Vengeance of the Iron Dwarf is the third and final chapter of The Companions Codex and a whopping twenty-seventh book in The Legend of Drizzt, which has been growing at an average book-a-year since the 1980s. I’m starting to wonder why I keep reviewing these books. With this much inertia you’re almost certainly in for life, or will never start. Salvatore remains the premier purveyor of absurdly unrealistic but incredibly flashy looking combat, the most bizarre disconnect between thoughtful, meaningful interlude sections and the rest of the prose, and a love of adjectives that dwarfs even the number of dwarfs in this novel. So grab a stout ale, bang an axe on something, and get ready for so much ‘more of the same’ that you might forget what book you’re in.
Bloody war rages across the Forgotten Realms world in the third book of the Companions Codex, the latest series in R.A. Salvatore’s New York Times best-selling saga of dark elf Drizzt Do’Urden.
In the evolving world of the Forgotten Realms setting, the Sundering has given way to months of cloud-cloaked darkness, and war rages under that oppressive sky. The orcs have broken a hard-fought treaty that’s held, however tentatively, for a hundred years, and the time to settle old scores has devolved into an all-out brawl for control of the ancient realms of the North.
All right. Here we are again, folks. Time to watch Drizzt Do’Urden and company murder their way through a few entire races of humanoids while we cheer them on. I mean…I get why people enjoy these books as action-filled fluff, but in and around all of the blood and guts, there’s the faint glimmer of the soul these books could have. Having been reading these novels since I was but a wee lad of eight, I just have this sort of… profound sense of disappointment warring with nostalgia as I read them now. It really is a pretty astonishing accomplishment for Salvatore to have made it 27 books into a series while still maintaining any sense of newness or novelty. Most ‘this is way too long’ series only push into 10 or 12 books. This series is older than many of its readers. The nostalgia factor is pretty strong, but as I said, it wars with disappointment: I feel like I’ve grown and developed as a reader, and Salvatore was uninterested in keeping pace with me. He’s kept his books aimed at the same 13-17 demographic for nearly thirty years. The type of creative rut that must inevitably trap you in really shows here.
I mentioned in my review for the previous book, Rise of the King, how it was nearly a plot point for plot point rehash of a previous trilogy, and that continues here. The number of times we’ve seen Drow, or Orcs, or Drow and Orcs menace the Dwarves of Mithril Hall and the Citadels is swiftly approaching Super Mario proportions. Scenes almost feel like they are copy/pasted from previous books, but it’s been so many years that you wouldn’t necessarily notice. The repetition is internal to the single book, as well. Regis the halfling has a rapier. But not just any rapier. It’s a magnificent rapier. And it is explicitly magnificent probably a dozen times throughout the novel. It actually almost comes into the wheelhouse of an epic poem. Anybody who has read some Homer will know what I’m talking about. You very commonly see notable people and notable objects always being accompanied by adjectives. But they are variable, often specific to the content of what’s happening in that moment, and not just the same one over and over. Instead of seeming like an interesting affectation with some meat to it, it just feels like padding.
At its heart, this series is about Drizzt. It used to be a bunch of trilogies, but now it’s The Legend of Drizzt number 27. But as much as I hate to say it, he’s really just stopped being an interesting character to me. There’s this bizarre disconnect, which I referenced up in my intro, between the ‘thoughts of Drizzt’ sections within a novel and the way he’s portrayed when he’s actually out in the wild. There’s been this whole internal moral conflict for him about the assumption that the ‘evil’ races are actually all evil. After all, he’s from an ‘evil’ race and is a superhero for good and light. But the problem is, no matter how much Salvatore has made this setting his own, The Forgotten Realms is as its heart, a campaign setting for Dungeons and Dragons. Orcs are all evil because the Monster Manual says that orcs are evil. And while it’s interesting to read these vignettes where Drizzt struggles with supporting the wholesale slaughter of orcs, every single other protagonist around him is totally on board with genocide, and as soon as it’s time to fight, he’s totally okay with it, too. There’s no scene where he’s about to kill an orc and he begs for mercy because he has a wife and child at home. It seems like the ONLY time any goodness from these races is allowed to be displayed is when it’s time for the good guy to have a moment of moral quandary.
Some readers may remember the Bugs Bunny sketches with Sam the sheepdog and Ralph the wolf. They’re friends who get along, except that their jobs are to respectively guard and steal sheep, so as soon as they clock into work, they become enemies. I feel like a goblin or an orc is allowed to be good and cast doubt onto the reputation and representation of their race only when their job is to make the hero doubt his course, and then as soon as that moment has passed, they get told to go back to being evil so they can be slaughtered. This is because if there was actually a point at which the ‘other’ was able to be seen as not just vicious evil enemies to be killed, the whole narrative would have fallen apart. This is epic fantasy so far down the epic scale that the villains are actually just universally and utterly evil. Nobody at any point is expected to feel any sympathy whatsoever for any of them. It just feels so un-nuanced and simple that it’s really hard to enjoy the story. I really do think that it is time to put this series to bed, and start again with somebody new, as insane as that might be from a brand perspective.
So is this book good? Salvatore knows how to write the things that he writes very well. If you like the things that he writes, you will like Vengeance of the Iron Dwarf. It’s not poorly written, the action scenes are incredibly cinematic if entirely unrealistic, and you definitely won’t find yourself shocked by the death of a major character, since they’re seemingly immortal. As time goes by, and my knowledge of published SFF continues to broaden and deepen, this just gets pushed farther and farther down the scale of quality for me. It’s not that they’re getting worse, it’s that they’ve spent nearly 30 years failing to get better. They’ve been locked on this track of plot points and battle scenes and always keeping the characters exactly the same so the fans can keep loving them without being challenged for so long that I don’t know if they will ever change. Maybe you want that, but I really just can’t get behind it anymore.
Dan received an Advanced Review Copy of this book from Wizards of the Coast via NetGalley