I cannot even remember where I got this book. Was it part of one of my brother’s document dumps, wherein I got large quantities of comic books and fantasy paperbacks so he wouldn’t have to schlep them across the Pacific whenever he was reassigned? Did I buy it inexpensively because I thought I needed more fantasy reading in my diet? Gentle reader, yes, sometimes the origins of my books are lost to the swirling mists that are really dust coming from the to read shelves.
I read the first two books of the Icewind Dale trilogy sometime in the 1990s, so perhaps I have the major point of the super bad artifact upon which the book centers. The Crenishibon, the Crystal Shard. Of course, in the intervening years, perhaps the suspension of my disbelief or my tastes have changed; every time the book called the Shard by its formal name, I thought it sounded like some cross between Richard Crenna and Cinnabon. But that’s just me.
As I might have mentioned, I didn’t finish the Icewind Dale trilogy. Not because I lost interest, but because I received the first two books as part of a cumulative gift from my brother. He gave me sets of books which comprised individual books from trilogies to two books from trilogies, but never complete trilogies. I’ve not been into the whole trilogy nor series fantasy thing, so the only complete series I’ve read are the Dancing Gods series by Jack Chalker and the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams. So I’m not the best target audience for this, which is the second of a trilogy and probably the only I will read in the three.
The plot: An assassin working with a renegade band drow (dark elves who normally live underground, don’t you know?) plots to separate the band’s leader and his companion from the sentient and manipulative Crystal Shard. For the most part, that’s it, although the book plays heavily upon the intrigue within the band and within the drow empire.
Unfortunately, the book doesn’t exceed the fantasy genre like John D. MacDonald or Ed McBain books surpass the crime fiction genre. Salvatore is a slave to the preceding books of the series in a way that McBain must have struggled with; the characters are points on a decades-long line and within individual books might become mere shorthand. Salvatore also must have struggled against the constraints of his paymasters, Wizards of the Coast; each character is very directly mapped to a class from Dungeons and Dragons. The main character’s a thief/assassin, there are clerics, monks, wizards, and pscionists. When I was the Dungeon Master (or Game Master when I betrayed TSR/Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro and followed E. Gary to Dangerous Journeys), I had the chutzpah to build our campaigns in such a fashion where the story took precedence over the rules. These books, however, always make it easy for the PR (Player Reader) to understand what’s happening mechanically. Personally, I’d say it tears one from the fantasy world of the author and drops one into the Second Edition rules (apostasy!). But then again, I’m an occasional fantasy writer without a publication and a former game master without a group.
Despite all this kvetching, I wouldn’t dodge a Salvatore novel thrown my way, nor would I shun another book in the series. Eventually, when I caught onto the action in the book and made do with the combination of exposition from previous books’ adventures and the shorthand for the subgenre, I enjoyed the book well enough. Which is just as well, since I found another Salvatore book from another trilogy on my to-read shelves.
And no matter what I say, Salvatore stands head and shoulders above hacks in the former TSR stable (Rose Estes’s Greyhawk Adventures? Yeah, I read four of them). Unfortunately, the constraints of his bread and butter leave him to standing only a halfling’s head and shoulders above the others in the TSR stable.