annoying as in the case of Wulfgar, or out of character as in Bruenor, but this is not the whole of the novel. Salvatore is continued to address the themes of prejudice. Once, he did it on the personal level with Bruenor and Drizzt, now he is dealing with it at the community level. Dwarves and orcs have always despised one another, but in The Orc King, an intelligent orc sees the need for peace between the two races, so that both may flourish. (There are hints of ongoing conflicts in the world today.) This is an excellent theme to write about in a shared-world filled with so many races. Salvatore�s choice of using Drizzt and his companions, who had so eagerly slain orcs in previous novels, to help King Obould realize his dream is appropriate.

And of course, Salvatore continues his trademark battle and fight scenes descriptions. Of the many fantasy authors I have read, few hold a candle to Salvatore�s depictions. He so well describes the actions of the characters, and sets up the setting beforehand, that is almost impossible for the reader not to visualize the events as if they were happening in front of our eyes. For that alone, any Salvatore novel is worth the small amount of time it takes to read. I may not like some characterization or some plot, but each fight or battle scenes rouses my spirit afresh. Undeniably, Salvatore has a gift for pacing his novels, always knowing just when the reader needs some good old-fashioned hacking and slashing.

The Orc King is, for all its faults, still a great read. Drizzt Do�Urden is a hero of righteousness and truth, and no reader can help but root for he and his team. Salvatore�s novels are always exciting. This novel being the first in a trilogy called Transitions, the reader can expect (I hope) to see some significant changes to the Silver Marches and to the way that orcs at least are characterized in future novels. I hope that Salvatore really puts his characters through the wringer in this trilogy and makes them into better people than they already are. I am looking forward to the next novel. It appears that Wizards of the Coast and Ed Greenwood have big changes in store for the Forgotten Realms with the new 4th edition, and Salvatore is giving us intimations of that, perhaps is even now writing the novels that will help change the face of Faerun forever. Don�t read this novel for your first foray into the Forgotten Realms, but fans will enjoy, though probably not love this one. It is no Sojourn or The Crystal Shard, but it is fun to read and is a welcome return to the Drizzt legend for all Salvatore�s readers.

Comments are closed.