Sunday, December 15, 2002

Review: "The Thousand Orcs," by R.A. Salvatore

After nearly a decade and a half of tales about the dark elf Drizzt Do'Urden, the story has come full circle in R.A. Salvatore's latest, "The Thousand Orcs" ($25.95, Wizards of the Coast).

The book marks a new beginning for Drizzt and his companions, opening a chapter that promises to bring the series back to its adventurous roots, while still retaining some of the introspective aspects of more recent volumes.

As the book opens, Drizzt and his companions are once again on the road to Mithral Hall, only this time to stay. The old dwarven king Gandalug has died, and Drizzt's friend Bruenor Battlehammer, the dwarf responsible for the retaking of the ancient dwarven home, has been named the new king.

But Bruenor is reluctant to chain himself to the throne of the dwarven kingdom. He still longs for the freedom and adventure of the road. A chance meeting with a pair of dwarves from a neighboring stronghold who had been attacked by orcs on the road, provides the perfect opportunity for him to duck his duties for a little while longer. In the process of tracking the band of orcs, the companions uncover a more sinister plot. Someone has united the orcs with the frost giants of the north and given them direction and a mission - to capture Mithral Hall and kill Bruenor and his companions.

There are also problems on the political front for Bruenor. Since the reopening of Mithral Hall, Bruenor's kin have been taking business from the metalsmiths of Mirabar, a mixed community of dwarves and humans. A visit by Bruenor breeds discontent between the two races, ultimately leading to a confrontation that threatens to rip the community apart and shift the balance of power in the region to Mithral Hall.

In an interview earlier this year with The News-Star, Salvatore said he was more excited about the new tales of Drizzt Do'Urden than he's ever been. This volume should have the same effect on Salvatore's fans.

For them, reading "The Thousand Orcs" may be a little like jumping on a time travel machine and dialing up the late 1980s. The book captures the spirit of Salvatore's "Icewind Dale" trilogy, the tales that began the story of the dark elven ranger.

Like "Icewind Dale," it's a tale of the companions, free and for the most part happy, on the road to adventure. But at the same time, there's a bit more depth than the original trilogy. The political maneuverings between Mirabar and Mithral Hall are a nice touch and promise to make things interesting over the course of the next two stories.

There's also a much darker feel to this story than the first books. Salvatore promised to shake up the lives of his characters in this latest chapter, and he certainly has. Without giving away any of the twists and turns, I'll just say the ending should leave long time fans more excited about this series than they've been in a long time.

"The Thousand Orcs" shows Salvatore fully recovered from the lull his "Forgotten Realms" books went through in the mid- to late 1990s. The book kicks off the "Hunter's Blades" trilogy which promises to revitalize characters that are in need of some change. I can't wait to see what happens next.

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