Thursday, December 10, 2015

Homeland Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: R.A. Salvatore
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Genre: Epic Fantasy, RPG
Series: Dark Elf Book One
Pages: 271

Buy on Amazon!

It’s hard to be an enthusiastic fan of fantasy without hearing the name Drizzt Do’Urden, the drow elf from R.A. Salvatore’s take on the Forgotten Realms.  After appearing in eighteen books and on the New York Times bestsellers list, it’s safe to say Drizzt has made an impact on popular fantasy storytelling.  But to say he’s made a good impact is really stretching it.

Drizzt first appeared in the Icewind Dale Trilogy. Due to the character’s popularity in that series, Salvatore decided to create an origin story for Drizzt which turned out to be the Dark Elf Trilogy. Homeland is the first book in that trilogy, and it starts readers off describing the drow culture and the circumstances of Drizzt’s birth. The drow elfs have a matriarchal hierarchy where woman are stronger and more powerful then the men and thus control almost everything they do.  Their society is also inherently evil, as the drows are constantly vying for power, ritualistically sacrificing or torturing lives for the Spider God they worship, and ruthlessly stabbing each other in the back. This is the world Drizzt is born into, and the book focuses its conflict on Drizzt deciding on whether or not to join the evil drow culture or to forsake his homeland.

There are a lot of problems with Homeland.  First off the reader knows how the conflict between Drizzt and the drow culture is going to play out from the onset… and no you don’t need to read the Icewind Dale Trilogy to figure it out.  The plot constantly resorts to predictable cliches, and random fight scenes when the author feels things have gotten to boring. As a character Drizzt is one dimensionally good. Where does he learn all this goodness? Before fans of this series start screaming Zak at me,  not teaching someone to be evil is not the same as teaching them to be good. Why even bother having him grow up in an evil setting when the conflict resolutions happen without any effort?

Drizzt not only solves all of his personal conflicts with the same ease an adult might have beating a four year old in a game of chess, he solves his physical problems with the same ease, too.  Rising the ranks in battle training school and nearly besting his private instructor despite being 400 plus years younger then him, surviving numerous assassination attempts, and destroying giant monsters.

The language used to tell Homeland is bad. It’s as simple and as bad as that last sentence. Salvatore’s setting of scenes is oftentimes executed with all of the deftness of an elderly relative who’s drunk on whiskey and has resorted to telling stories about how tough life was back in the good ol’ days. In the quote below Salvatore describes Drizzt’s struggles while studying at the academy.
“The Academy held many disappointments for young Drizzt, particularly in that first year, when so many of the dark realities of drow society, realities that Zaknafein had barely hinted at remained on the edges of Drizzt’s cognizance with stubborn resilience.”
Descriptions and scene setting aren’t helped by many of the book’s action sequences. Consider this example during a climactic battle below between Drizzt and Masoj which fails spectacularly at trying to incorporate a little note of humor.
“But Masoj had never seen Drizzt enraged before.  If he had, he never would have agreed to try to kill Drizzt.  If he had, he would have told Matron SiNafay to go sit on a stalagmite.”
Magic is important for any fantasy series to work, and if you’re going to have spell and word based magic in your story it helps if the words said to create magic aren’t strung out pairs of partial words like “ma ku,” “glabrezu,” and “bae-go si’n’ee calamay.” On and on I could go with the prose, but I won’t.  Suffice it to say, if you’re looking for an example of how bad prose can destroy a story, than this is a book worth looking at.

There was a lot of potential for discussion with the worldbuilding and how it ties into thematic issues. Unfortunately, the book never gets past the surface. Salvatore misses out on potentially discussing roles of gender in society, discussing the drows’ isolation from the surface world, how growing up in a greedy and malicious society can psychologically damage a life, and the dangers of believing in cult like religion. There is actually a lot of potential here, and none of it is ever fully realized. Instead readers are jumped from the one dimensional fantasy hero rising above an enemy cliche to another one dimensional fantasy hero rising above another enemy cliche.

I know Drizzt and the Dark Elf Trilogy were created as part of Dungeons and Dragons Forgotten Realms, and fans of that game might really enjoy this book and it’s unstoppable main character (Young children would also likely enjoy Drizzt). However, strictly speaking as a book and not an RPG, Homeland has too many issues to be a truly enjoyable story.  Fantasy doesn’t have to be Shakespeare, but at least try to make the writing somewhat fluent.

Score: 3.9

No comments:

Post a Comment