Vengeance of the Iron Dwarf is the third and final book of the Companions’ Codex trilogy, and the 27th part of the Legend of Drizzt, that is, the 27th novel about the extremely popular dark elf ranger by Bob Salvatore. It is also, I’m saddened to say, an awful book. I really wanted to like it, but I couldn’t.
Salvatore is certainly able to write well; I loved The Companions, the book where he resurrected his original characters and told their new origin tales, but the warmth and joy of that book is a long way from the soulless slog that formed the Companions’ Codex. The book covers events in the years 1484 and 1485 by the Dalereckoning of the Forgotten Realms, in which towns of the Silver Marches are under siege by a great horde of orcs, who have been manipulated into their attacks by the drow. The book begins with the Companions scattered: Wulfgar and Regis lost in the Underdark, and the others trapped in one of the dwarven fortresses. Mithril Hall, I think.
By the end of the book, Wulfgar and Regis have rejoined the others, the orcs have been defeated, and the drow are planning another scheme.
Unfortunately, the bulk of the book is filled with meaningless battles, dull characters, and very little interesting interaction. It is almost certain that there are too many characters in the book, as it’s rare that we get to spend enough time with any of them to form attachments to them, and the plot – if there is one – is murky. Those looking for great acts of heroism are going to be disappointed. As far as I could tell, the orc sieges ended because the drow got sick of their manipulations and went home; it’s not because of anything any of the so-called heroes did. The drow Gromph and Jarlaxle provide rare points of colour, and there are other characters that are potentially interesting but are wasted due to not enough attention being paid to their activities. Instead, we get a lot of negative-charisma dwarves, mostly laughing madly.
There is a craft to telling the story of a war that is almost entirely absent here. Tolkien had it. When there’s a battle in the Lord of the Rings, you know exactly what it signifies, how important it is, and you care about the characters involved. There’s a remarkable sequence in Erickson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen – the Chain of Dogs (occurring in book 2, Deadhouse Gates) – where the entirety of the suffering of a retreat from a lost battle is covered, and stands as the most intense and moving descriptions of fantasy warfare I’ve ever read. Those are the work of authors at the top of their game. With Vengeance of the Iron Dwarf, one wonders if Salvatore knows what the game is! The book reads as battle after battle after battle until suddenly there are no more battles. How each battle shapes the war? No idea.
To make things worse, I don’t even find the battles interestingly described. There are a few times when I’m surprised by a few good details, but for the most part they’re mind-numbingly dull. You can get an idea as to how much I struggled with this book when I tell you it took me most of a month to read. Perhaps a little more, mainly because it didn’t draw me back to read the next chapter. (During this period, Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas came out, and I read that in under a day. That’s because it was compelling and kept me entertained throughout).
I’ve now got Archmage sitting on my virtual shelf, book 28 of the Legend of Drizzt. I really hope it reads better than the last three books. I’m interested in what happens in the Forgotten Realms, but I really wish I liked Salvatore’s books better. Plenty of people do, but whatever charms they have seem to have passed me by.