Passage to Dawn, fourth and final book in author R.A. Salvatore’s LEGACY OF THE DROW quartet (and the tenth in his broader LEGEND OF DRIZZT series), is pretty good, by Drizzt standards. Hurrah! Cue the Triumph through Rome! Bring on the cheering throngs and falling rose petals! All right, so it may sound like I’m damning with faint praise here, but given the overall shakiness of the quartet it seems expected to tie together, Passage to Dawn’s being pretty good actually does seem like something worthy of a bit of celebration. That doesn’t mean it lacks the issues that have generally haunted LEGACY OF THE DROW (a sense of pointlessness and a lack of clear direction being the prominent ones), but at least it means that we don’t have to entirely write off the LEGEND OF DRIZZT’s flabby middle section. It’s not going to change your mind if you’re already standing over a kerosene-soaked pile of Salvatore novels with burning match in hand and a pyromaniacal glint in your eye, but at least it’s enjoyable enough once more. As my music teacher once told me (after adjusting his own expectations), sometimes you can make up for a lot of mistakes in the body of something based on how you manage to end it.
Last time, during the mistakes in the body of the series, the drow of Menzoberranzan finally attacked the dwarves of Mithral Hall after a three book build-up and accomplished just about diddly-squat. They did, however, return to the dwarves a nice old gent called Gandalug Battlehammer, one of Bruenor’s predecessors as King of Mithral Hall. As having two noble dwarven monarchs trying to lay down the law in the same Moria-pastiche would probably get confusing, Bruenor graciously stepped aside and finally wrote off Mithral Hall as a plot element (at least until such time as Salvatore wants to make use of it again and old Gandalug ends up as griffin chow or something). This allows our heroes — minus the tragically deceased barbarian Wulfgar (who is just so dead, folks, just dead, couldn’t get any deader than the dead he is, no sir, not a sliver of a chance of preposterous resurrection here) — to finally shake off the eponymous “legacy of the drow” and move their lives in new directions without the necessity of reliving the past.
So naturally, they decide to relive the past. Bruenor and Regis return to Icewind Dale to reopen the mines. Drizzt and Catti-Brie, meanwhile, embark on a career as sailors aboard the pirate-hunting ship of Captain Deudermont, whom readers may remember from his previous appearance in The Halfling’s Gem. There’s a bit of eau-de-Honeymoon about the whole thing, but for some reason Salvatore hasn’t moved them past hand-holding (despite the fact that six years have apparently elapsed). I’m not exactly thrilled with another novel’s worth of will-they-won’t-they, but to Salvatore’s credit their relationship is explained fairly well, and the complications on the way to true love are believable enough. Anyway, Drizzt and Catti-Brie seem to be enjoying the sailor’s life and their six-year mating dance in equal measure, and Captain Deudermont is happy to have them. Everything changes, however, with the appearance of an emissary from the demon Errtu, one of Drizzt’s old nemeses who’s looking finally pick up the final dangling plot thread from the ICEWIND DALE trilogy, the crystal shard. To accomplish this, he needs Drizzt to summon him back to the mortal plane. Fortunately, he has a bargaining chip. After a slightly self-indulgent sequence in which Errtu sends them on cinematic wild goose chases just for the giggles of messing with our intrepid heroes (seriously, that’s the explanation), Drizzt is able to put two and two together to figure out that some sort of unknown foe is offering to resurrect a lost friend in exchange for a service. He assumes this friend to be his father Zaknafein, or perhaps only wants that to be the case (so did I, although the book’s subplots make it risibly obvious which character just got out of the penalty box) and believes that the honeymoon which is not a honeymoon may at last be over.
“But suren ye know what we’re t’be fearin’?” says Catti-Brie in her obnoxious dwarven accent.
“Indeed,” Drizzt broods, staring off into the sunset broodingly as he brooooods. “It’s the plot. It’s found us again.”
The quest leads them to a cameo of characters from R.A. Salvatore’s CLERIC QUINTET, which goes about as you’d expect — lots of respect, honor, and meaningful glances flying around — so that the cleric of the Cleric Quintet can summon Errtu despite knowing full well it’s a trick, because that is (apparently) just how he rolls. The reasoning doesn’t make sense at all, of course. Our saintly priest of the good god basically just says “eh, someone’s going to summon something evil and dangerous at some point. Might as well be us!” while Drizzt nods like a bobble-head. Still, in-depth plotting was never exactly this series’ strong suit, and the contrivance does serve to get us quickly to the point where the swords come out. As always, once that happens, R.A. Salvatore is firmly in his comfort zone, and everything generally smooths out through the explosive finale.
In all honesty, while the Errtu storyline is fairly thin and predictable, and — like the rest of LEGACY OF THE DROW — seems to have been invented solely as a vague way to tie adventures together, it’s not really so bad. The pacing is fairly good, the Zaknafein red herring serves to complicate our protagonists’ emotional states (even if it will fool exactly no readers), and it all ties together fairly well in the climax. The book is exciting, goofy, and fast-paced, and occasionally gives those strange fleeting glimpses of what the Drizzt books might be like with a bit more breathing room in terms of characterization. There’s a scene early on where Bruenor and Regis sit on a mountain looking at the stars that, while perhaps a bit of a corny set-up, really made me feel for the characters — possibly the first time that’s ever happened, this being Bruenor and Regis we’re talking about. In other words, while Starless Night and Siege of Darkness could — and often did — feel slapdash and perfunctory, Passage to Dawn gives the impression that Salvatore is making more of an effort and connecting with his characters again. Maybe Mithral Hall really did need to be dropped as a plot element — the three books set there were probably the most directionless and least emotionally involving of the series thus far.
As for the construction… well, the song’s the same as ever there. Salvatore, as usual, clutters his prose up with too many adjectives and hops somewhat gracelessly around between character perspectives and the interjections of an omniscient narrator. The dialogue has noticeably improved as the series has progressed, but it’s still not what you’d call gripping.
On the flip side, the pluses column hasn’t changed much either. The book is enjoyable and will probably be quite involving for young readers, with a real sense of adventure and camaraderie. For all the jibes I aim at the somewhat overblown “Drizzt’s Diary Excerpts” that start off chapters, they tend to be more ambitious material that demonstrates that Salvatore can write more thoughtfully when he feels the inclination. I’ve actually wondered a couple of times what the LEGEND OF DRIZZT would be like if it was all in first-person, but that would probably take away from the cinematic action scenes that have made these novels so popular (and yes, as I mentioned above, the action is quite good here).
So… not bad. The plot is thin, and it’s ever more obvious to me that I’m probably no longer the intended audience for this series, but in the end Passage to Dawn is enjoyable enough, a nonthreatening and good-hearted little book with which to spend some time. It’s far from the best or most ambitious story even within its own series, but it manages to get the job done. As teen sword and sorcery, it operates as intended, and I’m happy enough with it. I won’t say that LEGACY OF THE DROW stuck the landing exactly, but it was standing when the clock ran down, and that’s probably good enough.