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 course the exact opposite paradigm to something like Exile, where the plot is all right but the characterization could use work. Maybe I’m greedy, but this is one of those situations where I really would like to have my cake and eat it too.
So here we go again. Starless Night. Last time, in The Legacy, Wulfgar got bumped off with laughable haste because Salvatore had decided that Drizzt needed a girlfriend and there’s a strict no-tolerance policy in the land of Faerun regarding third wheels. Drizzt, as part of the same incident, defeated his sister and brother, the last remaining members of the Do’Urden clan that had afflicted him for so long, and finally put an end to the villainous Artemis Entreri, his arch-rival (a victory so resounding that Entreri had to spiral away to his death not once, not twice, but a whopping three times just to make it extra-extra-extra clear there was no conceivable way he could ever return). This time, the story kicks right off with Drizzt heading off back to Menzoberranzan, the city of evil drow in which he grew up. He’s been driven to this extremity by… well, R.A. Salvatore’s nagging deific voice from the clouds, as far as I can tell.
It really doesn’t make a lot of sense. It could be that he’s trying to save Mithral Hall, but although the drow are planning to attack it, Drizzt seems awfully surprised to hear about the plot and doesn’t seem to have any particular strategy in mind for stopping it. Possibly he’s there for simple reconnaissance, but he just doesn’t act like a spy, asking few questions and neglecting to rush off back home when he actually does learn something. If, on the other hand, his job is to do the noble hero thing and leave Mithral Hall so that further drow attacks won’t get in the way of his friends, one would think he could find a better vacation spot. On the whole, Drizzt’s little quest never has much point or resolution, and the sole reason he attempts it seems to be so that Catti-Brie can follow him (at this point “following Drizzt on an adventure” seems to be Catti-Brie’s 9-to-5 job) and her relationship with the dashing drow can be foreshadowed with all the delicate subtlety of a grand piano crashing spectacularly into a busy street. The whole thing couldn’t be a more obvious romantic set-up if Salvatore had somehow rigged “My Heart Will Go On” to play every time someone cracked the book’s spine.
The rest of the novel (assuming you can see it through all the heart-shaped confetti) is partially devoted to shaking Bruenor out of a deep malaise, but mostly to the development of two characters who played large roles in the last book but until now have been fairly flat antagonists: Jarlaxle and the shockingly not-dead Artemis Entr… oh, you’ve got to be kidding.
Yes, Entreri’s back again. Somehow. Only superhero comics have Salvatore beat for improbable resurrections. Anyway, Entreri’s in for some character development too (there’s a general trend in Salvatore books that characters seem to get saintlier the more attention they get. The Companions of the Hall are almost literally angelic by the end (?) of things, and every interesting villain comes with an expiration date, after which point he goes toppling into Chaotic Neutral). Entreri gets a first-hand look at the drow and he is decidedly not impressed, because even evil has standards. This prompts the assassin to forget his epic quest of killing Drizzt in favor of pulling another of his patented “but let us now fight the greater foe, my frenemy. Together!” sequences. If I were Drizzt, I’d be getting whiplash trying to keep up with what Entreri wants. One second he wants an archrival, the next he needs a wingman. As several thousand creepy denizens of Deviantart would say, just admit your crush already, Entreri! Lord knows it couldn’t be any sillier than watching Catti-Brie getting into jealous, naked tiffs with Alustriel (and at that moment, sales of Starless Night sky-rocketed on Amazon).
To get down to the nitty-gritty, Starless Night strikes me as the poorest book in THE LEGEND OF DRIZZT series thus far. Salvatore has put expedience before plotting before (notably in The Halfling’s Gem), but that novel at least felt as though its heart was in the right place. This one feels forced and even a little cynical, a thoroughly prepackaged and by-the-numbers little Drizzt quest that seems to exist just to do a bit of character work that could easily have been accomplished by four pages of simple conversation.
For a slightly positive note at the end, I will report that I think Salvatore’s prose is noticeably improving as the series goes on, and the dialogue begins to flow a bit more naturally in this one as well. The fight scenes are still fine and dandy, and the book is never boring. It does have elements in its favor. That said, only the fight scenes have ever been objectively good, and while they are thrilling here, they don’t simply carry the story by themselves as they did in The Legacy. This novel is — to use a television term — a filler arc. The plot doesn’t make sense as a standalone, but neither does the novel really advance the main storyline or mesh well with the rest of the series. I’m not sure what went wrong with this one — maybe one of the D&D “events” forced Salvatore to retard his schedule, maybe he just got lazy — but it’s clear that something did go wrong. I’m not going to say it’s awful, but it is a disappointment and is probably skippable.