Book review: Gauntlgrym by R.A. Salvatore (book one of the Neverwinter trilogy)

Since at the core, I am a glutton for punishment, I decided to read Gauntlgrym. I was aware that any enthusiasm I might have regarding the book would be severely dampened by the mere presence of Drizzt. Since I am also frequently an optimist, I hoped that Bruenor, Jarlaxle and Athrogate would manage to make something salvageable out of it. As it was, I had mixed luck.

The story follows Drizzt and Bruenor as they hunt for the ruins of Gauntlgrym, Jarlaxle and Athrogate as they find it and a Thayan contingent (Sylora, Dhalia and Dor'crae) who actually have plans on what to do when they get there. Despite all of that being in the same sentence, Drizzt and Bruenor are sidelined for much of the book and only start to play a major part in the last section of the book. Sylora, leading the Thayan contingent, wants to make a dread ring (big nasty whatsit), gain more favor with her boss and kick the Shadovar in Neverwinter around. However, I don't like it when what are minor characters to the plotline are given more attention than the characters who are moving the book along and I can't imagine why anyone would do so except as fan service.

Much of Drizzt's face time is spent being morose and slightly unstable (not in a good way). Granted, this shouldn't be a surprise to anyone remotely familiar with the series but I, for one, can only take such things in small doses and my preferred delivery is in rhyme (yay Edgar Allen Poe!). I found it depressingly predictable that he never seemed to bother finding new friends (although I suspect his current state would make him unpleasant company to most people). I also found it equally irritating that he managed to ignore everyone pointing out that loss happens but the living matters more. Cue the Clue by Plus Four and smack that character with it until the problem goes away.

Except one of the Thayan minions (and she was indeed a minion and nothing more) also got more face time than was needed or desired by this reader. Dhalia Sin'Felle (let the bad jokes commence) switched sides around four times during the course of the book and both sense and logic seem to get lost around her. From her introduction she would have made a decent minor villainness, but for some reason this course was avoided in favor of yet another "redemption" story arc (or the beginnings of one). Ironically, a redemption arc would have had some credence had her introduction been more in keeping with her morose attitude through the middle of the book. Since this was not the case, I was pestered with the nagging suspicion that I was supposed to identify with this ill conceived creature in some way, even though the disconnect between introduction and later actions undermined this considerably. Of course, my ability to suspend disbelief in this caricature was also sabotaged by the flirting between her and Drizzt, but I suspect aforementioned preferences may be having an effect on that.

Also as a side note, the ending is rushed. Again. Let's all say it together: Climax does not equal conclusion. End on an exhale, else be as irritating as woolen underpants.

Fortunately, Drizzt and his evil-ish twin are actually supporting cast with too much face time this time since very few of their actions actually have a major impact on the main narrative. Jarlaxle and Athrogate accidentally unbind a really big elemental, with goading from the Thayan contingent and the pair of them go about setting it right with Bruenor's help. This part of the story was rather nice. Characters were consistent and caring, they made sense (which more than I can say for other members of the cast) and I was actually pretty satisfied with most of the way their sides of things played out and ended. This aspect of the book was cleanly executed and enjoyable, even though it wasn't the most complicated story in the world. Now if only the chaff could get separated out...

There were a few other details I liked a great deal. I desperately wish that Jarlaxle and Bruenor talked together more often. It was one of the things that kept me reading. In addition, Jarlaxle attempts to do the impossible: shake sense into Drizzt. I doubt it'll have any impact on anything other than Jarlaxle's storyarcs but I did appreciate the attempt a great deal. Also, there are fewer of the navel gazing essays this time around, thank goodness. I don't need to read what amounts to the same thing over and over again and it's about time that they were cut.

In the end, I have to say that for me this book oscillated between liked and loathed with next to nothing in between. It's okay in parts, but I would recommend skipping chapters.

In case anyone is interested in how I arrived at this conclusion I tracked my reactions to this book in an extremely spoilerific manner and it may be found here along with a bunch of other reviews that probably aren't interesting.


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