For me to finally read the books that center on of one of the fantasy genre’s most beloved character’s (and one that I think everyone who ever played D&D in the Forgotten Realms world wanted to be) was a fait accompli. I had generally enjoyed many of the books I read under the Forgotten Realms banner (though many were little more than two-hour, “while I’m eating a sandwich,” reads) and yet had not read anything including R. A. Salvatore’s dark elf gone good, Drizzt Do’Urden. I was bound to find them in my hands eventually.
The Legend of Drizzt was recently re-released in collectible hardcover format and now also paperback. It spans at least six novels that focus on Drizzt, though there may actually be more forthcoming. The books themselves are gorgeous and the new artwork offers Drizzt as beautiful and principled and tormented as I am sure Salvatore intended him to be.
Having read Homeland, the first in the series about a year ago and enjoyed it but not considered reading any further, I didn’t approach Exile thinking that it would be too compelling.
I liked Homeland but I found the names and political intrigues in the Underdark city of Menzoberrazan to be exhausting. Everyone was so evil and there was all this talk of Lolth the Spider Queen and the women (Dark Elf society is matriarchal and these are some nasty evil murdering women) were little more than one-note nasties. It was pulp fantasy fiction, entertaining but offered little else to urge me to move forward in the series.
Fortunately I did move forward and found the story really opened up in the second book.
You definitely need to read Homeland first and when you get to Exile you will reap the reward of watching Drizzt Do’Urden come to life, as well as develop into a character of principle and compassion. That was what got me the most. Seldom have I read fantasy where a character acted in such a truly compassionate manner. It caught me immediately off-guard. I was not expecting to disappear into this book. I was not expecting to feel so much for this character.
He is tormented. He fights an internal battle against the society he was born into. And yet with compassion he faces nearly every situation he finds himself in.
To do this he must learn to live instead of just survive and he is able to do this only through complete and utter surrender to the drows’ racial enemy, the deep gnomes. As their captive in the beautiful natural stone city of Blingdenstone, Drizzt’s fate is left up to the word of a maimed miner, whose life he had spared years earlier.
Belwar, the deep gnome, speaks on Drizzt’s behalf and they become friends, as Belwar takes the drow into his home. This deeply touching friendship opens something in Drizzt as his loneliness of living in the Underdark had began to exact a heavy price on his soul.
Drizzt’s totally dysfunctional family is still after him, most notably his evil mother fittingly named Matron Malice. This woman is something! She had Drizzt’s father Zaknafein sacrificed to the Spider Queen and routinely marries men and then murders them, often in truly barbaric fashion.
This time the Matron (who has fallen out of favor with the Spider Queen) outdoes her previous evil by not only re-animating the rotting corpse of Drizzt’s father Zaknafein but then sending the spirit-wraith to avenge the Matron’s house by murdering Drizzt. Meanwhile, her eldest daughter Briza waits for her time to take over the house, even if she has to kill dear old Mom for it.
What a fun family! Sort of like the English nobles of yore.
Salvatore packs a wallop in only 300 pages. It never slows down and you can practically feel the claustrophobia of the Underdark.
The ending is emotional, heart-breaking, tear-jerking – all the right stuff. I love that Salvatore actually has “endings” in his books. I feel a sense of completion even though I eagerly anticipate the next book in the series. He puts a great finish on it.
I miss Drizzt. There is some truly gorgeous writing in this book toward the end, very evocative as Drizzt makes decisions that will lead him into an entirely new life. He has courage and his convictions to guide him and the lessons that a little deep gnome has taught him about true friendship. I feel better, too, for having spent time with them.