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THE HALFLING'S GEM

A novel by R.A. Salvatore (1990, TSR Fantasy)
Book 3 in the Forgotten Realms Icewind Dale Trilogy

The friends trek across the lands to save Regis from his vengeful ex-boss, lured all the way by the assassin who captured him.

 

 

3 stars

Read June 17th to 24th, 2003  
    This book had a lot more of the same as in previous books, as expected, from one-sided battles that suddenly change direction, with our heroes winning against incredible odds. However, it had a lot of politics in it as well, and considerable amount of very exciting action. Definitely the best of the three books.

Once again, the author stacks the decks against the friends no matter where they go. Whether it's five-to-one odds, or fifty-to-one odds, it follows the same formula. The friends brace against an overwhelming attack, ready to die fighting. However, even as their spirits are drained and they are getting very tired, one of them spurs them into renewed action, allowing them to not only escape, but to win the fight to a man, as well.

Everything they do is way too easy. The color of Drizzt's skin is a menace to their mission, so they need a magical mask. Easy, because a wizard knows where to find one. They easily convince the villagers that they don't want to hurt the banshee, so they are pointed the way. Want to avoid the killing scream of the banshee? Earplugs are the usual method, but better is to know that it is coming and to brace yourself! So why doesn't everybody know this trick? Brace yourself against the killing scream, and survive with only minor headaches! The call of the banshee is what kills, not its effect on the mind. The author wants to do everything in his story; show the incredible danger, but he's not willing to risk his characters for it.

He also falls into several traps which are easy to see through. We know by now that he will not kill any of these characters off. He will simply tease us with their apparent death, but have them wake up from a near death state and fight like they've had months of rest. Wulfgar barely noticed the hydra bite, even though it was supposed to be venomous. Cattie-brie, of course, didn't die when she leaped off the bridge to retrieve the scepter in the other realm, though that was neat, because the whole world was endlessly circular in its vertical dimension! Bruenor, of course, was revived in this book. I liked the fact that he could survive the flames because he had Drizzt's magical scimitar, which has proven before that it can protect its owner, but how did he ever survive the fall into the canyon? A dragon is not a pillow, and from that height, they both would have been squashed. That fall killed the Bok in the previous book, and though the magical avatar was injured before, so was Bruenor.

Bruenor's romp through Mithril Hall was standard fighting, against more overwhelming odds, but I like his escape through the chimney of the forge, where Alustriel rescues him and brings him back to the Harpell's estate in her chariot of fire. He and Cattie-brie manage to convince her to allow them to take the chariot south in search of their friends, so that they could help rescue Regis.

This is where the book got really interesting, and very exciting. Although there were more enemies than even the author could properly count, I found the sequence of the pirate attack on their ship to be amazingly written. It was so fun to read, especially Bruenor driving the fire chariot through one of the boats. What I love most about it, however, was the way the crew accepted Drizzt, when the mask slipped and he was revealed to be a drow elf. By the way he helped them, and fought for them, they judged him by his character, not by his race.

At the end of the fight, however, the author makes a curious observation. Drizzt watches the storytelling on the ship, and thinks that, except for the missing Regis, it is "just like old times". What old times is he thinking of? Wulfgar only knew Drizzt when he was being trained, and that was interrupted by the invasion of the giants and goblins. A single winter after that was over, when they were unlikely to have had excitement to talk about, they left on this "adventure", and Cattie-brie wasn't with them until they reached Mithril Hall. I think the author is trying to create long-term camaraderie where there was none.

Some of the best moments come from the bad guys. I liked most of the rivalry between Entreri, the wizard Lavalle, and the rat-man Rassiter, all in the employ of Pasha Pook. It was a lot of fun to see these people jockeying for positions within the organizations. As is required from bad guys, they had many double-crosses waiting, for when they were double-crossed by others.

Once in Calimport, Wulfgar seems to have learned patience. At the beginning of the book, he was extremely irritated at having to stop one night at the wizard's tower, for fear that Regis would be executed in the time they wasted. However, once they found the Thieves' Guild, after a funny excursion with camels and a dishonorable merchant, he was content to check into a hotel just down the street and wait a full day longer. If they knew that Regis was in Calimport by then, they had to assume he would be killed within hours of his arrival. Since Entreri knew they were following, it stands to reason that he knew they had arrived, and might hasten Regis' final hours.

When they discovered the informant halfling, and Drizzt knew they were walking into a trap in the sewers, why did he not plan a counter-strike? Usually, knowing that a trap exists is the first step to foiling it, but not in this case. Here, it did nothing to help them whatsoever. Knowing this, and with Regis' time running out, they should have gone in the front door. With their abilities, it would have been easy.

The action, however, was totally engrossing for the last third of the book, or so. The narrative was truly enjoyable, well written, with all of the politics and rivalries coming to a head. That part helped to tone down all the fighting against hordes of enemies, which itself wasn't too bad because it was so exciting and well written.

Drizzt obviously didn't take Cattie-brie's words to heart as much as he thought he had. He seemed to have come to terms with who he was, no longer caring that Entreri tried to mock him by accusing him of hiding behind the mask. He did it for the right reasons, as Cattie-brie pointed out. But when the fight is almost done, and Drizzt and Entreri get back on the streets, the assassin once again uses the mask to his advantage, gaining a few precious seconds to escape. Since he is still roaming the city at the end of the book, the author obviously still wants to use the character in potential sequels. I have no problems with this, as long as he is used at some point in the future, and used well.

As much as I enjoyed a lot of the action in this book, especially the pirate attack and the battles in the sewers and the Thieves' Guild, there were several instances of plot convenience here. Cattie-brie and Drizzt, especially, could fight under any circumstances at any other time in this trilogy, even when an enemy was located very close to their friends. However, when the plot requires that Drizzt push through dozens of demons to get through the inter-dimensional portal, he doesn't want to use the bow and arrow in case he missed. I don't think there is an example in the entire trilogy of either of these two missing. In the sewers, Drizzt decides that he can't get through a small pack of rat-men without one stabbing him in the back, so he is pushed forward. But in the demon realm, he does exactly that, with an injured Cattie-brie on his back!

As I expected, the ending of this book was rushed, with no time at all devoted to the reclaiming of Mithril Hall. I don't mind, really, because it would have been more fighting of hoards against hoards. Although Alustriel said in the last book that only three generations of dwarves lived in Mithril Hall, it seems that Bruenor had a lot of relatives who ruled there, in the way he slaughtered the evil dwarves in somebody's name.

The book ends with the promise of more adventure for these friends, who have quickly recovered from their ordeals in the south. I can't understand why Wulfgar's barbarians would come south to Mithril Hall, when they've lived all their lives in the north. How could they give up their culture so easily? Will this pave the way for Wulfgar to take up his promise of making the barbarians of the plains pay for their dishonorable act of turning a warrior into a Pegasus back in the last book?

Drizzt has come back from all of the adventuring with a new sense of self, not desiring to hide from who he is. Regis had a brief reign as head of the Thieves' Guild, but by the end is staying at Mithril Hall because he apparently made more enemies, and is on the run again. Finally, Wulfgar and Cattie-brie are about to get married. There might be future stories where Drizzt has a crisis because of the newfound love of that young woman, after the revelation that she might have loved him if Wulfgar hadn't come around.

Once again, I have to wonder why this book is part of a trilogy called The Icewind Dale Trilogy, because no part of it takes place in that region. Only one of the characters was born into that region, and all of them have left it by the end. There are also more Tolkien references in this book, the most noticeable being a halfling who loses a finger (and then another one later on). That didn't seem to affect Regis at all, except at the time when the fingers were appropriated.

If this is typical of the world as a whole, as I am led to understand from others, I don't think I will be returning to the Forgotten Realms. Apparently, the whole setup is for characters to battle overwhelming odds and win, which is not something that I find interesting. The writing in this trilogy, however, was terrific, which made the series better than it might have been under a less skilled author.
 
   

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