Sunday, May 26, 2002

Review: "Stormrider" by David Gemmell

In his latest novel "Stormrider" (Del Rey), David Gemmell returns to a world that looks very much like the 17th Century of our own for what appears to be the final tale of the Black Rigante.

Several years have passed since the events of "Ravenheart," and life has returned to a semblance of normality for the Rigante. Kaelin Ring lives happily with his family in the highlands. The Moidart has taken up painting, of all things, and has turned his cruel attentions away from the highlanders. His son, the Stormrider Gaise Macon - now a general known as the Gray Ghost - has been called to the southern front by the king to help deal with a traitor's army.

That all changes when Winter Kay and his Redeemers recover the legendary Orb of Kranos, the skull of a Seidh god who wants to return to the world. Kay has been warned by the Wyrd that one with a golden eye will come for him. He takes that to mean Macon, who has one blue eye and one golden eye, a family trait.

To avoid the prophecy, Kay sets himself on a path to destroy Gaise Macon. That path may ultimately lead to the destruction of not only the Varlish and the Rigante, but all of humanity.

The tales of the Rigante have been some of the strongest stories of Gemmell's career - and that's saying something. With more than 25 novels in print, he has yet to disappoint.

The last novel "Ravenheart" left me wanting to walk the highlands with Jaim Grymauch just one more time, to experience the nobility of the Rigante clan again. This one is a much darker tale, lacking the moments of levity in "Ravenheart." Instead, "Stormrider" left me with a lot of questions about the future of a world at a turning point, and also questions of what might have happened if that turning point had gone differently in our own world.

Gemmell weaves his thoughts on mankind's destructiveness and the damage we've done to our world into the plot of "Stormrider." The Seidh god Cernunnos seeks to destroy the human race, because he's seen it destroy the magic of other worlds.

At the same time, Gemmell is not heavy-handed with the moral side of the tale. He never becomes preachy as some writers do when tackling real-world issues, but instead sheds a light of hope on the situation.

The rest of the tale is pure Gemmell. As always, his view of heroism is more realistic than many of his fantasy counterparts. He understands that great men - or women, for that matter - are made in the moment, and are usually not the glory-seekers of the world.

His heroes don't have adventure after adventure, but rather rise to the call of circumstance. It's a refreshing break from the near-immortal protagonists that flood fantasy fiction - and one of the things that manages to keep his work fresh book after book.

Sunday, May 05, 2002

Interview: R.A. Salvatore

Considering his last foray into the "Star Wars" universe, R.A. Salvatore may seem like an odd choice to write the novelization of "Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones."

In 1999, he was pegged to write "Vector Prime," the book that introduced the "New Jedi Order Series." In that book, he had the unenviable task of killing one of the heroes, Chewbacca.

When he found that out, Salvatore says he had to be convinced to take the job.

"When they told me to do it, I told them to take their money back," he says. "I want to be remembered for the `Dark Elf' and `Demonwars' series, not as `the guy who killed Chewbacca.' I love Chewie."

Del Rey and Lucasfilms were finally able to convince him they were doing it for the "right reasons." They needed to inject a little reality and suspense back into the "Star Wars" universe. He gave in, and the book became a best seller - despite ruffling a few feathers among fans.

Still, it was a bit of a shock to Salvatore when he got the call from Del Rey to write the novelization of the new movie.

He says his initial reaction was mixed. He was unsure about returning to the "Star Wars" universe, instead preferring to focus on his own projects.

But the author of the earlier "Phantom Menace" novelization gave him a not-so-subtle wake up call.

"I got a call from Terry Brooks, and he said: `Are you nuts?'" Salvatore says, with a laugh. "I don't think I really got it that George Lucas was asking me to write the novelization of a `Star Wars' movie. I don't think it clicked."

Surprisingly, he had the same hesitations when asked to write his first "Star Wars" book.

"When I agreed to write `Vector Prime,' I thought I was doing them a favor," he says. "Then I realized: I'm writing dialogue for Princess Leia. How cool is that?"

One of the challenges of writing a "Star Wars" novelization is dealing with rabid enthusiasts - fans who know every minute detail about the universe. Salvatore says his experiences on his own "Dark Elf" series, which has spanned 14 years and 15 novels, have helped prepare him for that.

"There are people who read the books over and over again - and I have a hard time remembering things I wrote in 1990," he says. "It's the same way with `Star Wars.' The hardcore fans know more about the expanded universe than I did and do. So I just try to tell a good story. If you read the book and enjoy it, then I've done my job."

Salvatore says he would love to be chosen to write the novelization of "Episode III," but he's not expecting the call. He says Lucas and Del Rey want a different author for each book.

But, after many conversations with Lucas while writing "Episode II," he's excited about where the movies are going.

"I'd love to be a part of `Episode III,' as a co-screenwriter or in some other way," he says. "I know where (Lucas) is going with it, and I think he's doing it the right way."


In the meantime, Salvatore has several other projects. His latest "Demonwars" novel "Transcendence" hit the shelves recently; he's an advisor for a new "Forgotten Realms" series on the drow (dark elves) from Wizards of the Coast; and his most popular character, the dark elven ranger Drizzt Do'Urden, returns in the fall in the first book of the "Hunter's Blade" trilogy.

"As a writer, I couldn't ask for anything more than I've got," Salvatore says.

He's currently working on the final book in the "Demonwars" series, which should be out around this time next year. Salvatore thinks this series features some of his best work, saying it has "challenged me on every level as a writer." Too, Salvatore is eager to finish the final volume "Immortalis," and get it on the shelves.

"I'm going to line them up on my bookshelf, one through seven, and look at them and say: `You did it right,'" he says. "I'll feel like I've completed one of the most important things I've ever done."

Even though, he's wrapping up the final book of the "Demonwars" series, he says the world of Corona is a rich one with a lot of stories left to tell. Likewise, he laughs off rumors about the demise of Drizzt that swirled after his last "Forgotten Realms" novel "Sea of Swords."

"There have been rumors that this is the last Drizzt book ever since I finished the `Dark Elf Trilogy' (in 1991)," he says. "I've never been more excited about writing Drizzt, and the rest of the characters, than I am now."

Part of that excitement is the anticipation of "Hunter's Blade," a trilogy that should shake things up for everyone's favorite dark elf.

"The `Hunter's Blade' trilogy will put Drizzt in a whole new light," he says. "It's not about bigger and badder monsters, but about new challenges. Drizzt will really stand out and shine like he did in the `Dark Elf Trilogy.'"

Salvatore has also been asked to work on an upcoming live action "Forgotten Realms" television series for Fireworks Television, which he says is going well. But fans shouldn't get their hopes up about seeing Drizzt on the small screen.

"You may see some cameos by familiar characters, but I think they're going for something more original," he says. "I don't know how deep my involvement is going to go, but I hope it's pretty deep. It's something new, and it's been fun."

Salvatore's fans will be happy to know that books about their favorite characters and worlds will continue well into the future. He has plans for at least another five years and says there are infinite possibilities after that.

"I'm going to die some day, and unless my kids decide to write, I guess it will end there," he says. "But I don't see it any time soon."

Review: "Transcendence" by R.A. Salvatore

Following hot on the heels of his adaptation of "Star Wars Episode II," R.A. Salvatore dives right back into his "Demonwars" series with "Transcendence" (Del Rey).

Salvatore finds himself in the strange situation of having two books released back-to-back. "Episode II" hit shelves on April 23, while this book followed on April 30.

The second novel of Salvatore's second "Demonwars" saga, "Transcendence" tells the story of the elven-trained ranger Brynn Dharielle. She has returned to her homeland of To-Gai intent on liberating her people from the oppressive rule of the Behrenese. In order to do that, though, she faces a number of challenges - not the least of which is her own conscience.

"Transcendence" runs concurrent to the last novel in the series, "Ascendance." That book told the tale of Brynn's childhood companion and fellow ranger-in-training Aydrian Wyndon, son of the legendary Nightbird, Elbryan Wyndon. This one establishes Brynn as a To-Gai-Ru warleader. The next, and final book, should be explosive.

The "Demonwars" series has gone a long way in establishing Salvatore as one of the premiere writers in fantasy. The six books of the series are easily the best he's written, even surpassing his excellent "Dark Elf" series.

The "Demonwars" books are different for Salvatore in a number of ways. Instead of the rousing adventure tales he's written in the past, these books offer a deeper look into the environment that breeds the conflicts. The world of Corona is probably the most detailed he's ever built, with complex political and cultural structures. That's really the driving force behind the stories, unlike the "Dark Elf" series which revolves around the characters.

Salvatore said this series is something he felt he had to do as a writer.

"`Demon Wars' is a world-driven, philosophically-driven series," he said. "I needed to do this for me. I had to prove to myself that I could build a world like this. It challenged me on every level as a writer."

Salvatore, who is currently working on "Immortalis," the final book in the series, said he's very happy with how the project has turned out. He's eager to get the final book on the shelves.

"It's very satisfying the way the last piece is falling into place," he said.

Though "Demonwars" will be finished next year, he says he's not finished with the world of Corona. Salvatore says it's a place rife with possibilities, and a world he's intent on visiting again.

"The world of Corona is so rich that I could write about it forever," he said. "I intend and hope to go back to Corona in the future."

If future stories are as good as "Demonwars," his readers will gladly follow him there.