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I literally just got done reading Neverwinter, and I have to say… I really can’t wait for Dahlia to go away.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I like how it is giving Drizzt some new gut-checks on his stances regarding a number of things, but he is still finding that his instincts are serving him well.  While she is doing some small damage to him, making him question at odd moments, she is not shaking him to the core.

What I will say, in a positive tone, is that the meeting of Artemis Entreri and Drizzt again after so many decades is well worth the read.  There is a point just after Drizzt encounters Entreri that he wonders if it isn’t just a part of him wishing for times long past.  And right there is the hardest crux of this.

You see, Salvatore’s writing has changed.  Or rather, the tone of the Drizzt novels as Salvatore writes them has changed.  There is a darker edge than ever before, and an increased attention to sexuality throughout the book.  It was only hinted that Drizzt’s last night with his catatonic wife, Catti-brie, was engaged in sex.  In this book, it is out and out stated that Drizzt sleeps with Dahlia.  In addition there are scenes involving the villainess Sylora Salm, her champion Jestry, and a succubus having a tryst, the hint of what happened to a captive Entreri took in a battle at the hands of Alegni, and even a violent threat of emasculation.

None of this is tawdry; Salvatore hasn’t turned into even a softcore porn writer.  But he has introduced those darker and more lascivious elements to his writing.  I don’t have too much of a problem with it other than this: it shows a fundamental shift in what is expected of authors, especially those associated with Dungeons & Dragons.

When Salvatore started, they were great books of high adventure, fun, sweeping grandeur and the same feel you would get from reading the classics of fantasy.  But now, it feels grimmer, grittier, more disposed to the seedier and darker elements.  And I don’t know if I like that.  Drizzt to me was always a hero, the kind of stand-up guy you quietly hoped you would be like, or your kids would emulate.  But now… it’s stained.  And that worries me.

There are some good inside jokes in there, including a lovely joke about World of Warcraft imps and the actions they take as you sit idly.  There is still Drizzt struggling against darkness, this time as much in the bad guys as his new lover (oh how I railed against that little fact coming out).  But there is also the sense that something has changed.  And I don’t really know if it’s a good thing.

I am not saying that Salvatore is an amazing writer, nor am I saying that this should be the barometer by which all other fantasy literature is measured.  But I am saying that it’s the first I noticed of the shifting trends in fantasy.  And again, I really don’t know if I like it all that much when it comes to some of these heroes.

Still, read the book.  It has great moments, Salvatore’s almost trademark fight scenes, and the great monologues by Drizzt preceding every section of the book.  It does not disappoint, overall.

What do you think?

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I swore up and down when I had to sell the Sony eReader back in my days at Borders that I would never, ever get one of them.  They heralded a movement away from my beloved books and magazines.  It was horrible, I thought then, that they would try to replace print media.  There’s a lesson here, folks.

Never make an ultimate; fate (or God, or Allah, or what-have-you) WILL make you eat your words.

This summer, I was perusing my booklist for classes this fall, and a couple of my professors, both men whose opinion I value very highly, suggested to me that I purchase some sort of eReader device, as it would be a powerful asset to me in both schooling and my proposed eventual career of teaching.  I took myself to the esteemed internet, did some research, polled some friends, and came down to purchasing the Kindle from Amazon.

Now, I have to tell you, this entire time I was waging a war with myself internally.  I felt like I was selling out.  I was giving in; I should just stamp a corporate logo on my forehead and collect my thirty pieces of silver.  At the same time, the eight-year-old still trapped in my psyche maniacally jumped up and down and rubbed his palms together, gleefully cackling, “oh boy, new toy” over and over.

I had looked over the Nook. Kobo, Sony eReader, and Kindle over the course of three days.  I carefully perused online sentiments outside of the vendor websites, and I looked at the bells and whistles of each.  I would be damned if I was going to just up and buy one of these things, only to find out that I had made the worst choice I could.  In the end, it was the Kindle, as I stated above, that won me over.

Here’s why:

  1. It wasn’t a touchscreen model.  I hate touchscreens.  I have large fingers that tend to be very warm, which makes operating a touchscreen a lot like trying to pick a lock with a butter knife.  It can be done, but it ain’t pretty.  The actual keypad, set up like a keyboard, is easily operated, and far enough out of the way that it is rarely bumped.  The side keys for page-turning are easily accessible and make about zero noise.
  2. It wasn’t a color model.  This may seem trivial, but I don’t give a damn.  I am going to be using the device to read print, not peruse art.  If that is what I was going for, I would have been looking harder at tablet PCs.  I can sit in full, direct sunlight and see my Kindle screen perfectly.  The technology used for the screen prevents LCD glare in light, and actually is easy on the eyes, as it does not use stark white for a background.  It really is just like reading the page of a book.
  3. The built-in OED.  That’s correct; each Kindle comes with a built-in Oxford English Dictionary.  All you do is use the directional pad to position the cursor at the beginning of a word, and it pops up a brief definition that you can expand with a single button push.  One button push later and you are back where you left off.
  4. Highlight and notation functions.  I know other eReader devices have them, but I found more positive reviews of the Kindle system than the others.  Now that I have it, I have to agree that it is a simplistic and straight-forward system that I like immensely.  I have used it a couple times already for some texts, and it is a very nice utility.
  5. Security.  Amazon keeps a record of all your purchases for your Kindle online so that if you lose it, you upgrade to a new model, or you have a catastrophic system loss,  you do not have to repurchase all  your books over again.  This is a great boon.  I now know that if I accidentally lose my copy of Small Favor by Jim butcher, it is only a couple of clicks away.
  6. Compatibility.  The Kindle reads almost all of the files used for eReaders.  It has a small problem with .PDF files, and it cannot read the independent .EPUB file, but the good news is that a free program, named Calibre, can transform those into .MOBI files, which the Kindle has no problem with whatsoever.  Which brings me to…
  7. I can port my own files over to the Kindle with minimal hassle.  I can do this wirelessly, if I wish.  You get at least one email address for your Kindle, which works with its 3G service.  Using the 3G costs you money, I believe about $.15 per MB.  However, if you get the wireless-enabled model, you get a second address that is completely free to transmit files through to your Kindle.  This brings me to…
  8. I can put my own generated files on my Kindle.  Using Microsoft Word, I can make up my own documents, such as notes, individual works, lecture notes, etc. and put them on my Kindle.  Just save them as a .PDF, use Calibre to convert them to a .MOBI, and voila, I have what I need on my Kindle.  If I save these to a cloud drive online, in a matter of moments, with a wireless connection, I have the documents I need from just about everywhere.
  9. The thing holds a charge just about for-damn-ever.  I charged it once when I first got it on the 25th of August.  It is now the 1st of September, and it is only down to half a charge, and I use the thing every day.
  10. The 3G allows you to purchase and download from the Amazon store just about any time, anywhere.
  11. The wireless comes with an experimental browser that lets you peruse a number of sites, including the BBC, Wikipedia, and the New York Times.

I didn’t realize it has a built-in MP3 player with good speakers (I have an iPod for that0, and I didn’t realize just how light it is (all of eight ounces).

But not everything is good.

  1. It really doesn’t like PDFs.  I mean, at all.  Text-based PDFs convert easily using Calibre.  However, if it is an image-based PDF, it hates you, your whole family, and anyone in five mile radius.  It displays the whole PDF on the six inch screen at once.  And no amount of text-resizing is going to help you, honestly.
  2. You have to be careful when reading on your Kindle.  Those side buttons for paging through are easily accidentally click, so until you really get the hang of it, you will be doing a lot of backward and forward paging.
  3. The screen is not backlit at all.  You have to have some kind of external light source for it to work.  There are a number of Kindle jackets sold with a built-in light, but it runs off the Kindle’s charge, so it will decrease your battery life.
  4. You really have to buy a cover for it.  The model I got is $189, and I don’t want to waste that money.  So, I purchased a $34.99 leather cover for it, and I do not regret it, but it is an unspoken cost for anyone that wants their Kindle to last a while.
  5. For you students, you HAVE to contact your professor and determine if you can, indeed, buy any of your books for use on your Kindle.  There are a number of professors that outright forbid this, and will make your life hell by making you also purchase a physical copy of the book.  Don’t assume.

The more I use it and have it, the more I like the Kindle.  The USB tether comes with a wall-socket adapter for recharging as well, and the manual installed right on the device is easy to read and get set up.  In all, I am glad I made this purchase, even if there is still a lingering feeling of betrayal.

To Literature, English Education, Psychology, Sociology, Philosophy, and History majors, as well as people that do a good deal of travelling, enjoy new gizmos, and are looking for a portable device, I really do suggest the Amazon Kindle.  Avoid the models with “Special Offers,” as these are simply ads that come up whenever you boot up your Kindle.

Now if you will excuse me, I am going to go read the latest World of Warcraft novel on my Kindle.

Don’t judge!

What do you think?

I just finished reading Gauntlgrym last night (at about 2 am, let the record show), and I have a good deal to say about this book.  After the ending to The Ghost King, I was a bit gunshy of reading this sucker, knowing that Salvatore was going to be pushed to cut more characters from the storyline, if for no other reason than to catapult Drizzt into the new era of the Forgotten Realms setting.  I give Salvatore credit; he held off from biting into the crap sandwich that has become Forgotten Realms for two full years plus with this series.  (I promise this will NOT turn into a rant of how much the new Forgotten Realms pisses me off.  Well, not totally a rant.)

The novel itself spans a large amount of time.  It opens with Bruenor deviously abdicating the throne so that he and Drizzt, almost two and a half decades after The Ghost King, can get on the road in search of Gauntlgrym, the legendary home of the Delzoun clan of dwarves. Over the long span of years, Bruenor and Drizzt’s quests are highlighted, speeding rapidly through what could have been a lot of boring exposition.  With the loss of Thibbledorf Pwent from their party to the ravages of age, and the inadvertent destruction wrought by Athrogate (yup, Jarlaxle and Athrogate show up in the book), and the efforts a decade later to reclaim Gauntlgrym, the book moves at a good pace, keeping the plot development and progression as complete as possible without turning the bulk of the book into a mire of details.

We are treated to the introduction of a new character, Dahlia Sin’felle.  An elf allied with the Red Wizards of Thay, her history is revealed throughout the first part of the novel, building up her background and revealing the source of her villainous outlook on life.  We are also treated to another villain: Herzgo Alegni, a tiefling shade of Netheril.  (More on him later, in the Spoiler Section).  I will talk more about his servant, Barrabus, also later.  In the first half of the book, the action switches between pairs: Drizzt and Bruenor searching for Gauntlgrym, Dahlia and the vampire Dor’crae also seeking Gauntlgrym (for less benevolent reasons), Jarlaxle and Athrogate searching for a good time (and ending up working with Dahlia for a very short time), and Herzgo and Barrabus searching for an end to the freedom of Neverwinter.

The major note I would make about the first book (and a good deal of the second book) is the devolution of Drizzt.  The loss of his love, Catti-Brie, and his friend Regis, as well as the knowledge that Wulfgar will also have died, if from nothing other than old age, has taken its toll on Drizzt.  He is far less than his usual jovial self for the majority of the book; that is not to say that he is depressed or whiny.  Quite the opposite.  He is falling further and further into his Hunter persona, giving in to the more savage side of himself, and wondering if he was only deluding himself for over a century or so.

The best part of it, though, occurs when Jarlaxle gives him a firm pimp slap in the form of some revelatory knowledge about just what he means to people he has never met.  Jarlaxle is far from a heroic character, but in the book you see a side of him that harkens back to a reason or two why he and Drizzt’s father, Zaknafein, may have been the best of friends.

SPOILERS!

By the end of the book, people important to Drizzt are once again dead.  Unbeknownst to him, one of his oldest foes is still alive and now knows that Drizzt is still breathing as well.  He has taken up with Dahlia Sin’felle, who has seemingly turned her back on who she was.  And new foes have appeared on the horizon: the Red Wizards of Thay and the Ashmadai and the Shadovar of Netheril.  The world is a changed place, and not necessarily for the better.

I liked this book far better than The Ghost King.  While more people die, you get to see Drizzt slapped back into place by one of the last people that would be expected to give a damn about our favorite drow.  You can’t help but sympathize with him, even though you get very little of his usual internal monologues.  The poor bastard feels adrift on a sea of loss, and wondering if any of it was worth the effort.  I won’t give it all away, but suffice it to say that by the end of the book,  you are left with the feeling that Drizzt is no longer just a survivor.

I honestly cannot wait for the next in the series to come out.

What do you think?

 

WARNING! There are spoilers!  If you do not want to know what happens in the book, do NOT continue reading!

I just finished reading The Ghost King by R.A. Salvatore, and since you probably know me in person, you would know that I am a huge Salvatore and Drizzt fan.  I have been reading the books since the first trilogy came out, and while I have, at times, been less than impressed with some books, I still come back to continue reading.  The newest trilogy, called the Transitions Trilogy, focuses on the changes that Forgotten Realms underwent with it’s transformation from Third Edition to Fourth Edition.

In The Orc King, we saw the formation of an Orcish kingdom, Many-Arrows, in the Silver Marches.  Obould, the leader of the orcs, showed great foresight and presence in working towards coexistence with the other kingdoms and cities of the Marches.

In The Pirate King, Drizzt and Regis traveled to Luskan and discovered the city torn apart by war.  With the death of the character of Captain Deudermont, Salvatore proved that he is telling stories, and not just mollifying his readers.  While Deudermont hadn’t figured prominently in the stories in a very long time, he was nonetheless a loved character.

Which brings us to The Ghost King.  With the merging of a mind flayer’s psyche, the newly-made undead form of the dragon Hephaestus, and the remnants of the artifact the Crystal Shard, a new entity appeared: the Ghost King.  Bent on revenge and conquest, it began opening portals through the rifts of the magical Weave that once surrounded Faerun and empowered its magic.

Two things happen.  Jarlaxle receives mental intrusions by the Ghost King, telling him that he will find Jarlaxle, and kill him.  This is enough to spur the pragmatic drow to action, towing he and his dwarven companion Athrogate to Mithril Hall, seeking a way to get Drizzt and his powerful companions on the road to the Spirit Soaring, home of Cadderly, the Chosen of Deneir.  While on the road, he discovers something.

The second thing, (and what Jarlaxle discovers) is that Catti-Brie, wife of Drizzt, has become catatonic, her mind caught in the failing magic of the Weave, and trapped between this world, and the dark Shadowfell.  Regis, watching over the girl, tries to use his ruby as he did on Bruenor.  It drives the halfling mad.

In the course of the story, you meet Danica and Cadderly’s children, already at near adventuring age themselves.  Ivan and Pikel Bouldershoulder show up, and serve as both the passion and comedic relief of the group. (Something about a dwarven druid that dyed his hair and beard green, calls himself a “Doo-dad!” and is still passionate really speaks to me)  But what really does it is the end.

SPOILER!SPOILER!SPOILER!SPOILER!SPOILER!SPOILER!SPOILER!SPOILER!

Drizzt, Bruenor, Jarlaxle, Athrogate, Thibbledorf Pwent and Cadderly take the fight to the Ghost King.  It is not an easy fight, and just when they think they have won, discover that it retreated for a time to the closing Shadowfell to gather energies to repair itself.  Preparing for another fight, Drizzt must comes to terms with the fact that, even should they defeat the beast, it still may not free Catti-brie from the fugue state she is in.

It is gut-wrenching to even read about this character who has done nothing but seek happiness, and for a short time found it in the arms of the human girl.  There is a very tender scene where he is feeding her porridge, as one feeds a dementia patient.  He speaks to her, hoping she will hear him, but knowing she won’t.  It tears at a person to imagine this, this great warrior known for fighting the good fight, for standing up when no one else will, reduced to this because of a cruel vicissitude of fate.

He even remarks, to himself, that though he can fight any foe in the world that has form, there is no way he can fight what is happening to his wife.  It is a dark, tearful and loving scene that closes with him shedding one last tear, and taking the field.  It is not written, but you can almost imagine Drizzt wishing that either he defeats the Ghost King, and his wife is returned to him.  Or that he falls in battle, and his wife with him so that they may have eternity together.

The battle is joined again, but they can’t defeat the Ghost King.  And so Cadderly, broken and aged by the destruction of his beloved Spirit Soaring, changes himself, becoming the one thing that can stop the beast.  Forever to walk the perimeter of the once great Cathedral, warding in the Ghost King, he is seen one last time by Danica and his children.  Catti-Brie is still catatonic, and all the companions feel that they have not won the day.

They all set out for Mithril Hall.

There, for one moment, Catti-Brie is given cognizance in the deep of the night.  She undresses and joins Drizzt in bed, only to kiss him, and pass from this life.  Taken by Mielikki, along with the spirit of little Regis, to a safe haven no one can find, they die.  Drizzt is awakened by Bruenor yelling, and rolls to find his wife, his lady love, dead beside him.  Both the dwarven king and the drow ranger can do nothing, offering every rich they have to Jarlaxle to find them.

That’s right, Catti-Brie and Regis are gone.  Drizzt and Bruenor are alone.

I don’t know where he’s going to go from here, but I have to applaud Salvatore.  It takes some serious guts to kill off two so-loved characters, especially at once.  And I have to loathe him for tormenting Drizzt even more.  I know people will say that that is the nature of the drow, to be angsty and pained.  It’s not.  He’s not some whiny emo swordslinger.  If anything, he is a hero you can look up to for his courage to continue on.

Read this damn book.  Now!