Friday, 4 October 2013

The Blog Fantastic 010: Streams of Silver review

The first book in the Icewind Dale Trilogy (which was retroactively renumbered as being the fourth part of the Legend of Drizzt series) wasn’t a masterpiece of the fantasy genre but it was clear to me why it has its fan. R. A. Salvatore’s first published novel, it had a simple story but it also had familiar characters interacting in a familiar setting. That sense of familiarity can be very comforting when starting a new book depending on your reading habits and the mood you’re in. The problem familiar settings and familiar characters is that they often lead to familiar stories and that’s exactly what the first book was.

The first book also served as an introduction to Salvatore’s corner of the Forgotten Realms. Salvatore’s mark on Forgotten Realms isn’t based on an actual geographical corner of the map of that world but on the characters he introduced to it. It’s the popular characters such as Drizzt the dark elf and Wulfgar the barbarian that made the book what it was. The events that take place only do so to provide adversaries for the heroes to fight against. The fights serve another purpose which is to entertain the reader with increasingly ludicrous fight scenes that make the heroes look invincible.

I’m getting pretty negative but everything that I enjoy about the first book has disappeared from the second and everything I didn’t enjoy in the first book can be found on nearly every page. The story is even less important than it was in the first because it’s a simply quest to find a hidden kingdom of dwarves, Mithril Hall. What that really means is that the heroes will go on a long adventure which will give Salvatore many opportunities to have Drizzt and his companions fight all sorts of different monsters frequently found in the fantasy genre. Despite all of that, the book could still have been enjoyable had it been written particularly well or if the characterization of the protagonists was above average. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. The characters do not progress any further than they did in the first book. They do a lot, they travel far and wide and fight many foes, but it doesn’t mean anything to either of them. They’re not changed or affected by it in any meaningful way.

That’s the first problem I had with Stream of Silver. The second was that the story feels incredibly familiar because any fan of fantasy literature knows it forward and backward. The story here is essentially a slightly modified version of the Mines of Moria chapters from The Lord of the Rings. It’s incredibly problematic because Tolkien did it so much better. Obviously Salvatore isn’t the first to closely revisit the stories of Tolkien in his own body of work, but like most that have come before him; he does it with adding anything to the story. In fact, he does so by reducing the story to be a poor imitation of the original story. There was nothing new here and it was boring and also frustrating because if I wanted to read about the Mines of Moria I would pick up my copy of The Lord of the Rings and reread it.

My third biggest problem with the second volume of the Icewind Dale Trilogy was the action scenes and the fighting. Fans of Salvatore will tell anybody who is willing to listen that he writes some of the best fight scenes in fantasy fiction. They’ve clearly only read fantasy books by a select few fantasy writers. Salvatore does write a good fight scene, but only in his description of action to action events. He does a poor job contextualizing the action in the story. Bruenor, Wulfgar and Drizzt fight people, monsters and dragons because enough pages have passed since the last fight and it’s time for another battle. Worse than that, they’re always grossly outnumbered and the odds are always ridiculously stacked against them and they always vanquish seemingly without any real effort. There is absolutely no sense of danger or even a sense of threat in any of the fights. If you want good battles, whether it’s one on one type or armies versus armies, look no further than books written by David Gemmell. He makes Salvatore look amateurish.

I after reading and enjoying The Crystal Shard, which was a good debut but nothing spectacular, I was hoping for something more out of Streams of Silver. That’s exactly what I got. I got more of everything I didn’t particularly enjoy in the first book. I got more Drizzt, more battle magic used constantly and without effort. I also got more villains, but generic villains without any personality with the exception maybe of Artemis Entreri. I like my magic to come with a price, I like it to be hard earned. It shouldn’t be easy. That’s why I didn’t like this book. It felt easy, there was no effort made by the characters when it came to accomplishing their deeds because they can do superhuman feats without batting an eyelash and, if that’s not enough, they’re aided by magical weapons a plenty. Worst of all, I feel like Salvatore didn’t make much of an effort with his follow up novel. The story has been told many times before, the characters are cookie cutter fantasy heroes and the prose, the pacing and the villains in the novel, none of them feel fresh or even polished. I like to be challenged as a reader or, at the very least, engaged. I would even accept angry at a book, but nothing makes me feel worse than being bored and that’s exactly how I felt while reading Streams of Silver. On a final note, why does Bruenor talk like a pirate? Infuriating.

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