The Halfling’s Gem is the finale to the ICEWIND DALE trilogy, and as such is tasked with tying up the dangling plot threads from parts one and two, by this point no easy feat. The dwarven homeland of Mithral Hall (can’t you just hear Tolkien spluttering indignantly from the hereafter?) has been found but it remains in the hands of the grey dwarves, different from regular dwarves in that they are grey. And evil. Apparently the two coincide. Bruenor has gone toppling to his demise locked in combat with the dragon that’s standing in for the Balrog in this particular spin-off, and unlike Gandalf before him, there’s no conceivable way he’s actually alive after that fall and might decide to pop back up again.
Yep. No way. Definitely dead. Tooootally deceased.
Anyway, though they would love to hold a proper funeral for the dwarven king (seeing as he’s dead and gone forever and all), Drizzt and Wulfgar have to make haste after Entreri, who has escaped with Drizzt’s magical panther Guenhywvar, now enslaved to the wicked assassin. Oh, he got Regis too. Meanwhile, Catti-Brie is to stay behind and organize troops to retake Mithral Hall in Bruenor’s memory. So Drizzt and Wulfgar head off from the North to follow Entreri’s trail.
From there the story splits into several different viewpoints, as Entreri and Guenhwyvar (Regis is there too) head South with all the unobtrusive subtlety of Genghis Khan’s rampaging hordes (and about the same body count). Entreri has developed a
crush fixation on Drizzt, and sends him regular gruesome updates on his progress and which way he’s headed, just in case giddily buzz-sawing his way through everyone he meets doesn’t leave a clear enough trail to follow. Meanwhile, Drizzt has found a magic mask that enables him to look like a surface elf, awakening once again his doubts about his race and potential acceptance outside his immediate group of friends. Finally, Catti-Brie organizes and leads a brilliant military campaign full of suspense, heartbreak, and conflict, which all culminates in a decisive battle that… heh, all right, no. In what is fast becoming typical Catti-Brie style, her resolve to stay behind and be the responsible daughter falls apart within a few chapters and she goes racing off to follow Drizzt again. Of course, she only gets up the gumption to do so because miraculously, Bruenor survived his encounter with the dragon! Hallelujah. Who could have seen that twist coming?
Honestly, I’m bringing up the Bruenor thing because it’s indicative of the very abbreviated plot threads that take prominence in this one. Though some of Salvatore’s other books like The Crystal Shard had serious issues with dialogue and prose (which this one shares, by the way: still wooden and overwritten, respectively), the plots at least held together and were fairly well-played. The Halfling’s Gem clearly struggles to tie up all the loose ends, and in the end Salvatore mostly decides that rather than trying to make it all work, he’ll just focus on some of it – that is, the Entreri storyline. Bruenor’s survival, Mithral Hall, the grey dwarves, and Icewind Dale are not so much tied up as they are simply snipped off. Bruenor’s continued respiration is never in doubt, and indeed the only impact his near-death-experience seems to have had is to deprive Drizzt of one scimitar for a while. Nothing develops out of Bruenor’s apparent demise (making it difficult to say why it happens at all, aside from a cheesy dun-dun-DUN finale to the last one), everyone gets over his reappearance within a few pages, and Bruenor and Catti-Brie promptly leave the conquest of Mithral Hall to others (which others, you ask? Oh, you know… others. People. Not really people associated or concerned with Mithral Hall, but who cares? Adventure is happening). After the long build-up of the grey dwarf/dwarven homeland arc, it all comes to a thudding, joyless finish, written off in a few lines.
Even when Catti-Brie and Bruenor catch up to Drizzt and Wulfgar, their appearance feels almost laughably unremarkable, as though Drizzt is getting so genre-savvy at this point that watching his buddies literally drop out of the sky on top of him isn’t really worth much attention. There’s the obligatory “welp, you’re alive, *musical swell*” scene, but otherwise, Bruenor and Catti-Brie almost sheepishly seem to sort of sidle in and say “so what are you guys doing? We got bored doing our thing.”
I will freely acknowledge that the Entreri/Guenhywvar/Regis arc for which these sacrifices are made ends up being a fine and dandy little fantasy adventure, but it is difficult to get over the contrived way a major plotline (one much more impactful to this universe, by the way) is just swept under the rug. Clearly Salvatore lost interest in the Mithral Hall material (somewhere in book 2, I’d imagine), but having already put these elements into play, he chose to simply abandon them rather than tough it out and try to make something out of them, which does feel like a copout.
But anyway, I’ve been down on the book for too long. It’s not all bad. Entreri is at arguably series-best in this novel, a threatening and interesting villain whose rivalry with Drizzt is still gripping. For all that I’m frustrated with Regis and what he represents as a figure, his arc is good stuff and does a lot to wash away the bad taste he left in Streams of Silver (up until a somewhat baffling finale). Drizzt’s storyline improves here as well: Salvatore has always been at his best with Drizzt when the character legitimately has something to be sad and noble over (which is possibly why Drizzt never seems to catch a break of longer than a few minutes without a troll trying to sit on him or something), and the issue of the mask and what it comes to mean to Drizzt is deftly handled and (dare I say it?) occasionally even interesting on a more cerebral level. In short, Drizzt’s characterization takes a jump in this novel, as he can retake the center stage again now that Bruenor’s Mithral Hall quest is over.
Bruenor, as usual, offers little beyond his goofy, prototypically dwarven personality. He’s not terrible, but he is rather one note and directionless, which makes his big dramatic resurrection scene feel even more pointless (he certainly doesn’t come back to them at the turn of the tide, in other words). Catti-Brie, however, does get some more focus, though it’s basically a retread of what she did in Streams of Silver. She tags along after the boys, fights a few enemies, offers some sage advice, and Drizzt concludes that she’s really growing up. It’s sweet and good-hearted enough, but I did find myself wishing that we could move past the “no really, she’s one of us after all, print out another Team Drizzt Membership Card” stage and get to the bit where she starts developing conflicts and insecurities of her own.
Who’ve I missed? Oh, Wulfgar. Well, Wulfgar gets a few “wise for his years” moments like Catti-Brie, but for the most part he’s already a default member of the team, so the main focus is on his massive, bulging, barbarian thews. He does give the sensation of being a little adrift in terms of development at this point, but that’s somewhat to be expected given that Drizzt spent this trilogy essentially stealing the protagonist’s chair out from under him. Perhaps he’ll find a new direction and purpose in the next novel, now that the initial ICEWIND DALE plot is drawing to a close.
Yep. That’s what’ll happen.
Otherwise, I’ve said it all before. There are duels, chases, pirates, wizards, thief-lords, demons, and desert caravans. Our heroes get into all sorts of hijinks, and it’s all a bit goofy but fun. The Halfling’s Gem is probably the most classically Dungeons and Dragons of the series thus far (except perhaps Exile), and though the plotting is a bit disappointing, it otherwise delivers just as advertised. And once again, I feel I should reiterate that although THE LEGEND OF DRIZZT is nothing that’s going to get much acclaim, it is fun, it is lively, and it will consistently entertain young readers or even their elders given the right frame of mind.
Bring on The Legacy.