“The Companions” is the first volume of “The Sundering” series from Wizards of the Coast, a major cross-media event that transfers the Forgotten Realms from its 4e incarnation to the next edition. Written by R.A. Salvatore, "The Companions" revisits the characters of his original book – “The Crystal Shard” – and of its many sequels: Bruenor, Regis and Catti-Brie.
Readers more up-to-date with Salvatore’s novels than me will realise there is a basic problem with using those characters: they're all dead! However, as comics have taught us, death does not have to be permanent. The book deals with how they come back to life and their adventures before they join up with Drizzt again. The popular drow is barely in the book; it instead revolves around the journey of his companions to meet and help him again.
The introductory chapters are written surprisingly poorly, with some clumsy exposition and an excess of commas, but the book improves swiftly once the real heart of the story begins. The book alternates between the viewpoints of the three companions as they are reborn as infants and face the challenges of being adults in children's bodies. Yes, that's right, they have to go through childhood again!
The book takes place over a twenty year span. Wulfgar, the one-time companion of Drizzt appears at the beginning, but refuses to be reborn; as I'm not familiar with the intervening books since the original trilogy, I was taken aback at how unpleasant he'd become and I wasn't unhappy at all to not be reading about his rebirth.
Each of Catti-brie, Regis and Bruenor have interesting childhoods, especially so given they're going through them with adult knowledge. I was particularly engaged by Bruenor struggles to fit into dwarven society: he was a king, and he finds it very difficult to follow in the traditions of his new father when he knows he'll eventually have to find Drizzt. Regis has a number of adventures in Delthuntle in Aglarond, particularly with the Assassin's Guild there, and eventually he has to be forced out – the life he was otherwise leading was a good one for him. Catti-brie finds herself being trained by Netherese wizards, completing the training she started in her earlier life. With the powers of a cleric, druid and wizard, the reborn Catti-brie looks like being a power to contend with in the post-Sundering Realms.
Of course, the primary interest to me with this book was to discover exactly what was going on with the Sundering, the major event that is running through six novels and several D&D adventures this year. "The Companions" doesn't deal with the Sundering directly. Instead, you get hints of it from some of the other characters in the book, particularly from the Netherese wizards training Catti-brie.
In particular, the Netherese are concerned that the planar conjunction that allowed their shade overlords to return to Faerun is beginning to fade – the reborn Netherese empire is therefore imperiled. The effects of the spell-plague are fading and the Weave is reforming – the art of magic changes during the novel, and wizards need to go back to the "old" ways of casting spells. For this book, at least, the Sundering is very much a background element; it's happening, but it's hasn't shook the world – at least, not yet.
The biggest weakness with "The Companions" comes from its position in the series of "The Sundering", as – unless something unexpected happens in the following five novels – its protagonists won't show up again until Salvatore's next book, which isn't part of "The Sundering"! Did this really need to be part of that series? It feels far more that it's included to leverage the popularity of Salvatore's work. This book really feels like part of the Drizzt series instead of the Sundering series; if we're very lucky a few of the other characters might turn up in one of the other Sundering novels.
The book also reads very much as a transitional book; it's setting up things for later works. Someone not familiar with the characters could quite easily jump into the series here. However, those looking for a story complete in itself will be disappointed; the book, whilst complete in telling the second childhoods of the main characters, leaves their business particularly unfinished. Proper reunions will have to wait for later books by Salvatore.
Ultimately, "The Companions" is an enjoyable read, but suffers from problems relating to its dual nature. It far more continues the story of Drizzt than being part of "The Sundering". It's well-written, but it's ambiguous placement makes it weaker than I would have liked.