The Silent Blade: A Drizzt novel only in name

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Silent Blade by R.A. Salvatore epic fantasy book reviews Forgotten RealmsThe Silent Blade by R.A. Salvatore

The Silent Blade is in every regard an improvement over the LEGEND OF DRIZZT’s preceding installment, Passage to Dawn. The plot is tighter, the characterization is subtler, and – stressing this point most of all – the prose has taken leaps and bounds forward. However, this is also the installment of THE LEGEND OF DRIZZT that finally convinced me that the series has not only jumped the shark, but is doing Evel Knievel motorcycle flips over whole tanks of great whites.

Previously, on Drizzt and Friends, the demon Errtu finally (!) managed to return to the mortal plane and gain possession of the crystal shard. At last granted his heart’s desire, Errtu was primed and ready to doom the earth to a living hell. Except he wasn’t, because Drizzt and his crew came bustling in like grumpy border patrol officers and spanked him straight back to the netherworld for a century of brooding over how he’d totally have gotten away with it too, if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids and their cat. But wait! Wulfgar, long his prisoner, was returned to the world of the living (to the surprise of no one except your 97-year-old grandmother, who is both listening to the audiobook and deaf. Also possibly asleep). Our five friends headed off to the post-battle victory celebration, all smiles, and the credits rolled over their joyous reunion. And the clouds parted, and flowers opened, and the lion lay down with the lamb, and all was well in the Land of Faerun.

This didn’t seem like such a bad place to end the series. Salvatore has been open about the fact that after writing his DARK ELF TRILOGY as prequels to the ICEWIND DALE books, both he and his publishers were “done with Drizzt,” and if there was one thing LEGACY OF THE DROW (the succeeding series) seemed to show, it was that Drizzt and his buddies didn’t exactly have a new and exciting direction to go. They stuck to old opponents, old themes, and old locations. And, indeed, not a whole lot ended up happening. Wulfgar died, but then he got better. Drizzt’s old enemies lined up to take another swing, but then they missed. The books — particularly the middle two — felt like filler, Drizzt books just for the sake of there being more Drizzt books, and honestly make me wonder whether Salvatore’s heart was really in it anymore. It’s a good thing he hadn’t planned five books, otherwise we’d probably have had a whole novel about the Companions going to the beach, or a “bottle episode” about Drizzt and Catti-Brie getting trapped in a magic elevator or something.

Obviously, however, the Drizzt books did not stop after Passage to Dawn. A whole new series was scheduled, one with somewhat better reviews. Perhaps Salvatore wasn’t so burnt out on Drizzt after all. So, in our new installment, we find Artemis Entreri struggling with malaise and encroaching middle age as he returns to Calimport, city of his youth. Entreri was once a prince of the underworld, but now finds small point to his erstwhile pursuits and sinks into a deep depression/midlife crisis. Wulfgar, meanwhile, is struggling through PTSD after his tenure in Hell, and feeling the first clutching fingers of incipient alcoholism as he works as a bouncer in a seedy tavern. The stories of the two men mirror one another, as the apathy each feels — the titular “silent blade” — removes the savor from old pleasures and awakens questions about what is truly meaningful in life, as… wait, hold on a second, where’s Drizzt?

“Drizzt?” says The Silent Blade innocently. “Oh, don’t you see him? He’s right there! Wave your hand for the reader, Drizzt!”

“Um… well I suppose he’s there…” I dubiously reply, shading my eyes. “Waaaay back there, in that dark corner. He doesn’t seem to be doing much of anything, though.”

“Nonsense! He’s Drizzt! He’s Drizzting! Come here, Drizzt, do the thing with the scimitars for the nice reader!” cries The Silent Blade, beginning to perspire slightly.

“Okay, but you’re just doing that so I know he’s around. It doesn’t seem to have any bearing on the plot…”

At this, The Silent Blade gives me a baleful stare and grunts: “Listen, picky, you wanted your damn Drizzt book, you’ve got your damn Drizzt book. Take it or leave it.”

So I take it, and I’m reasonably happy to do so. As much as Drizzt is a fun character, he’s basically been jogging in place in terms of development for the last five novels or so, ever since he came to the realization that it’s fine if people hate his guts because of his dark elf roots so long as he has his buddies. Without bringing in a whole new element to play off (which Salvatore seems very reluctant to do), Drizzt isn’t going to scratch that characterization itch as much as he might once have done. Entreri and Wulfgar, on the other hand, have nice, meaty redemption arcs to experience.

Well, Entreri does, anyway. Wulfgar’s arc is interesting, but it feels primarily like set-up for the next novel. The Silent Blade is very much Entreri’s book, with the Companions of the Hall mostly just being present. Their plot ties up with Entreri’s at the finale, but for the majority of the novel they’re just out in the wilderness going… someplace, and doing… stuff. In fact, I’d say that provided the reader isn’t disappointed by the lack of Drizzt in what is nominally his own series, the Companions may end up being the weakest part of this novel. The Silent Blade almost commits to a major shift in tone in comparison to its predecessors. There are significantly more shades of grey, for instance, as previously cut-and-dried, good-or-evil characters begin to take on a bit of grimy nuance. I mean, not Drizzt, obviously — Drizzt is so square he makes the Pope look rough around the edges — but a good few of the others do seem to gain more pathos and realism. In this way, the Companions start to feel a little out of place: Drizzt pretty much is a saint, and Catti-Brie is getting saintlier by the page. Their parts of the novel are fairly scant in comparison to the other two, but each foray into Drizzt’s headspace feels like entering a completely different book for a bit. Salvatore makes it work — in large part by having Drizzt reflect on the exact fact that he and Entreri seem to approach life from differing perspectives — but I can see why the main group of Companions vanishes from the following novel.

The prose has improved significantly in this installment. There are a few extra adjectives here and there, but it’s clear that Salvatore is putting in a lot more effort. The dialogue has generally been getting better as the series progressed, so it’s not as much of a startling change as the prose was, but in comparison to the first few novels, it’s pretty good here too. Objectively speaking, it still comes across as a little clunky now and then, but I once again get the sense that Salvatore was rolling up his sleeves and going to work on this one (at least in comparison to his previous few works) and it’s good to see.

There is a bit of a sour note right at the end, as what was a fairly interesting and nuanced narrative is tied up with a few too many contrivances. Again, though, it feels like this was probably Drizzt’s fault. Salvatore was committed to having Drizzt in the novel, so he needed to find some way to tie him into the events. His solution doesn’t come off with particular elegance, in large part (I think) because this really is Entreri’s book following Entreri’s plot, and the Companions have to go through a lot of contortions to fit in. It puts me in mind of the ending of The Halfling’s Gem, back when Salvatore was still trying to make Regis the “smooth-talking rogue” member of the company (as opposed to the “wait, he’s still around?” member of the company that he is today). On that occasion, our intrepid heroes spent the novel fighting organized crime, but then left Regis in charge of the local mafia. It felt rather hypocritical, and gave the impression that maybe Drizzt and his crew — despite all their soapbox preaching — were actually concerned about evil only insofar as it was a direct inconvenience to them or their acquaintances. Without spoiling the ending, something similar happens here.

Still, it was basically just the cherry on top of the “Drizzt is out of place here” sundae at that point. As I seem to have said about a thousand times, this book feels more like THE LEGEND OF ENTRERI than THE LEGEND OF DRIZZT, and if Drizzt and friends end up feeling out of character and uninteresting, at least Entreri gets a good conclusion to his plot threads. It’s this that prompted the shark-jumping comment earlier. I feel that The Silent Blade is a superior book to much of Salvatore’s earlier work, but that it is superior in large part because it’s a LEGEND OF DRIZZT novel only in name. This feels like the start of a new series featuring new protagonists, and it’s not lost on me that the worst parts of the book are those sections where Drizzt and his friends return to (once again) rehash their doings from the ICEWIND DALE TRILOGY. It really feels as though — at this point in his career — Salvatore had nothing more to say on our intrepid dark elf, and the (possibly fan-demanded, although this is only speculation) continuation of Drizzt’s adventures was not where he wanted to take things.

Which is probably why Drizzt doesn’t show up at all in the succeeding two books in the PATHS OF DARKNESS quartet. And you know what? I’m perfectly okay with that. This was a fun read even without Drizzt as protagonist. If Drizzt has jumped the shark, so be it. Perhaps, after a few novels of this caliber, there won’t be any further need for the dark elf warrior and his never-changing circumstances and group of friends. Salvatore can’t just replay ICEWIND DALE forever, right? Let’s just peek into the future for a moment, and I’m sure we’ll see…

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… oh.

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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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One comment

  1. Entertaining as always, Tim. I haven’t read these books, but I love reading your reviews of them!

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