Sojourn: A transitional novel, and it shows

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsSojourn by R.A. Salvatore 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, the readers, are also starting from nothing. The plot threads from Homeland and Exile have been essentially wrapped up: no more Do’Urdens, no more “Hunter” personality, no more drow politics. The main focus of the narrative thus falls back on Drizzt himself, previously a pawn and victim of circumstances who abruptly finds himself in command of his own destiny. To make a long story short, the character isn’t ready for that. When Salvatore can play him as the experienced ranger, Drizzt has a bit more depth, but Sojourn’s Drizzt isn’t quite there yet. Despite all he’s gone through, he’s still more or less played as the Bildungsroman youth, wide-eyed and out to make his mark on the world with little in the way of calculation or goal (aside from “achieve acceptance somehow or other”). Unlike the Bildungsroman youth, however, Drizzt – clearly being unready to forge his own destiny in this new society – is not called upon to develop as a character in order to survive. He remains more or less the same from beginning to end, and for the most part events simply carry him from one situation to the next.

The whole thing runs a lot like one of those early episodes of Casper the Friendly Ghost, if Casper was somehow even more self-effacing and timid. Drizzt wants to go out and make friends, but whenever he plucks up the courage to say hello to someone, that unfortunate individual shrieks “EEEEK!  A DUH-DUH-DROW!” and hurtles off with a whirling dustcloud around his or her legs. Then we have a scene in which poor, misunderstood Drizzt plods mournfully away like a kicked puppy, and the whole process starts again. As Casper did before him, however, Drizzt eventually seems to draw strokes of luck like a fortune magnet. There just so happens to be an evil demon nearby that likes to eat farmers. Drizzt is blamed for the crime and pursued with torches and pitchforks, but the incident also serves to call in rangers who can pronounce this drow a good drow (in a rather plodding chase arc with little in the way of a climax) and set him on the road to doing what he needs to do to get ready for The Crystal Shard, book four. On the way, he just so happens to meet a mentor. Said mentor basically marches in and drags Drizzt off to be his disciple without prompting, and Drizzt just sort of goes along with it. At no point in the proceedings does Drizzt really take charge of his life or nurture a definite goal. He is mostly the subject of others’ actions, whether in attacking the demon for framing him or running from the rangers who are chasing him. Perhaps it’s suitable behavior for a young man (or elf, not that there’s much mental difference between the two in D&D novels) in the throes of crippling uncertainty and severe culture shock, but Drizzt’s general passivity does leave the plot feeling wandering and unfocused.

A partial remedy for a pushover protagonist is generally to make sure your antagonist is damn good. That is, if your hero is doomed to be pushed around by others, you might as well make those doing the pushing suitably interesting and driven. There needs to be some narrative drive in there somewhere. Unfortunately, Sojourn’s antagonist – or the closest thing we get to a genuine antagonist – is a rather unimpressive backwoods bounty hunter named Roddy McGristle, who runs afoul of Drizzt early in the narrative and gets a facial scar and a dead dog for his trouble. These offenses prompt McGristle to a vendetta against the dark elf that starts out believable and gets more and more ludicrous as time goes on. McGristle, like Belwar Dissengulp in the last novel, is transparently present to perform a function and no more; that function being inconveniencing Drizzt at every conceivable opportunity. Inconvenience is all he ever really does, as it’s painfully apparent that when or if Roddy ever actually meets Drizzt, the fight will be over in about four seconds. So, in other words, the main conflict of Sojourn is “our hero wafts about doing whatever seems to bear a flashing authorial sign saying ‘DO THIS’ while fending off a few nuisances cooked up by some taciturn redneck.” There are a few more compelling scenes in here, but the general weakness of the storyline makes these little more impactful than a few trees in a forest.

Otherwise, the same points of praise and criticism apply here as applied in the first two novels. The characterization, prose, and dialogue are a bit on the shallow side. The pacing, action sequences, and general tone are all fine and dandy.

All in all, not a terrible offering, but a fairly unmemorable installment in THE LEGEND OF DRIZZT as a whole. It’s a bit too clearly a transitional novel, and Drizzt is just not a compelling enough figure here to hold the story together by himself. Still fun, but as far as Drizzt novels go a bit of a dud.

 


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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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