Siege of Darkness: Needs more siege. Also more darkness.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsSiege of Darkness by R.A. Salvatore fantasy book reviewsSiege 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, we can sympathize with Salvatore’s plight… while still acknowledging that Siege of Darkness wasn’t all that great.

Our story begins with Lolth, goddess of the drow elves, paying a visit to Errtu, a demon who some will recall as one of the villains of the original The Crystal Shard. On that occasion he was thwarted and exorcised by Drizzt (with embarrassing ease). Due to this setback, Errtu cannot return to the mortal plane for an ungodly number of years unless summoned by Drizzt himself. Lolth reveals that a Time of Troubles is nigh (and just in case the reader didn’t clue in that “Time of Troubles” was the official name for the Event, the phrase is used about fourteen more times throughout the novel), and she will require Errtu’s assistance. Naturally she’s brought payment, something Errtu can use as a bargaining chip to force Drizzt into summoning him. This bargaining chip takes the form of a mysterious person (one can almost envision Salvatore’s coy wink), who could be anyone from Drizzt’s past. Anyone at all.

Except those whose whereabouts are known to him. Or those who left bodies. Or those he doesn’t give a fig about.

So… yeah, only Wulfgar. I suppose I should keep up the pretense of not knowing, but I no longer have a scintilla of patience for the Salvatore Improbable Resurrection™ trope.

From there, we move on to Menzoberranzan, where the evil Matron Baenre is still plotting the downfall of Mithral Hall. Drizzt’s actions last book are hand-waved away as only a minor setback that ultimately neither hindered nor helped the war effort in any significant way (so I suppose the pointlessness of Starless Night is now canonical?), and our titular siege is ready to begin just as soon as Baenre has her troops mustered and Lolth can be contacted to sign off on Operation Murder Drizzt. Meanwhile, Drizzt and his friends are also preparing for war – which is to say that the dwarves are preparing while Drizzt enjoys giving flirtatious swordsmanship lessons to Catti-Brie. The only real hold-up is Berkthgar the Bold, Wulfgar’s replacement as barbarian leader, who throws a little tantrum when he learns that he won’t be getting Wulfgar’s war-hammer back from the dwarves.

This is the point at which the siege should have begun. Baenre is waiting on Lolth, Drizzt on Berkthgar, but otherwise both sides are poised for combat. We get a good idea of the drow military strength and the dwarven defenses. We also get Drizzt’s somewhat heavy-handed reflections on how his comrades have all gotten their act together in the face of invasion, so Catti-Brie, Bruenor, and a noble, inconsequential Regis (still an improvement over self-serving, cowardly Regis from a few books ago) are as fortified against assault as their home is. There doesn’t seem to be anything left to do but get on with a nice long siege.

Instead, Salvatore hits the brakes, and the next couple hundred pages are instead devoted to the Time of Troubles (or the Time of Tedium, as I prefer to think of it). From what I gather, the supreme god of the Forgotten Realms universe needed some space and banished all lesser gods to the mortal plane, sending divine magic gurgling down the pipes and causing wild fluctuations in regular homegrown magic. This basically manifests in the LEGEND OF DRIZZT as a lot more filler that, like Starless Night, goes nowhere and accomplishes nothing. On Drizzt’s end, the wizardly Harpell family gets into wacky hijinks and Guenhwyvar – Drizzt’s magic cat from the astral plane – is stuck on the mortal plane (growing steadily weaker). On Baenre’s side, the rival Oblodra family (whose abilities remain usable) tries to make a power play while opportunity is knocking.

Salvatore manages to at least keep things moving with enough urgency that there’s no particular urge to put the book down, but it’s hard to conceal just how much of an irrelevant tangent the whole thing turns out to be.  When the Time of Tedium ends, the status quo returns like a light switch getting flicked back on. At this point, one can almost feel the dusty, forgotten siege narrative snapping awake, looking blearily around, and staggering off to work.

Salvatore being Salvatore, the consequent duels, battles, and skirmishes are all exciting and fast-paced enough to hold a reader’s attention, but after a three-book build-up, the siege is actually over fairly quickly and painlessly. In fact, I’m not sure it was a proper siege at all – the drow never have our heroes enclosed, and they’re never “waiting outside the walls,” so to speak. They just attack, and run into the dwarves’ slightly comical Home Alone booby-traps. It’s all over very quickly: we get a short assault, one or two perfunctory stumbling blocks in our protagonists’ way, and then a speedy resolution. It brings to mind gloomy reflections on the first Battle for Mithral Hall (the one that happened off-screen). While we at least managed to get a battle this time around, the Time of Troubles killed any tension that might have been building, and the actual battle ended up being rushed and (once again) rather inconsequential.

Overall, Siege of Darkness is unfortunately another pedestrian, uninteresting entry in THE LEGEND OF DRIZZT. I often feel as I’m progressing through these books that Salvatore’s craft is improving but his enthusiasm is waning (as well as, potentially, his inspiration – I suspect that he really doesn’t know what to do with these characters anymore). Both this installment and its predecessor feel prepackaged and bland, the frozen dinners of fantasy. Hopefully, now that he’s managed both drow and Time of Troubles, Salvatore will be moving ahead with something that genuinely excites him in future novels.

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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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  1. Kevin B. /

    Hmm, I’ve always considered the Time of Troubles a positive thing. But I only know of it through the Baldur’s Gate series of PC games which I’ve found to be a far superior way to spend my time than any of the (admittedly few) Forgotten Realms books I’ve read.

    • Oh, I have nothing against the Time of Troubles as a concept, just against its intrusion into works where it has no function. I wouldn’t even go so far as to say I think the Baldur’s Gate games are “better” than Forgotten Realms (a pretty broad category).

      It’s more that the Time of Troubles as an element may have served the narrative in some works while being entirely peripheral to it in others. This was unfortunately one of the “others.”

  2. “Salvatore Improbable Resurrection™ trope” – I love it. Spot on.

    I thoroughly enjoyed some of the early Drizzt novels, and count them right up there with the Raistlin novels from Weis & Hickman. When he started resurrecting characters, that was one thing, but when he basically retold the Crystal Shard, I knew I was done.

    I gave him another chance recently with The Companions, but it suffered from all his faults, cranked up to 11 – resurrections, retellings, and shared word shoe-horned details.

  3. Marion /

    Title-wise, in all fairness, you have to admit that “The Relatively Short-lived Battle of Darkness” is not catchy.

  4. Rob Rhodes /

    Classic review title!

  5. Totally Not Errtu /

    Man I *really* wish you put a spoiler on the Wulfgar bit. Agree with the review 100% though.

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