Swords of Good Men by Snorri Kristjansson
Swords of Good Men is a pretty good siege story. That’s about as much as I’d feel bound to tell someone if I was, for instance, asked about it in a bookshop. Pretty good. Not a light for the ages, not bad by any means. Not even mediocre. It’s just… pretty good. It has some notable strengths and a few troubling weaknesses. I’ll go into all of that below, but if all you were wondering about is whether Swords of Good Men is a reasonably diverting Viking fantasy novel to hang around with for a little while, there’s your answer. It is, but it operates pretty much just as advertised. It’s not a diamond in the rough, but nor will you be too disappointed.
Anyway, on with the show. The premise of Swords of Good Men is that a young king named Olav has ari... Read More
Tim ScheidlerOn FanLit’s staff since June 2011
TIM SCHEIDLER is finishing a degree in English literature. His friends fully expect to find him living in a cardboard box several years down the road, but Tim’s friends are silly, silly people who oughtn’t to be believed. Some of Tim’s earliest memories are of his parents reading him J.R.R. Tolkien. Exactly what prompted the introduction of Mr. Tolkien to a five-year-old is still difficult to fathom, but it had a deep impact on Tim. He has obsessed over fantasy for most of his life, so that many of his family, far from growing alarmed, actually find their way to amusement on discovering Neil Gaiman novels squirreled away in every bathroom.Tim enjoys many authors, but particularly loves Tolkien, Gaiman, George R.R. Martin, Robin Hobb, and Jacqueline Carey. When he’s not reading, Tim enjoys traveling, playing the fiddle and bagpipes, writing in any shape or form, and pretending Kung Fu as he does it is a real sport.
Swords of Good Men by Snorri Kristjansson
Siege of Darkness by R.A. Salvatore
The major problem with Siege of Darkness is not, hopefully, R.A. Salvatore’s fault. The issue is that this is the point in THE LEGEND OF DRIZZT saga when a particularly noxious example of the “Shared Universe Event” decided to rear its ugly head, getting in everyone’s way and disrupting the meta-narrative. Its long-dreaded appearance does absolutely nothing aside from ticking a box on a checklist, so much so that I’m giving Salvatore the benefit of the doubt here and imagining that the material “had” to be there on the word of the mighty Wizards of the Coast, despotic lords of all Dungeons and Dragons tie-in novels. If that was indeed the case,... Read More
Starless Night by R.A. Salvatore
While reading THE LEGEND OF DRIZZT series, I’ve developed the grim suspicion that every time R.A. Salvatore looks at his characters and thinks “time for some development, lads and lasses,” he immediately starts trying to shoehorn in an adventure to go along with it. Apparently one simply cannot have development through conversation or work or leisure or for that matter anything else that does not involve leaping off the hunched shoulders of your barbarian friend to stab an ogre in the face. Granted, maybe it’s just that I’ve read a lot of these novels in quick succession by now and my patience is starting to fizzle a bit, but I do feel on occasion that whenever Salvatore decides to do some character work, there ends up being this substandard, breezy little quest that doesn’t really go anywhere or do anything except give the characters the opportunity to think about Important Issues. This is of cours... Read More
The Legacy by R.A. Salvatore
As I’ve been doing these reviews, I’ve tried to point out a few things about THE LEGEND OF DRIZZT series. First, these books are fun, diverting, and lively. Second, they’re… uh… not very good. Now when I say “good,” I am of course referring to the Literary definition of good (that’s Literature with the capital L, Literature the genre, that I’m discussing now). It’s problematic in a number of ways that one genre has set the standard for what constitutes “good” writing, but that’s just where things are right now, and like it or not it’s about the closest thing to an objective measuring stick that we have. There are things Literature likes: deep characterization, subtle nuance, lush prose. THE LEGEND OF DRIZZT has none of those things. The series’ virtues are swift-moving action, camaraderie, breathless fun, and occasionally some decent plotting. Unfortunately, Literature would prefer its... Read More
The Halfling’s Gem: In Which Salvatore Takes a Machete to his Own Plot, and Everything Still Works Out Somehow
The Halfling’s Gem by R.A. Salvatore
The Halfling’s Gem is the finale to the ICEWIND DALE trilogy, and as such is tasked with tying up the dangling plot threads from parts one and two, by this point no easy feat. The dwarven homeland of Mithral Hall (can’t you just hear Tolkien spluttering indignantly from the hereafter?) has been found but it remains in the hands of the grey dwarves, different from regular dwarves in that they are grey. And evil. Apparently the two coincide. Bruenor has gone toppling to his demise locked in combat with the dragon that’s standing in for the Balrog in this particular spin-off, and unlike Gandalf before him, there’s no conceivable way he’s actually alive after that fall and might decide to pop back up again.
Yep. No way. Definitely dead. Tooootally deceased.
Anyway, though they would love to hold a proper funeral for the dwarven king (seeing as he’... Read More
Streams of Silver by R.A. Salvatore
Streams of Silver, the sequel to The Crystal Shard, breaks no new ground for THE LEGEND OF DRIZZT, and to be honest I’m finding it difficult to review because there is so very little to say about it (having already reviewed the preceding works). Like The Crystal Shard, Streams of Silver has issues with wooden dialogue and cluttered prose but almost makes up for it on the basis of swift-moving action and a general sense of enthusiastic fun. It’s, again, a popcorn novel, and neither the best nor the worst of that category. While it feels a bit less vibrant and imaginative than its predecessor, it does manage to introduce at least one interesting new character and works out as a pretty decent little quest narrative (so long as the reader is kind enough to focus on the quest’s journey and not its destination). So… not great, not bad. Not much... Read More
The Crystal Shard by R.A. Salvatore
The Crystal Shard, although technically preceded by THE DARK ELF TRILOGY according to the new reading order, was actually Salvatore’s first Drizzt novel and in fact his first novel, period. The Crystal Shard does have a lot of the usual first-novel bugs (mechanics sometimes don’t work out the way they should, dialogue is frequently hamfisted), but it also has something that I feel began to fade out of THE LEGEND OF DRIZZT after a while: ambition. Ambition doesn’t usually go hand-in-hand with shared-world novels for obvious reasons, but there it is. The Crystal Shard feels raw, in content but also in tone. There’s a sense, by DARK ELF at least, that Salvatore is beginning to be comfortable with his success and thus more prone to taking it easy. The Crystal Shard has more of an edge, reaches a little further, tries a bit harder. Occa... Read More
Sojourn by R.A. Salvatore
Sojourn is the last book in Salvatore’s DARK ELF TRILOGY, the prequel novels he wrote to establish Drizzt’s origin story after the success of his earlier trilogy ICEWIND DALE. While the first two DARK ELF novels, Homeland and Exile, are charming enough little stories to entertain on their own merits, Sojourn is the point at which the story begins to suffer for the necessity of ticking certain narrative boxes to get Drizzt where he needs to be by book four. It’s very much a transitional novel, and while on the whole it keeps the flavor of the rest of the trilogy, the plot here is the weakest of the three.
At the end of Exile, our valiant drow hero Drizzt Do’Urden exited the subterranean world in which he had lived practically all of his life to brave the surface. Drizzt is starting fresh here, which means that we,... Read More
Exile by R.A. Salvatore
Exile, the second novel in THE LEGEND OF DRIZZT series, is a sequel to the first book, Homeland, in the same way that The Two Towers is a “sequel” to Fellowship of the Ring: technically you can call them separate stories, but when you come right down to it they work more strongly as one complete narrative. Exile picks up where Homeland left off to tie up the plot threads left dangling at the end of the first novel. Homeland and Exile essentially form the “Menzoberranzan duology” of THE LEGEND OF DRIZZT. Their ties are very close, and to be honest there’s not much to say about the second one that I haven’t already said about the first one. Still, Exile has a few separate strengths and failings independent of Homeland, and it affords me the opportunity to go a bit more in-... Read More
Homeland by R.A. Salvatore
R.A. Salvatore’s brooding, noble hero Drizzt Do’Urden is almost inarguably the most popular character in the FORGOTTEN REALMS universe (which is to say, the Dungeons & Dragons tie-in novels). It has become a general joke through the years that half the new D&D players of the world incorporate something of the dark elf warrior into their first characters, and — tellingly — when Suvudu did their initial fantasy character popularity contest some years ago, Drizzt beat out such classic characters as Aragorn, Conan, and Ged to take the fourth spot. It’s hard to deny Drizzt’s popular success or his ponderous influence on heroic fantasy. That said, it’s an open secret that THE LEGEND OF DRIZZT has never accumulated a lot of critical success to correspond with its popularity. How to make sense of this divide? Well… frankly, both Drizzt fans and Drizzt detractors have some excellent points. Read More
The River Kings’ Road by Liane Merciel
If The River Kings’ Road had been published fifteen years ago, it would have been hailed as something special. Liane Merciel does a splendid job on the whole. She has interesting characters, a suspenseful plot, and a good turn-of-phrase. It has all the elements of a great fantasy novel… including the ones that have been working very well for a lot of other fantasy novelists during the past decade.
The novel is never short of entertaining, but it does have one very real problem, and that is its clearly derivative tone and style. It’s a perfectly serviceable, charming read, but Merciel’s relative inexperience as a professional author shows. Her personal voice is often lost in imitation of other novelists, and the world-building in particular lacks the freshness that would make this a memorable journey. It’s the worst-kept secret in the world that fantasy has been obsessed w... Read More
The Arctic Incident by Eoin Colfer
The first installment in the ARTEMIS FOWL series ended with a dire note from a fairy psychologist, explaining that Fowl would go on to become “the People’s most feared enemy” over the course of “decades.” However, already foreseeing the sequel (if conspicuously not planning for the legion of follow-up novels past that point in which Artemis is about as villainous and feared as Minnie Mouse), author Eoin Colfer also slipped in a little tease about a certain occasion in which all the favorite protagonists and antagonists from book one were forced to work together. A year and a month later, what should appear but just such a story in the form of Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident?
Having used fairy magic to cure Mrs. Fowl at the end of book one, Artemis is plotting to rescue parent number two, who he insists is alive somewhere after his boat went down halfway around t... Read More
Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock
Mythago Wood is a weird little book. In many ways, I can see why it flies under the radar. Robert Holdstock has good prose and introduces some fascinating ideas, but what he creates is definitely not mass-market fare. It’s still recognizably fantasy, but the darker side of fantasy. This is Tir na nOg by night, when the Technicolor dragons, irreverent pixies, and maniacal dark lords have all retired for the evening, leaving a brooding, uncomfortable stillness in their wake. “Uncomfortable” is actually a word I want to dwell on a bit in relation to this novel. Mythago Wood is a very well-written, very intensely imagined story, but there’s always something about it that feels just a little off. Holdstock gives his novel an ambiance that is very difficult to grow comfortable with, and whatever position I contorted my mind into, I never quite managed it.
The story follow... Read More
Sanctuary by Rowena Cory Daniells
In this final installment of Rowena Cory Daniells’ THE OUTCAST CHRONICLES, the focus shifts from the conflict between the humans (Mieren) and the elf-like T’en to the clash between the different factions of T’en as they float across the ocean toward the titular sanctuary. Fortunately, the sense of pacing and deeper characterization from Exile, the previous novel, remains intact here, and as the T’en and Malaunje always dominated the cast of this series, it’s tough to miss the Mieren once they vanish from the proceedings. It’s more of the same material that was quite enjoyable in the last book, although the overall resolution of various plot threads leaves a bit to be desired.
If Exile, the book which preceded Sanctuary, was about cultural conflict and upheaval and the book which preceded that, Besieged, was about stagnation, the... Read More
White Wolf by David Gemmell
At its best, Heroic Fantasy can inspire and enliven. By nature, the subgenre is less concerned with realism than it is with depicting nobility, honor, and genuine integrity. In so doing, it shows us a world that reflects the better portions of our own, the world as it should be rather than as it is. At its worst, however, Heroic Fantasy is notorious for shallow characterization, mindless violence, and sententious, often hypocritical, pontificating to justify all that mindless violence so our valiant warriors can get back to massacring villages with rumps firmly planted on high horses. White Wolf is a bit better than the latter, but it’s a good way from the former. It evens out more or less for David Gemmell, but it’s far from the proudest moment of his career.
The novel opens on a guilt-ridden warrior called Skilgannon the Damned, tragically burdened with a... Read More