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THE CRYSTAL SHARD

A novel by R.A. Salvatore (1988, TSR Fantasy)
Book 1 in the Forgotten Realms Icewind Dale Trilogy

A human, a dwarf and a dark elf combat a tyrannical wizard and his forces, who attempt to seize control of the Icewind Dale region.

 

 

2+ stars+

Read June 2nd to 8th, 2003  
    A typical dungeons and dragons book, where the action is played as in a game, though the main characters were quite well-developed.

Dungeons and Dragons was extremely popular at the time when this book was first published. The Dragonlance Saga was, I think, the first set of books to take advantage of this and turn it into a book. Forgotten Realms started out the same way. In this book, it certainly shows. When the heroes battle armies of orcs, giants or goblins, we learn exactly what happened to every single one of them. When playing a role-playing game, characters cannot move on to the next part of the mission without accounting for every one of their enemies.

The individual battles, however, were some of the strongest parts of the book. The author has enough descriptive power, in what is apparently his first book, to allow us to see the battles. The character of Drizzt is extremely well skilled. He has obviously had many campaigns against several armies. I like his fighting style, as it is quite different from the brute force of the dwarves and the humans. He is very subtle. As his people, the dark elves, seem to enjoy trickery more than so-called honorable fights, he takes on those same qualities, even though he has rejected his people.

I wish I knew more about the Forgotten Realms. Were these the first books in the series? If so, did this author get to make up the qualities of the species and the landscape? Or did other parts of the Forgotten Realms already exist apart from this northern area?

The large battles don't fare quite as well as the individual ones. They are described using passionate narrative, but don't have the same impact as with the characters that we know. Even battles with whom we've been given a point of view, such as the leader of Bryn Shander or a couple of the other towns, can't affect readers except in a general way.

The main problem with this book is the linear nature of the story, and the fact that everything is way too easy. Certain goals have to be met, as in a D&D game. The characters march out, and they meet these goals -every one. I think Drizzt may be too powerful for the story. With help from his magical panther, he can spy into the camp of the Barbarians, and thus ready Ten-Towns for their attack, which is easily repelled, though we hear of many deaths. Later, when Bruenor releases Wulfgar into the service of the dark elf, or "drow", they face giants and orcs, lay traps, and even defeat a dragon, without serious sacrifice. I thoroughly enjoyed each of these parts, but they were battle for the sake of battle.

Wulfgar was the most interesting character, since we could see him grow. Unfortunately, we didn't see a lot of his growth; instead we are told about it in hindsight, with some occasional flashbacks. It was nice to see his defeat from the dragon, but of course he had Drizzt there to help him, so they emerged victorious.

Bruenor and Wulfgar share a similar heritage: both had a father who knew great secrets, passed down to their sons, who used them much later in life, after their fathers perished prematurely. Bruenor had the Mithril block, while Wulfgar had the dragon's lair. Does anybody have a mother for a hero? Maybe Cattie-brie will be so one day.

The wizard Akar Kessel was a bumbling fool, which is nice to see occasionally, but not something I want to see too much of. Of course, the only way the people of Ten Towns -in particular, Drizzt, Bruenor, Wulfgar and Regis the halfling- could defeat such a powerful force is to have a fatal flaw in the central enemy character. If the attack had been well-planned and coordinated, they wouldn't have had a chance, and we would have needed three books to get out of this mess! That's what I expected, not to have three books in a series, of which only the main characters are the common thread.

The battle at the end of the book was well-laid out, in typical D&D style. Everybody fought well, and the body count was huge, though most of the main characters survived. I liked the way Drizzt banished Errtu, first pumping him for information. The dragon-hoard certainly came in handy then. Still, everything that the heroes set out to do, they ended up accomplishing, usually barely deviating from what they had in mind. We had Regis' attempts to charm Kessel, and Drizzt actually dueling with the wizard. I really liked his solution to the problem of the crystal shard, source of Kessel's power: cover it with flour and hide it from the sun! I think the tenuous link his panther had to this plane of existence because of the battle with the demon should have had some consequences, though, rather than resetting to their original relationship right away.

The book didn't leave me with any strong impressions, except that it read very much like a game. There were no real plot problems, though the characters seemed to have a lot of luck to go with their skill. The characters were well-written, especially Wulfgar, who gets to be king for a few days, restoring honor to his barbarian tribe. The setting almost exclusively took place in the summer, so that we didn't really have to deal with the bitter winter as a character, as I expected. That's what separates this region from the rest of the world- the frontier and the weather. Neither had a major impact on the story, though I could see it as a good setting for a game.

The author has a good writing style, for the most part, which has become even better by now, having read his work in two Star Wars books, from Vector Prime to Attack of the Clones. In this book, he was still getting the feel for characters and narrative, and it shows. I didn't like the sudden changes of the point of view with only a paragraph change, and he also doesn't seem to know how to use a semicolon!

D&D books are often better than this, as heroes have to find information to piece together their plots, as opposed to having so much laid out bare for them. Current books -the good ones- treat the novel less like a game. Still, the book was enjoyable, if not too engaging, and I look forward to reading about the exploits of these four main characters in their next adventure.

 
   

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