Ossus Library Index Fantasy Index


A novel by R.A. Salvatore (1989, TSR Fantasy)
Book 2 in the Forgotten Realms Icewind Dale Trilogy

The four companions encounter various friends and enemies on their search for Bruenor's ancestral home.



2+ stars+

Read June 9th to 16th, 2003  
    As with the previous book, much of what happened here is very standard dungeons and dragons. There were some insightful character moments, and a good villain, as well as a quest, which made this book only slightly more enjoyable overall. Still, everything was way too easy for everybody, and it's a given that none of the main characters are going to die, at least this early into the series.

I am beginning to dislike the word "adventure". The author uses it as an excuse to get the characters out on Bruenor's quest for Mithril Hall. I suppose that Wulfgar's people were always looking out for adventure, but I have a feeling that they spent more time trying to survive against the bitter landscape, and feuding between tribes, to search it out. The term "adventure" seems rather shallow to describe what they are doing, as if Wulfgar had no other reason but seeking out enemies. The author could have easily made it more believable, and less shallow, by simply allowing his loyalty to Bruenor be the main reason he was along -which it was.

There are two villains in this book, other than the stock enemies of orcs, trolls, barbarians and dragons. One is in the form of Artemis Entreri, an assassin sent out to deal with Regis the halfling, who we know stole a very persuasive gem from his master in the thieves guild a decade before, which is why he had been living in Icewind Dale. Entreri captures Cattie-brie, Bruenor's human adopted daughter, and love interest of Wulfgar, to give him leverage over the group he is chasing. He keeps her under his sway using fear and his exceptional skill with a blade. He also teams up with a wizard's apprentice, Sydney, whose master thinks Drizzt has the crystal shard from the previous book.

Wulfgar is still young and naive in many ways. I am surprised that Drizzt never explained to him what the outside world is like. His sense of honor gets him into trouble in a less-than-honorable world. He gets into a huge bar fight while Bruenor and Drizzt are gone to purchase a map of the northern world, winning it, of course, with barely a scratch. He proves to be an amazing friend, though, as he protects all of them at all costs, especially Regis, who as a little person, had more trouble standing up to all of the dangers of the lands.

Wulfgar shows his people's classic distrust of magic, bearing the brunt of many magical tricks as he often refuses to believe in them, such as at the Harpell's place, where everything was very strange, indeed. Horses shrunk to cat-sized, invisible walls, a bridge that allows travel on only one side -the underside in one direction, topside on the other (that must be difficult for carrying goods across, spilling pails and supplies as they are spit from the upside down bridge)! Still, the barbarian manages to get a grasp on his superstitions.

The quest itself was simply about moving from one danger to another, with the occasional break. This is a fighting game, not a quest where they need to piece together clues, gather supplies, and actually search for Mithril Hall. For example, in the Dragonlance Chronicles, the characters moved across the world, but were required to search for artefacts that would help them attain their goal. It was very much like an adventure game in that way. Here, the characters are simply given the information. Other people do the research for them, and all of it seems to come from books, not ancient artefacts. I feel that we need more puzzles to be pieced together.

There aren't any real consequences to the actions of the heroes, either. Even Regis, who was one of the reasons they were being followed by such a lethal enemy, barely causes any incidents, except for being captured by Entreri at the end. He catches the fury of the dwarf, but that is explained away be Bruenor walking in his past memories. Inside Mithril Hall, Drizzt falls into a trap, and is believed dead, but I was never convinced. He survives easily -too easily, and makes his way with the assassin to the gorge near the exit. Bruenor falls with the dragon, but we know that he is not really dead, either, even before the last sentence of the book.

My favorite part of the book takes place in the Trollshaws, where the trolls are really neat creatures. Growing anew, even a whole body to attach with a severed limb, these trolls are nasty creatures! Only Regis' fire holds them at bay, though I wonder why it was the halfling that needed to think of it, when Bruenor and Drizzt have met these monsters before. Their trek through the marshes was pretty ugly, and I liked the way that they weren't even safe on the water. Still, the fact that nobody fell unconscious from lack of sleep makes these heroes out to be supermen, which is something I don't like. Falling over from exhaustion, they keep going, even without sleep for days on end. I also saw no reason why they should have left the river; it was certainly less dangerous than the land route. Still, there was no river on the map of the Trollshaws where they apparently crossed, so maybe it was too small at that point.

The main problem with these books is that these guys can do anything and everything, no matter what dangers are placed in their way. I don't want to read about hoards of attacking enemies, who are about to overwhelm them, until our heroes learn a trick that allows them to force the enemies back and defeat them with barely a scratch. Bruenor, Drizzt, Wulfgar and Regis are extremely powerful. They have defeated two dragons in two books. The Pegasus was no problem, since Drizzt could enter the spirit plane. It seems like these guys are the only ones to ever have learned these tricks- and so many of them!

Dragons don't seem to be formidable foes in the Forgotten Realms. The one that they meet in Mithril Hall, supposed to be the Worst Dragon Ever, because he was partly spawned in the underworld, must be getting senile in his old age. He should have been able to easily defeat the companions, even with the magical weapons they held. Instead, he was killed with a few piercing arrows, some hammer blows and some flame. It was always on the defensive, and never decided to regroup. Why did it only blow its darkness at them once? For a deadly blackness, it didn't affect Wulfgar for very long, and Cattie-brie not at all. Why did it not smash its back into a wall to dislodge or squish Bruenor? It should have ducked down into the gorge, away from the hammer and arrows, and dealt with one threat at a time.

Sydney was a slightly better villain than Kessel was in the last book. At least she wasn't stupid or whiny. She seemed to get along well with Entreri, even though she never used any spells to help them with their search. Bok, the magical golem, was linked to search for Drizzt, so she didn't have to do much magic for him. When Sydney thought Drizzt was dead, she should have at least had Bok dig for the body of the elf, just to make certain that the crystal shard was not upon him. Her search could have been over, then! When Cattie-brie ran at her with a sword, though, she didn't even begin to cast a spell. What kind of apprentice would be let out of the tower if she couldn't cast a spell in a single breath? For that matter, why did Cattie-brie have to use a sword, when she obviously saw the wizard while she was in the spy-cave with her bow and arrows?

The dwarf-halls were rather a disappointment, in many respects. First, I can't believe they could be so hidden, despite the words and explanations of the people in the land. It's destruction occurred only 200 years ago, which is a short time for elves and dwarves. References to it should be easy to find among the books of those people, not just in legends. If the wizard in Herald's Holdfast had stories from "generations" of dwarves, and three generations lived there, wouldn't it be likely that he had some eye-witnesses to the event pass nearby as they fled? Surely Bruenor was not the only one to survive. Next, the trap that caught Drizzt and Entreri didn't seem like much of a trap, if they didn't end up in a prison cell. They causally walked out of the room, which should have had no exit, because it was meant to trap unwanted trespassers, presumably to be dealt with at the leisure of the dwarves. No evil dwarves even came to investigate. Finally, the gorge can't be as deep as Bruenor claims if they can easily see the flames from the dragon's back at the bottom, from the ledge. Obviously a torch that large was still burning as it reached the bottom.

This book seems just as derivative as its predecessor in what it does. The author writes well, so that it is not unpleasant to read. However, there wasn't enough substance to keep me interested all the way through. There were way too many Tolkien references, from Mithril, to a halfling with magical jewelry, to Lady Alustriel, who seems a lot like Galadriel, even to the point of giving gifts.

I wondered last book if anybody had any female heroes. It looks like Cattie-brie might belong to that category, now, since her daring escape from Sydney and Entreri, and even her temporary defeat of Bok. I'd like to see more of her. Wulfgar obviously would, as well!

The setting for this series seems like it would be a great place to play a Dungeons and Dragons game. I wonder why it is called the Icewind Dale Trilogy, however, when this book, and what looks like the vast majority of the next book, don't even take place there.

Having the characters roam the countryside is not enough for a book like this. Giving them such powerful enemies should have made it more interesting, but because everything was so easy to defeat, that was not the case. I doubt the next book will improve upon this, since Drizzt is now forced to chase after Entreri in order to save Regis, and recover his spirit-panther. Still, these are not bad books at all; they just need more punch to them.


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