Thursday, November 20, 2014

Internal Conflict or Bust - (Sojourn)

So before I begin, this is just a warning that I will be going into more story details than I have in previous posts. If you don't want to spoil anything for yourself about Sojourn then now is your chance to stop. Again, as I mentioned at the end of my last post, I will still avoid major spoilers but from now I won't be pulling punches for the lesser spoilers in R.A. Salvatore's books.

These last two weeks have been rough, or at least fast. I thought it had only been a week since my last update, but here I am two weeks later and I'm barely a hundred pages into my newest book, Sojourn. I think I'll pull my get out of jail free card here and blame it on the upcoming holiday. So, in a return to form, this book, the last in the Dark Elf Trilogy by R.A. Salvatore, is also a New York Times Bestseller. Yet for all its glorious last-of-the-series goodness I've struggled to really get into it and make time for reading lately. Hopefully that will change as I get deeper in but for now the book is off to a slow start.

Picking up Sojourn I rejoined Drizzt once again, more or less where Homeland left off. Which, if you read the spoiler, means that Drizzt now walks upon a strange and alien world, the world of the surface. Unlike Exile, instead of an uneventful decade or so Drizzt has only been on the surface for four months. Just long enough to get roughed up and confused by his new attempted home. During his four months he has been slowly trying to adjust to the light of the sun so that he might someday abandon the necessity of his nocturnal life. (The light, it burns!) 

One of the first things that caught me by surprise was that Drizzt's weapons and armour have started to lose their magic. Drizzt's enchanted scimitars and chainmail are one of those things that have been so closely related to Drizzt's character that it seems strange to think of him without them. In fact, Drizzt's twin scimitars are so iconic to his character that I never considered that he might lose them more than just momentarily. Now that Drizzt is living on the surface world the magic has started to drain from the weapons and armour, signaling that in the Forgotten Realms world, magic is strongly tied to location. Or at least in the case of the Dark Elves that rings true. As of yet Drizzt still has everything but one of his scimitars, but again, to my surprise one of the scimitars has been destroyed.

I think it was the cover art that did me in. On the jackets of all of the later books Drizzt still wields twin scimitars, but it seems now that maybe they aren't the same ones. While Drizzt is an amazing swordsman much of his power still stems from his enchanted weapons. Just like an excellent chef relies on quality tools to allow them to focus on their art, so too does Drizzt rely on the quality of his weapons. Especially in the Forgotten Realms world, the fact that Drizzt's scimitars were enchanted is an important detail. There have already been several mentions, such as when he fought an earth elemental in Homeland, that without his enchanted weapons Drizzt would have been more or less screwed. To put it more succinctly, there are some creatures/beings that can only be affected by enchanted weapons. Certainly I can't imagine a normal scimitar doing much against a creature made of rock and it wouldn't remain sharp for very long. 

Sojourn starts off a bit dry overall. The surface world, on a whole, is much more familiar, certainly more mundane, and definitively less dangerous than the Underdark was. On the surface Drizzt is disconnected from anything of significance, story-wise, from his previous life so Sojourn essentially begins with a blank slate. However, that also means that we are relying on Drizzt alone to carry the story for a while. If you remember my Exile review I wasn't confident in Drizzt as a sole character to propel the story for any length of time. Although I do like Drizzt, without his society dousing him in inner conflict he can be a very simplistic character. Without that outside pressure he is just someone trying to make a life for himself. Riveting, perhaps, if the story was actually written like a drama. You could argue that most characters wouldn't fare well without interaction with other characters, and I'd agree with you to an extent. However, there are some that are interesting enough in and of themselves to be able to float sizable portions of a book as a solitary character. One of my best examples would be Corwin from the Amber Chronicles by Roger Zelazney. In one of the books in the anthology (I couldn't tell you which one) Corwin spends years in prison alone, and it's honestly incredibly interesting. Corwin actually spends a lot of time alone in the series but he is a complex and intriguing character so there is always something more to know about him. Drizzt by comparison, and may this not bite me in the ass in the future, has no real secrets. We have followed him since his birth and shared his internal conflicts since their inception. So, so far I have neither been mistaken nor overly-excited about so much alone time with Drizzt. In a wise move R.A. Salvatore splits the page-time between Drizzt, a human settlement, and an antagonist who I will touch on more in the next entry. In the end characters are always at their best when they are interacting with other characters.

At only 100 pages in I don't have too much to say just yet, but I wanted to touch on another pet peeve I've noticed about this series. I suspect one of the reasons why Drizzt's time in the wilds, of both the Underdark and the surface, isn't overly interesting is because it's not a challenge. In both Exile and Sojourn Drizzt struggles against himself and occasionally against powerful foes while living in solitude, but Drizzt never seems to struggle with the basic necessities of life. Not that I want a constant focus on the trivial details of day to day living, but things like hunger, thirst, bathing, and lack of sleep do tend to intrude upon our lives from time to time. I would think that those would matters would be more important, at least occasionally, in an environment where food, water, and shelter aren't a given. Instead R.A. Salvatore treats the matter with cavalier ambivalence, possibly oversight or maybe indifference. To me though this doesn't strike me as a trivial detail. I cannot remember one moment where Drizzt worried about his survival without the context of a battle, no moment where he desperately needed water or food. Although I vaguely remember one or two times where Drizzt was troubled by lack of rest, again, without the context of battle. 

I think that kind of sums up my biggest complaint about Drizzt's character. Without the context of battle Drizzt seems invulnerable. He shares moral quandaries and regales us with feats of strength, but he does not seem to share the same struggle for survival that most of us would face in an unknown environment. There was a moment of humour early on in Sojourn in which Drizzt had an unfortunate encounter with a certain creature, that ended in Drizzt's annoyance and discomfort. That is the type of thing that is largely absent from Drizzt's adventures. Even with decades of experience Drizzt's life in a completely foreign world should be much more challenging. I can't imagine that Drizzt ever had much experience cooking as a noble in the dark elf city (Menzoberannzan), yet when he wandered off to spend his time alone in the Underdark I never read about his struggles to cook his food so that it was actually edible. I guess we're just supposed to assume that he figured it out during his decade of solitude. Although come to think of it, wood was rare so what did he cook with? Or did he even cook his food? Did he just eat everything raw? That's kinda...ugh. I mean, it mentioned that he kept a kind of Underdark sheep/cattle beast, so I assume that means he ate some for meat. Maybe there was some source of salt that he used to jerky them? Oh boy, this just raises more questions. But my point exactly. 

I'll be resuming Drizzts adventures in Sojourn next week, when I will be examining the antagonists and whatever new developments I have covered in the story by that time. Also, possibly if I get sidetracked, The Briar King. Expect Sojourn though, I doubt I'll bounce back and forth at this point. 

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