The Alexandrian

THE LEGACY

The Legacy - R.A. SalvatoreThe problem with The Legacy is that Salvatore allows one of his strengths (his ability to vividly describe fight scenes) to bloat horribly out of control. The plot, with minimal spoilage, can basically be summarized as such: There is about twenty pages of meaningful character interaction. Then there’s a big battle between dwarves and goblins. This battle is extensively described in both tactics and detail, but is ultimately meaningless: It has no effect whatsoever on the rest of the book. Then there’s another twenty pages or so of meaningful character interaction. And then there’s another huge, rambling fight sequence that lasts for two hundred pages.

The End.

In fairness to the novel, while the battle between the goblins and the dwarves is utterly pointless, the big fight sequence which makes up the bulk of the book is laden with plot. But it’s still just a big fight scene: It’s page after endless page of detailed thrusts, parries, dives, cuts, blood, noble charges, and hard struggle.

Die Hard literally has a narrative with more breathing room.

More damning, however, is that the plot is poorly formed.

(There are some meaningful SPOILERS from this point forward.)

In my reaction to the Icewind Dale Trilogy, I mentioned my belief that perhaps the biggest reason Drizzt Do’Urden caught the imagination of so many readers was Salvatore’s decision to give him a rival of equally deadly skill in the formidable assassin Artemis Entreri.

I don’t waver in that conviction, but in reading the handling of the Drizzt-Entreri rivalry in The Legacy, I kept expecting one or the other to don a leather jacket, hop on a motorcycle, and jump over a shark.

Let me see if I can sum this up: Mixed into the larger fight sequence, Drizzt and Entreri fight. Their fight gets interrupted. They futz around for a bit, and then they fight again… but this fight gets interrupted. So they futz around for a bit, and then they fight again… and this fight gets interrupted, too. So they futz around for a bit, and then they fight again… and this time Drizzt wins by knocking Entreri off a cliff. Entreri falls to his doom.

Except Entreri isn’t dead. He’s got a magical cloak that lets him fly. So he flies back up and they fight again. Drizzt wins again, and this time he knocks Entreri unconscious, causing Entreri to fly into a cliff at literally breakneck speed. Entreri falls to his doom.

Except Entreri still isn’t dead. His now-broken magical cloak has caught on a rocky spur and he’s dangling from a cliff. So a completely different character climbs up to Entreri, cuts the cloak off him entirely, and then watches him fall to his doom.

For real this time.

(Just kidding. In the next book, it’s revealed that Entreri was miraculously saved from his fall by people who had no reason or opportunity to do so.)

There are just so many problems with this…

By the time Salvatore is done, the Drizzt-Entreri rivalry has been robbed of its meaning and significance: While there was definitely room left open for a rematch after the end of The Halfling’s Gem, the numerous fights between the two in The Legacy eventually just become so much noise on the page.

Salvatore, to his credit, manages to recover from his mistakes by providing a really powerful conclusion to the fight… the first time Entreri falls from the cliff. By the third time that Entreri has supposedly fallen to his doom, even that has been turned into a hollow mockery.

More importantly, there are only about fifteen pages of actual plot to be found here, yet Salvatore has stretched that material to cover more than fifty pages through sheer, dull-minded repetition. This is infinitely worse than the wasted space in Exile: There you had random encounters which served no greater purpose in the plot, but at least they were interesting and original in their own right. In The Legacy, you simply have bloat.

And this is just one plot thread. The bloat within the other plot threads is not nearly as egregious, but all of them suffer from it.

Here’s what it really boils down to: The Salvatore who wrote The Crystal Shard would have boiled The Legacy down into about 50 pages of taut, action-packed storytelling. Unfortunately, the Salvatore who actually wrote The Legacy gave us a 300 page mess leading to…

STARLESS NIGHT

Starless Night - R.A. SalvatoreBasically, Starless Night suffers from the same problem The Legacy does, although to a slightly lesser degree: Instead of 50 pages of plot bloated into 300 pages of novel, it’s 100 pages of plot bloated into 300 pages of novel.

The actual, meaningful plot of Starless Night is fairly straightforward: Drizzt returns to his homeland and discovers that the dark elves are planning to conquer the kingdom of his dwarven friend.

That’s a solid plot. It not only moves along the arc of the greater story Salvatore is obviously trying to tell, it also offers up those essential crucibles which reveal and develop character: Drizzt, returning to the homeland he had forsaken, has a meaningful internal struggle. His friends’ reactions to his decision are meaningful turning points. And so forth.

But again, Salvatore can’t keep his eye on the ball: The plot wanders off in a thousand random and meaningless directions. Several pointless fights consume page after page of empty action. Narrative beats are repeated again and again and again… and again until you’re reduced to tears of boredom.

Characters also begin acting in a shallow and random fashion. Whether it’s a dark elf priestess monologuing with Machiavellian glee over the doom of our hero while the hero’s allies rally right behind her or a dark elf mercenary, immediately after capturing Drizzt, launching an elaborate and completely unmotivated plan to free him again, Salvatore’s characters simply lack any believability.

(To clarify: Motivation is given to Drizzt’s liberator. However, the motivation makes no sense. After being instructed by his employer to kill all the witnesses to Drizzt’s capture, the character concludes that his employer will make a public announcement that Drizzt has been captured and, thus, screw things up. The character, therefore, decides to free Drizzt and avoid the crisis.)

(Feel free to read through that again. But it won’t help.)

Salvatore doesn’t do himself any favors by introducing a plethora of new characters. Mostly villains, these new characters aren’t meaningfully vested with any identity or purpose: They’re given names, shoved briefly onstage, and then hacked down.  You have the vague feeling that perhaps you should be cheering Drizzt on with particular vigor when he confronts the drow priestess who’s been torturing him… but since that torture was scarcely even mentioned before the confrontation happens, you don’t really care.

And don’t even get me started with the half dozen people who all want to fight with Drizzt so that they can prove that they’re the Biggest Drow in Town. The final confrontation between Drizzt and one of these would-be challengers was cleverly handled (with Drizzt’s natural talents facing off against magically-enhanced skill), but since the challenger had absolutely no personality or existence beyond “I want to fight Drizzt!!!” the entire confrontation felt pointless. It was just a fight for the sake of a fight.

These books are deeply disappointing after the fun times of the Icewind Dale Trilogy and the Dark Elf Trilogy. I own several more books in the series (having bought them in bulk so that I could take them on a vacation to Mexico), but have never bothered to read them.

GRADES:

THE LEGACY: D+
STARLESS NIGHT: D+

R.A. Salvatore
Published: 1993 / 1994
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Cover Price: $7.99
ISBNs: 0786948590 / 0786948612

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One Response to “What I’m Reading #55 – The Legacy / Starless Night”

  1. Justin Alexander says:

    ARCHIVED HALOSCAN COMMENTS

    Mortegro
    Touché? I can see your point, but my own personal perspective doesn’t view the Legacy series in as negative a light as you. That’s simply a contrast in our reading style/ preferences.

    For clarification, I never claimed that Jarlaxle wanted to leave Menzoberranzan, I said that Artemis Entreri did. It was also my oversight in neglecting to mention Jarlaxle’s initial capture of Drizz’t and turning him over to Baenre.

    I haven’t read the series in a while; it’s not as compelling to me as Katherine Kerr’s amazing Deverry series (I recommend you pick up Daggerspell to see what you think). Even so, I’ll need to reread Starless Night. I remember that when I read that area involving Triel and Jarlaxle, the scene made sense to me. Maybe I can better explain my perspective once I’ve looked at the text again. I’ll chime in here once I do.
    Wednesday, November 12, 2008, 8:26:33 AM


    Justin Alexander
    @Draz: Thanks for the quick-shots on those. I’ll keep those in mind next time I’m looking at those books and thinking about picking them up again. Might tip the balance for them. Wink

    @Mortegro: (1) Actually, Jarlaxle is the one who captures Drizzt. He then turns him over to Baenre.

    (2) You claim Jarlaxle’s motivation was wanting to leave Menzoberranzan and yet, on pg. 227 of STARLESS NIGHT, we can read: “The mercenary truly enjoyed his life in Menzoberranzan. Might Matron Baenre be jeopardizing that existence?”

    (3) And that same passage continues, demonstrating Jarlaxle’s fear that Triel Baenre will screw things up by letting the other Matron Mothers discover Drizzt’s capture: “But how will the alliance hold together when the other matron mothers learn that Drizzt is already taken? […] It’s a tentative thing at best, and more tenative still if some come to believe that Lloth’s sanction of the raid is no more, that the main goal in going to the surface has already been achieved.” Jarlaxle folded his fingers in front of him and paused for a long while. She was wise, this Baenre daughter, wise and as experienced in the ways of the drow as any in the city — except for her moth and, perhaps Jarlaxle. But now she, with so much more to lose, had shown the mercenary something he had not thought of on his own, a potentially serious problem.”

    (4) Despite the fact that Triel Baenre had specifically ordered all the witnesses killed. From page 224: “Jarlaxle knew well that the angry Baenre was not asking about that female […] Khareesa, like all the slavers on the Isle of Rothe, had been killed, as ordered…”

    (5) Which leads me to what I said in the reaction: Triel orders all the witnesses killed and Jarlaxle immediately starts worrying that she’s going to tell somebody/everybody and screw everything up. And that is, very specifically, what motivates him to immediately turn around and machinate Drizzt’s escape.

    On a more general note, I don’t agree with the philosophy of, “It’s a tie-in novel, so it’s okay if it’s a shite novel.” Nah. If it’s shite, it’s shite. Let’s not beat around the bush on that one.

    I mean, Salvatore himself offers the counter-example: The Icewind Dale trilogy is (a) a tie-in novel; (b) captures the feel of a great D&D session; and yet (c) isn’t shite.
    Wednesday, November 12, 2008, 1:52:22 AM


    Mortegro
    I can’t help but think you completely misread Entreri’s motivation for freeing Drizz’t, Justin. Artemis frees Drizz’t in order to free himself. He sees the meager role that he serves in drow society for being a mere human and male and he feels that he is trapped down there indefinitely with no way to escape. He sees the fighting prowess of Drizz’t and the unexpected presence of Cattie Brie as a means to secure his own freedom. And it’s Cattie Brie that Jarlaxle captures, not Drizz’t. Drizz’t is held by House Baenre, and it’s Jarlaxle’s wish to have him freed that sets the sequence in motion for Entreri and Cattie Brie to do so.

    I think you underestimate the depth of Jarlaxle’s character. While he may seem a mere Machiavellian schemer, his character gets more complex over time. The main premise behind his character is that he is the only drow ever known to survive, even thrive, without the support of a House. This is unheard of in drow society (a society which Salvatore essentially fleshed out from its sparse lore in the Realms with his 2nd edition box set, if I’m not mistaken). His sole purpose as a Chaotic Neutral character (gotta think on D&D terms with this) is to keep the drow powers on their toes and to continue surviving as a mercenary organization. After all, he’s not supposed to hold such a position of power, even an unofficial one, as a mere male. Take into account the matriarachal, two-dimensional nature of drow society to understand the uniqueness of Jarlaxle’s role.

    Sorry for all the type, but I thought I’d talk about my favorite character and defend some of the plot of Starless Night. The fight scenes plod on after a while, but the sequence of actions flows rather smoothly to me. YMMV.

    One last thing. I think you need to read Salvatore’s books for what they are: D&D books. In D&D, everyone expects a sparse plot interrupted by a shitload of fight encounters. Factor this with Salvatore’s writing structure and you’ll see that he’s simply writing out a game. It may not be the kind of game experience you normally get with D&D, but it’s the kind that I and many others have experienced. If you read the Dragonlance Chronicles, it basically follows the same D&D game structure: adventure with battles and situations that feel just like the roleplaying game.

    Okay, I’m done talking now.
    Monday, November 10, 2008, 7:59:11 PM


    Draz
    The Thousand Orcs: Good quality writing, but a slow plot. The Hunter’s Blades Trilogy could have been combined and shortened into one very excellent book. Instead, it’s stretched into three.

    The Lone Drow: See above.

    The Two Swords: See above, but at least it resolves things since it’s the last book of the trilogy. Great ending, almost worth plodding through three books.

    The Orc King: Better than average. You can tell he really spent time on this one, rather than trying to get it out in a year to make automatic money. A worthy sequel to the hypothetical volume that combines the previous three.
    Monday, November 10, 2008, 6:41:25 PM


    Draz
    The Silent Blade: Average, but–for a little while–makes the Drizzt/Entreri rivalry real and meaningful again.

    The Spine of the World: Terrible. But at least it wasn’t all about fighting, like The Legacy.

    Servant of the Shard: Excellent! Hilarious and full of meaningful plot. No wonder it sparked a spin-off trilogy (starring Entreri and Jarlaxle).

    Sea of Swords: Meh, anticlimactic.
    Monday, November 10, 2008, 6:39:58 PM


    Draz
    I’d mildly recommend continuing the series. It gets somewhat better again. Not great … but The Legacy was definitely a low point.

    Seige of Darkness: About the same as Starless Night in quality. It is all about a war, but it’s a lot more interesting of a war than The Legacy.

    Passage to Dawn: Similar quality, but at least it finally resolves a lot of frustrating hanging plot threads.
    Monday, November 10, 2008, 6:39:29 PM

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