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Gauntlgrym by R.A. Salvatore (Review)

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.

Comments

( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
yoski
Nov. 9th, 2010 04:55 pm (UTC)
:3 I loved your review. I think I'll pass the book but the next one I'll get it has "Barrabus". I have waited YEARS to him to find Drizzy again... LOL Dryzzy.

Keep them coming girl!
lady_fellshot
Nov. 12th, 2010 05:43 am (UTC)
The scene where "Barrabus" finds out Drizzy-poo alive is somewhat open ended, and the character in question wasn't particularly relevant to the main events of the story, But at least he was a more interesting guy than, say, Dhalia.
(Anonymous)
Nov. 16th, 2010 11:46 pm (UTC)
Your words ring so true
I just finished Gauntlgrym, then did some internet searches to see if other people were as disappointed as I was. I'm so glad I'm not alone. I had hoped that, with Ghost King, RA Salvatore had come to realize that killing off characters forever can actually add to a story. Cadderly was more epic in death than he had ever been in life. Instead we are treated to boring reminiscing and this stupid pocket plane idea, which leaves me deeply concerned that someday that waffling airhead Cattie-Brie will come back and waste more of my time.
I was also murderously pissed off that I had to believe that some ruthless hussy (mercifully, I've forgotten her name already) waits until the last minute to feel guilt about killing thousands of people, then has a change of heart. Oh, and she's a better fighter than everyone (including Drizzt), and she has a sharper wit than Jarlaxle. Then, despite being a black widow, she invites Drizzt into her life.

Other points of agreement:
1) The minor characters, like the vampire and Entreri, are way better than the stilted main characters.
2) I'm pretty sure that RA Salvatore has about ten fight scenes written in all of his works, and just changes the adjectives.
3) Salvatore's characters consistently make decisions that no one of their "character" would make. It drives me nuts.

Just one final note: you should never believe Jarlaxle will die. That guy's calling card is faking his own death, and he's been doing it since he was born. So we can hope the next book has more Jarlaxle (and Entreri), and is consequently better.
lady_fellshot
Nov. 17th, 2010 06:11 am (UTC)
Re: Your words ring so true
I got worried over Jarlaxle because characters that I like tend to have short lifespans in these books for some reason. But I'm glad to see that someone else agrees that Jarl should not die under any circumstances. :)

I also agree that killing characters off can and should be beneficial to a story if they remain dead. I've read quite a few now that did kill off major characters and the story was still great. I still find it amusing that Zak somehow manages to be mentioned in every single book published after Homeland.

I was also murderously pissed off that I had to believe that some ruthless hussy (mercifully, I've forgotten her name already) waits until the last minute to feel guilt about killing thousands of people, then has a change of heart. Oh, and she's a better fighter than everyone (including Drizzt), and she has a sharper wit than Jarlaxle. Then, despite being a black widow, she invites Drizzt into her life.

Ah you must be referring to the Vyshaan Drood. There was so much with her that was completely dysfunctional to the story and then my ability to suspend disbelief in her just went flying out the window, it ceased to be funny. I can't help but see her as the current replacement to Catty because it's another case of we are told she is this or that without being shown anything to support it. In some circles she'd be called a Mary sue, with some justification. Personally I'd call her the obligatory hetero love interest because she serves no other narrative function.
minigendo
Nov. 23rd, 2010 04:16 am (UTC)
I stumbled across this series of posts with a random google search while reading the book. Finishing the series after I have finished the book, I find that I largely concur with your conclusions.

The book is of wildly varying quality and Dahlia is a literary abomination. Ignoring her laughable characterization, or lack therof, she seems to violate the internal rules of the setting. She's received no formal training in ... anything, as far as I can tell yet can fight on par with anyone, and also has super powers. Drizzt had an entire 3 book series about how he learned to fight over a span of at least 30 years. Dahlia is 30, or thereabouts. She's a level one character with an impossibly powerful artifact weapon and apparently she rolled an 18 for all of her stats before the bonuses kicked in.

I don't know if you were lucky enough to have avoided the Ghost King, but the impression I'm getting is that Salvatore is no longer in control of his own characters. It seems like Wizards of the Coast mandated somewhere along the line that the realms was going to steal a lot from Warcraft (Orcs are no longer generically evil, Ghost King ... certainly not a Lich King) and Salvatore was told to deal with it. He mentions in Ghost King that Toril had "chosen to go in a different direction".

This trend looks set to continue, because this latest series, apparently is all to set up another Neverwinter video game. This one looks set to be an MMO of some kind, which would explain why they're raiding WOW, wouldn't want to alienate their target demographic. Regardless, it doesn't excuse the poor writing, but I wonder if the author is just doing his best to flesh out the bullet points they assigned him.

My thanks for your amusing series of summary articles.
lady_fellshot
Nov. 23rd, 2010 05:46 am (UTC)
Oh I read the Ghost King and gave it the same treatment I did for Gauntlgrym. I had Catti-brie's death to look forwards to. Glad you liked the flogging. :)

I knew about the Spellplague and the time jump beforehand so it really wasn't a big surprise to me. Sadly, While I liked a lot of the Realms books before 4e and all its badly executed changes, I haven't been able to bring myself to reading them since. 'Tis sad.

I've no use at all for 4e D&D. I played using that rule set once and decided to stick with 3.5e.

Ignoring her laughable characterization, or lack therof, she seems to violate the internal rules of the setting. She's received no formal training in ... anything, as far as I can tell yet can fight on par with anyone, and also has super powers.

This is why I suspect we might be seeing another flat character with Sue-ish aspects. Overblown description of "leet-ness," oversexed yet vunerable, everyone wants her around even though she has nothing truly useful to contribute, constant descriptions of how intriguing she is without anything to back it up for the reader... I swear the entire point of extolling her virtues as a fighter was to get fanboys to start versus threads.

I tend to ignore the how the game rules work with regards to the realms novels, but my primary problem with her was an underlying assumption that a reader would buy into her, even though the character herself did not make sense as a whole. I had a long rant over at the Candlekeep forums about why she didn't work as a character for me.
showmeshinies
Jan. 12th, 2011 02:37 pm (UTC)
I just stumbled across this after checking out the MyGuests thing on my journal. ^^; I was curious to see what this was, then I found your review, and then I felt supremely comforted by your viewpoints.

This book made me want to find Salvatore and smack him upside the head. I did not really enjoy any of the parts with Drizzt, except for when Jarlaxle got mad at him, and Dah'lia badly needs to die in the next book.

Who taught those two how to flirt anyway? I feel like Salvatore's trying write an action-movie romance script into their plots.

Right. So.

I am glad that I am not the only one who feels this way about the book, is what I mean, but I tend to tl;dr a lot.
lady_fellshot
Jan. 12th, 2011 03:25 pm (UTC)
I hope you enjoyed the associated bookflog too, if you read it. :)

This book made me want to find Salvatore and smack him upside the head. I did not really enjoy any of the parts with Drizzt, except for when Jarlaxle got mad at him, and Dah'lia badly needs to die in the next book.

I fully agree. I would posit that any author who starts writing exclusively for "the fans" should be smacked upside the head, because the stories themselves seem to suffer for it. Then there's the push to make everything about Drizzt, whether he's playing an active role in the book or not because "he's the main character." Narratively passive characters are boring and no amount of focus on them can change that.

I did like Jarlaxle's attempt to shake sense into Drizzt. I think that it went right over ranger boy's head though. :(

Who taught those two how to flirt anyway? I feel like Salvatore's trying write an action-movie romance script into their plots.

Dahlia? Coherent plot? Bite your tongue. :P

Well there was an opening in the romantic interest department and she has boobs, so clearly she would be perfect for it. /sarcasm

She was one of the biggest character fails I'd read all year.
showmeshinies
Jan. 12th, 2011 03:42 pm (UTC)
I may have actually read that a few weeks back and forgotten. Hmmm. :/

Oh, I completely agree with you. Writing for the fans is always a big no-no, in my opinion. Salvatore disagrees, clearly, and I suppose that's his prerogative, but I really wish he'd stop doing that. Main character or not, so much in this book either needs fixed or set on fire.

Dahlia? Coherent plot? Bite your tongue. :P

Well there was an opening in the romantic interest department and she has boobs, so clearly she would be perfect for it. /sarcasm


I said nothing about a coherent plot. XP Those don't exist around her. It's as though she has some kind field around her that nulls and voids logic and good characterization.

I don't think fail is the word I would use. To be honest, I don't think there's a strong enough word for my disappointment.
lady_fellshot
Jan. 12th, 2011 08:21 pm (UTC)
True, you didn't mention plots and the coherency thereof. I was letting my mind go elsewhere. :P

It could be that RAS is resentful of having to make the 4e Realms jump with everyone else, but that doesn't really explain the shift from focus on characters who are steering the story to characters who are not. That I don't like several of the characters is really besides the point in this case. I wanted to make the pages bleed red ink.

The other thing is that I've been noticing more fan service tidbits (for lack of a better term) that well and truly had little to do with anything. Much of what happened with the Shadovar in this book (including the Vyshaan Drood's backstory) probably would have been better put in the next book because they don't do very much at all. Yet for some reason RAS just had to throw the Entreri suspect in.
showmeshinies
Jan. 14th, 2011 02:47 am (UTC)
Even if he is resentful of making the jump to 4e (and I don't exactly blame him for that), there's just no excuse for his writing and characterization. Should you ever edit a copy of the book and send it back, I think I would die laughing.

I noticed those as well - how could you not, when they just jump off the page in the same way Dahlia's assets jump out of her top? He only mentioned those 20948029482094 times. I'm pretty sure he threw Entreri (and really, who else could it be? Obvious much there, Salvatore?) in there to try to convince us to buy the next book. If so, I feel like it would have worked better if he wasn't beating us over the head with the clue-by-four about it.
lady_fellshot
Jan. 14th, 2011 04:34 am (UTC)
Well, I tend to donate books I really can't stand to the library after myself and my sibs are done snarking the stuffing out of it... Although, I have toyed with the idea of having him sign my copy of the Pirate King which I did like... and have taped certain sections off as irrelevant Drizzy drivel. XD

This book truly suffered from just being poorly thought out on almost all fronts. Leaving aside my distaste of Drizzy-poo, I'm pretty sure I could fix it so that it at least would make sense.

First I'd have the book start out with Sylora hiring Jarlaxle and Athrogate to explore some ruins and sending the Drood and her boitoi along as expendable watchdogs. you could have some blurb in there about how Sylora and the Drood seem to be at odds with each other. Maybe leave in Sylora talking with Szass Tam, because it goes towards Sylora's motives. Make the Drood a lackey to start with too, since that's what she acts like through the later half of the book. Cut the Tragic Past out of the book entirely (it can be tearfully revealed later to Drizzt).

Find something more useful for Drizzt to do if we're going to avoid the "But isn't he teh main char???" fanboy wailing... and have the drood steal useful information from Sylora before presenting it to Drizzt (like the Shadovar are scrounging for Netherese ruins and their leader is a monster and Sylora's planning on a dread ring)...

I think that there were ways to make this work. RAS decided not to use them.
showmeshinies
Jan. 14th, 2011 04:42 am (UTC)
I have to say, your idea sounds way more exciting than what he came up with. If only we had a reset button or something, and could put it to good use for the sake of good writing.
lady_fellshot
Jan. 14th, 2011 05:28 am (UTC)
Lol, maybe I should apply for a job at WotC as an editor. :p

The nice part about that rewrite is that it wouldn't change the main part of the story. I'm not actually upset with a Mines of Moria redux, it's more the poor planning.
showmeshinies
Jan. 17th, 2011 02:49 am (UTC)
You could do so much good there. :D

Here, here. Well, I suppose we can keep our fingers crossed the next book will be better but uh... I'm not holding my breath.
lady_fellshot
Jan. 17th, 2011 06:24 am (UTC)
Nor am I. As I mentioned at the end of the flog, I will snark the next one if Jarlaxle is in it because my favorite walking fashion disaster will give me something to look forwards to. Drizzt and Dahlia are too much like a train wreck by themselves.
showmeshinies
Jan. 17th, 2011 03:07 pm (UTC)
Agreed. Honestly, I don't think I could read it without that little bit of sanity and his color-coordinated dwarf. All the bad flirting makes me sick.
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )