Homeland, the first entry in the Legend of Drizzt saga, starts off with an astounding level of detail about the lives of the Drow in the Forgotten Realms. This is fantasy writing at its best. Rarely have I seen a fantasy character take shape so well and under such sinister and devastating circumstances.
When I read fantasy novels I am constantly on the lookout for break-out stories and characters, things that do not seem like yet another tired version of Tolkein. When I find something that sings with originality, I’m thrilled and want to read absolutely everything the author puts forth. I have not yet been disappointed by Bob Salvatore’s work.
First and foremost the man can weave a spectacular yarn. It’s good storytelling. I am eager to find out what happens because in the world where it occurs everything is unique and fascinating. Each turn of the page brings something new and moves the story toward a viable climax. Every book actually has an ending, not just a juvenile cliffhanger like so many books do these days.
Salvatore does not tend to pad his novels either. They are concise and well-edited – very tight. The economy of words doesn’t divert from the subject-matter. In fact, it pulls you in even more.
In this first book about Drizzt Do’Urden, we visit the Drow (Dark Elves) of Menzoberranzan and discover their demented and twisted evil society. I did have some criticism with the level of evil depicted here, for there are not many societies that could so continue for thousands of years without totally consuming themselves in the process.
However, my criticism uses a human mind and human logic also based on our shorter life-spans. I have no idea what a society would be like with people who live to be 700 or 800 years old. I suppose everything would be slowed down considerably, so perhaps even the level of evil would be commensurate with the life-spans. It would not, for instance, matter if you committed an evil act every day so much as a big juicy one every 50 or so years, perhaps.
This novel follows Drizzt’s birth and childhood (which is told quickly to get us to the good parts) and then his years being trained by the weapons-master of House Do’Urden, his father Zaknafein, who ultimately becomes his mentor and the person who shows him that a world outside of evil is possible and does exist.
I wish there was more about their relationship, but what is in the book is well done and poignant. Since Vierna (Drizzt’s sister who is also Zaknafein’s daughter) is also of the same blood, I found it unlikely that she would not have possessed a similar mind-set and this is never explored. She has not had the benefit of being taught the way Drizzt was by her father (as she is female and this is a matriarchal society) but still so much of what was good about Drizzt existed in him from the beginning, so perhaps it did for her too.
Salvatore chooses to create a more simplistic caricature for her, which is unfortunate (as are most of the depictions of his female characters). I understand that they are evil and that by using women that creates an immediate contrast, as women tend to be the nurturers and not destroyers, but especially with Vierna, this was a waste of an excellent character.
Further, Salvatore has her have incestuous designs on her brother at one point and then almost has him killed. She does actually participate in the killing of her own father at the end of the book, which is simply horrific. I wish Salvatore had been clearer with her character but I believe he just considers her a plot point or window dressing.
Drizzt comes through the terror of his upbringing, discovers the lies of his people, and is utterly shattered by them. He has nowhere to go and no earthly idea of how he will survive, just that he must and will make his way alone in the Underdark as a rogue Drow, a dark elf hunted by his family and those who would seek to use him in some fashion.
Drizzt has been taught well by his father and he is a fighter without equal. I found the fight scenes to be some of the finest I’ve ever read. They were pure magic in their description.
Drizzt is a brilliant fighter but he is fallible, which makes his feats even more breathtaking. There is always a chance that he could be defeated. I like that Salvatore keeps that level of excitement throughout these scenes and that he rarely goes for the gross-out. It is much more poignant not to describe every grotesque detail (as George R. R. Martin would), but to really let your imagination depict the horror for you. It also keeps the writing tight and from seeming immature.
Drizzt Do’Urden is so compelling that you might as well order the entire trilogy when you pick up the first book. The second book, Exile is absolutely stunning and the final book in the trilogy, Sojurn was one of the best fantasy novels I have ever read.
For a unique, original, and a brilliantly created main character Bob Salvatore has my great thanks as a reader and now fan.