Friday, November 05, 2010

Gauntlgrym by R.A. Salvatore

Bruenor Battlehammer is the King of Mithril Hall, and it is many years since the day that his adopted daughter Catti-brie and Regis were whisked away from him and Drizzt Do'Urden on the back of Mielikki's avatar. Bruenor barely seems to have changed, but Drizzt has found himself being in a much darker place than he ever was when his wife and friend were alive. He hasn't really smiled in a long time, and his good nature has gone rather grim and dark.

Bruenor has been turning his mind to what will come after him in Mithril Hall when he, himself is gone. He's proclaimed an heir, and his chief guard, Battlerager Thibbledorf Pwent, finds the gnome alchemist of Mithril Hall, Nanfoodle, is acting somewhat suspiciously. He's been meeting with an orc Priestess named Jessa, but Pwent isn't able to find out what business the two of them have with each other. Jessa is in Mithril Hall to sell Nanfoodle mandrake roots, which take away pain and can make you take leave of your senses. Or kill you, if you take enough of them. Nanfoodle intends to add them to Bruenor's cup.

And later, he does just that, and Bruenor drops dead, and is mourned by everyone in Mithril Hall. Drizzt, Nanfoodle and Jessa leave the Halls, followed by Pwent, who is struggling to come to terms with the death of the Dwarf who was the best part of Mithril Hall. There, much to his shock and sense of betrayal, he sees Bruenor meeting the other three and he charges forward, asking how Bruenor could have betrayed him that way- to make Pwent think he was dead when he wasn't. Bruenor can only explain that he is tired of ruling, and he wanted his heir to have a chance without the prospect of Bruenor's return or Bruenor still being alive to look over and call into question his decisions. So he chose to fake his own death and leave. In the meantime, he is going to look for another long-vanished Kingdom out of Dwarven Legends- Gauntlgrym, the long-vanished homeland of the Delzoun Dwarves. Since Pwent still wants to serve him, he invites him to come along, but he can't call Bruenor by his real name or refer to him as "My King". And so Pwent leaves with them.

Meanwhile, far to the west, two women who call Szass Tam of Thay "Master" seek to gain influence over the other. Dahlia, an elf, and Sylora, a human enchantress, are each seeking to be elevated over the other. Dahlia also seeks to triumph over the forces of a tiefling named Herzgo Alegni, who is also a Shadovar. Once imprisoned by him and impregnated by him, she caught his ire when she killed his son soon after she birthed him. Now, she is determined to triumph over every lover she takes, and she already wears ten diamonds, 2 in one ear for the lovers she has now, and eight in the other for those she has killed and triumphed over in battle.

One of her lovers is the Vampire, Dor'crae, and with him, she takes part in an expedition to Gauntlgrym, which Dor'crae found by following hidden tunnels leading from the destroyed Hosttower of the Arcane in Luskan, deep underneath the ground. She and Dor'crae team up with the Drow Jarlaxle and his dwarf companion, Athrogate, to penetrate the halls and retrieve the treasure said to be hidden therein. But instead of finding treasure, Athrogate is compelled to set free a Primordial from the Forge of Gauntlgrym. This is a god-like being of ancient fire, and it lays waste to Luskan.

Years later, Bruenor and Drizzt are in the area searching for Gauntlgrym when Bruenor's maps are stolen by a fleet-footed drow. Drizzt and Bruenor enter the town and are mistaken for Athrogate and Jarlaxle, because they are a Drow and a Dwarf traveling together, and are attacked by Asmodean Cultists, who are protecting Sylora and the Ring of Death she has set up in the city powered by the Primordial.

But both are convinced that the Primordial needs to be re-imprisoned to save the city from the cultists, and Athrogate is uneasy with his role in setting the fire Primordial free. But for it to be imprisoned in the forges of the Dwarves once more will take not just a Gauntlegrym dwarf, but a Dwarven King. And like as not, Bruenor is the only Dwarf who qualifies for that, as his family is descended from the same line that birthed the Gauntlegrym Kings.

Unfortunately, getting to Gauntlegrym means allying themselves with not only Jarlaxle and Athrogate, but Dahlia as well. And Jarlaxle and Athrogate find Drizzt much changed from the elf they once knew. The strange passing of Cattie-brie has filled the once calm Drow with rage and anger, and he no longer keeps himself on the same even keel. Even as he denies that there is anything wrong with him, he finds himself having a strange connection with Dahlia, and she with him, little as she wants it. But can either of them bring each other some healing for their past emotional hurts, or will they just continually verbally spar with each other while nothing goes on? And will Bruenor, who managed to survive his own "death" at the beginning of the novel, be able to survive a confrontation with the enraged Primordial and Sylora, who has no intention of letting her work in freeing it go to naught, not to mention the Asmodean cultists she leads? Not if Sylora has anything to say about it.

Reading this book made me feel downright sorrowful. First it was killing off Regis and Cattie-brie, and Drizzt is already suffering from losing his wife and his friend. I mean, you can't read this book and see that Drizzt is balanced on a staff over a burning abyss of anger and unresolved grief. It's not a surprise, since he was denied any kind of meaningful closure. They didn't actually really die- they were taken whole to the Realm of the Gods by the Unicorn of Mielikki, and while they are definitely gone, Drizzt was left without bodies to bury or any kind of way to end his grief, and now that staff he's on is crumbling while he tries to pretend he's okay.

But he's not okay, and everyone around him seems to realize it. It's only those people less close to him than Bruenor who seem to be able to call him out on those lies. And Drizzt's reaction is to deny it more and even to start fights for "fun". To say that he seems less than completely sane is unfortunately, not pushing it at all. I just worry about the aftermath of this book on him. Okay. he's got a new romance offing with Dahlia. Oh, they aren't anywhere near that yet, but as the saying goes "the conclusion is forgone. You just can't miss it." And frankly, that made me annoyed.

Yes, he's an elf, and elves live much longer than humans, and if they romance a human, there will be grief when the human dies much, much earlier than their love. But here, he's not over it yet. He's not over the grief of Cattie-brie's death. To jump into another romance before he's dealt with the grief of the first one- to my mind, that's a recipe for disaster. And honestly, I don't think his sanity can take it, no matter that he's an elf. And don't get me started on Dahlia. The two of them together need about 4 psychologists to deal with all their issues. He's fighting mad and she's an ex-rape victim who has turned into a Black Widow to deal with her issues. The two of them are hardly a picture of mental health. The only way he'll survive her is because he's just as good or better at her at fighting, so she'll find it hard to kill him easily. May I say that this is most emphatically NOT a recommendation for a relationship?

And yes, there are some significant deaths at the end of this book, and it's going to take an even worse toll on Drizzt than that of Cattie-brie and Regis. He's lost his prop, the one he was fighting to maintain his former demeanor for, and traded that for a relationship with a woman who has significant problems of her own. I don't forsee this ending well, and it made me sad for a character I once loved. Drizzt has become emo boy, and a damn shame it is, too. If you loved the old Drizzt, as I did, not recommended. I'm glad I read this from the library and didn't spend money on it.

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