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Book Review: Neverwinter by R. A. Salvatore

Genre: Shared World, Forgotten Realms, Sword and Sorcery
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Publication Date: October 4, 2011
ISBN-10: 0786958421
ISBN-13: 978-0786958429
Author Website: R. A. Salvatore

Drizzt Do’Urden and Dahlia Sin’felle return in Neverwinter. The Companions of the Hall are gone, its last scion the near immortal drow. Gone, too, are all the other friends Drizzt has made, all dead or gone with the passing of the years. His only companion is the cynical Dahlia, the Thayan swordmaiden and former champion of the necromancer Sylora Salm. Sylora’s Dread Ring is growing greater, threatening the rebuilding of Neverwinter with its undead hordes. Drizzt and Dahlia set out from the ruins of Gauntlgrym to see what they can do to help, Drizzt because of his code of ethics, Dahlia for revenge. Meanwhile, the tiefling Herzgo Alegni also plots to take over Neverwinter with his champion Barrabus the Gray.

R. A. Salvatore’s dark elf hero is a long-standing member of the canon of fantasy of characters. Ask most anyone where to begin with reading fantasy, and likely two of three individuals will refer you to The Legend of Drizzt in one book or another. And there is no denying the excellence of the sword and sorcery Salvatore writes. But Gauntlgrym, the prequel to Neverwinter, was a bit of a disappointment for some, reading like Salvatore was phoning in the same old material, when he had a chance to reinvent it all.

Neverwinter proves that Salvatore has still got the stuff that drives his stories to the top of the NYT bestseller list time and time again. We are re-introduced to the introspective drow, one no longer tied down to any notions of friendship or camaraderie. He is really alone now, with no possibility of the return of any of his consciences. His chosen companion, Dahlia, sees this, and pushes the Drizzt to become less the paladin ranger of Melikki and towards the embrace of the battle lustful nature that is his drow heritage. Dahlia’s pragmatic philosophy is undermining the drow’s noble nature and Drizzt knows it. More and more he embraces the battle for its own sake, and Salvatore used this to full effect in several lengthy and glorious battles.

Salvatore, always noted for his carefully written and amazingly orchestrated battle scenes, is in particularly fine form here. Drizzt and Dahlia’s battle sequences, especially against a devil that is Legion, are finely tuned cinematic sequences that are easily visualized by the reader. The epic end battle sequence is stunning to read, and will please those who have felt that Salvatore had strayed from his strengths. Barrabus the Gray also provides a little alternate color in this depiction of blood and gore when he takes on the forces of Sylora Salm for his slave-driving master Alegni.

The novel is also important in that there is a reveal, significant to Drizzt’s life, that to describe would give it away (those who have already read the novel will know what I am referring too) as well as a few other surprises that seem out of character for the Drizzt of twenty years ago, but that make sense for the newer, lonelier, severe Drizzt of Neverwinter. Longtime fans will want to read this book, though sadly readers knew to Drizzt’s legend would not understand its full significance. I recommend that readers new to Drizzt not start here, as there is too much character depth and background needed to get the full impact of Drizzt’s character development and the reveal in particular.

As much as I enjoyed the novel, there were still a few problems. That epic scene with the Legion devil? Salvatore forces a few plot convolutions to make it happen, so that it seemed as if Dahlia and Drizzt were traveling in circles even though they had a stated goal. Why go to Luskan when they knew they needed to go to Neverwinter? The logic of their progress was confusing, as if Salvatore was sending them on a wild-goose chase while he developed the Sylora Salm and Herzgo Alegni subplots. It was a plot bungle that doesn’t destroy the overall excellence of the novel, but that is distracting to close readers.

Nonetheless, Neverwinter is a welcome return to the high quality sword and sorcery which made Drizzt famous in the first place and I for one am interested to see what the leaner, meaner Drizzt is to become. Like the Forgotten Realms in general, Drizzt has left off the shackles of black and white morality, and enters a new world where morality its heroes can only be shades of gray.