Exile: Cheesy fun

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsExile by R.A. SalvatoreExile 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-depth with some of my earlier critique. So here we go again.

When last we left our almost excruciatingly good-hearted hero, Drizzt Do’Urden, he had learnt of his father’s demise at the hands of his mother, Matron Malice (yes, her name is actually Malice. One can only assume it’s the equivalent of Chastity or Joy for the eeeeevil dark elves. Still, it seems a bit on-the-nose for our first antagonist to be literally named “Malice,” especially as everyone else’s name seems to be in the original drow tongue. Unfortunately, this represents the first of several LEGEND OF DRIZZT naming misfires for Salvatore, who either doesn’t have a great feel for cool monikers or gets his jollies by trying to slip in the silliest-sounding ones he can). Horrified, Drizzt hared off to the empty tunnels of the subterranean “Underdark” to live out his days far from his scheming kinsfolk. As Exile opens, we learn that the drow goddess Lolth has been severely offended by Drizzt’s flashing her the metaphysical bird and disavowing the drow religion. She removes her favor from the rest of his family, prompting them to make a last-ditch effort to kill Drizzt and placate their deity before some other house higher in Lolth’s favor decides to bump them off. Drizzt, meanwhile, has been taking a few levels in Barbarian – er, that is, surviving alone in the Underdark by lapsing into a primal, animalistic persona he calls “the Hunter” – until crushing loneliness and an encounter with his bloody-minded siblings causes him to seek shelter with the deep gnomes. Predictably, his troubles follow him, and he is forced to fall back on wandering around with a few goofy pals to fight random monsters in tunnels. So yes, apparently Salvatore was worried it wasn’t “Dungeons and Dragons” enough before.

While the plot really does feel like a D&D campaign, that isn’t to say it’s bad. Episodic, certainly, and it suffers a little from a lack of direction (Drizzt and co. are for the most part purely reactive, wandering around to escape pursuit with no clear destination in mind). On the other hand, it’s all fast-moving and enjoyable enough. Drizzt’s companions are suitably flavorful and the ultimate confrontation with his main pursuer is – while mind-numbingly predictable – satisfying in a cinematic sort of way. Salvatore ties up the majority of his dangling plot threads in this installment, and on the whole enhances the storyline of Homeland even as it brings that storyline to its conclusion.

As far as my major complaint from last time (the prose) goes, I think Salvatore has improved the flow a bit in this instalment, although it’s not a major shift. I did notice a few occasions in which he seemed to forget which events had occurred in which book, explaining occurrences from the beginning of Exile as though they had happened in Homeland, but it’s not a big issue.

One problem I didn’t mention in my review of Homeland (mostly because I regarded it as being under the broader heading of Salvatore’s issues with prose) is the dialogue. Cheesy, overblown, and even stilted dialogue is a long-running issue in THE LEGEND OF DRIZZT, and while Exile is not the most egregious example I could name, I should probably mention that there are more than a few lines so painfully rhetorical that George Lucas would wag his finger.

Once again, characterization is not quite up to par. Aside from a couple of jokes once in a while, Drizzt seems to be making a very earnest, very wide-eyed run at canonization. His gnome companion Belwar Dissengulp (remember the thing about the names?) suffers from a debilitating case of Sidekick Syndrome in that he appears to have conveniently little going on in his life, allowing him to drop everything and follow Drizzt for as long as he’s useful. The importance of his private life makes a sudden reappearance the moment he’s served Salvatore’s purpose and needs to exit stage left.

I could say more, but in all honesty if you liked Homeland, you’ll like this book. If you did not, this one won’t change your mind on Salvatore. Like its predecessor, Exile is fun, exciting, easy, and more than a little simplistic. It has its share of flaws. On the whole, however, I think it’s cheesy fun and a good read for teens getting into epic fantasy.

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TIM SCHEIDLER, who's been with us since June 2011, holds a Master's Degree in Popular Literature from Trinity College Dublin. Tim enjoys many authors, but particularly loves J.R.R. Tolkien, Robin Hobb, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, and Susanna Clarke. When he’s not reading, Tim enjoys traveling, playing music, writing in any shape or form, and pretending he's an athlete.

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