Friday, August 30, 2013

Review: The Companions (The Sundering Book 1) by R.A. Salvatore

In R. A. Salvatore's latest novel The Companions, he once again returns to the world of Dungeons & Dragons' Forgotten Realms. This latest story launches a new event called "The Sundering" which spans not only the fictional universe told in the novel but also across the Dungeons & Dragons games.  

Wizards of the Coast Description of The Sundering:
What is the Sundering?
The Sundering will reshape the Forgotten Realms, involving the whole pantheon of gods, many nations, countless individuals, and the fabric of the cosmos itself. Powerful forces both mortal and divine are set in motion, and will bring an end to the Era of Upheaval. Over the course of this huge story event, players will have the opportunity to help shape the future of Faerûn and make their story legend. 
Discover the ways you can experience the Sundering, including through tabletop roleplaying game adventures, store-based play programs, novels, accessories, and the first free-to-play D&D mobile game. 
The end of the Era of Upheaval is nigh!
The world of the Forgotten Realms has endured one catastrophe after another for the past century or so, from the Time of Troubles through the Spellplague. Time after time, upheaval has reshaped the pantheon, overthrown nations and rulers, and even altered the geography of the world. Now, the world is being shaken and reshaped once again—for the last time. 
The gods are thrown into chaos at the promise of a new reckoning of the pantheon, and they scramble and grasp at power in hopes of cementing their positions of authority. Their mortal agents in the world, the Chosen, are charged with carrying out their will in every aspect of life.
The Spellplague, the magical catastrophe that reshaped the world so dramatically, has come to an end. The Weave of magic is rewoven, and many lingering effects of twisted magic fade. The intermingling of worlds brought about by the Spellplague also comes to an end, as what belongs to Abeir returns to Abeir, leaving the Forgotten Realms looking much as it did before. 
Partly driven by the activity of the gods’ Chosen and partly arising from the turbulent political situation at the end of the Era of Upheaval, the nations and factions of Faerûn engage in their own maneuvers, manipulations, and acts of aggression. In particular, the empire of Netheril attempts to conquer the Dalelands, Cormyr, and Myth Drannor, setting off a war that engulfs the eastern Heartlands. The Harpers and the Zhentarim respond to the growing threats in the world by regrouping and refocusing their energies, slowly returning to their former prominence. 
Nations, geography, magic, and even the gods are changing forever, in the birth-pangs that herald a new creation. The world needs heroes to ensure that the new age dawns bright and full of hope, where good still shines as a beacon against the darkness. 
The Sundering series is a six book event, in order they are The Companions, by R.A. Salvatore, The Godborn, by Paul S. Kemp, The Adversary, by Erin M. Evans, The Reaver, by Richard Lee Byers, The Sentinel, by Troy Denning, and The Herald, by Ed Greenwood. For more information on The Sundering you may want to read interviews with R.A. SalvatoreErin M. Evans and Troy Denning and a post form Paul S. Kemp.

Review of The Companions:

Pardon the pun, but I always appreciate it when an author takes a novel approach to a novel. In The Companions R.A. Salvatore doesn't tell another adventure of Drizzt Do'Urden, even though Drizzt is the subject of the novel's cover.  While Drizzt isn't the star of the novel he is the essential heart of the story,The Companions focuses on the story of three of Drizzt's closest friends and allies, Regis the halfling, Bruenor the dwarf King, and Catti-brie, Drizzt's human wife and adopted daughter of King Bruenor. Together these friends along with Wulfgar and Drizzt formed a fellowship known as "The Companions of the Hall."

The Sundering fast forwards the world of the Forgotten Realms approximately 100 years in the future.  Many of the heroes and villains that have populated the novel world are dead and The Companions of the Hall are no exception.  While Drizzt has survived this leap forward in time his closest friends are all dead, but they don't have to be. Catti-brie presents her fellow companions with an opportunity presented to her by patron goddess Mielikki, Catti-brie, Bruenor, Regis, and Wulfgar if the so choose can be reborn, to return to Icewind Dale to come to the aid of their dear friend Drizzt.  But this rebirth is not without price, they will be reborn as infants and have to live a new life until their appointed meeting some 22 years later.

The novel tells the story of Regis, Bruenor and Catti-brie as they are reborn, arriving in to new parents in new locations and meeting a host of new characters.  I loved the concept of having these mature heroes be forced to experience childhood and adolescence anew.  Salvatore's story features these character retaining their memories from their previous life and it was particularly fascinating to see the adult consciousnesses wrestle with the physical desires and emotions of their early childhood bodies.

Each character faces different challenges and takes different paths in their re-birth, though I would say Regis had the easiest time adapting to his new circumstances, Catti-brie was in between and Bruenor had the most trouble adapting.  I was particularly drawn to Bruenor's story as the humors story telling of little infant Arr Arr gives way to the story of an angry adolescent dwarf. Bruenor suffers a crisis of faith and regrets greatly his decision to return for a good portion of the story.

Each character develops new relationships or faces new situations that pull on them emotionally, for Regis it is the chance at a new life and a new love, for Bruenor it is the chance to reclaim his thrown and protect his realm from the imminent threat of Orc invasion and fix what he views as a mistake from his past life, and for Catti-brie it is a new familial bond with new parents.  Catti-brie's love for Drizzt seems to be her singular focus in life and provides her with more clarity of purpose than Regis or Bruenor who are much more conflicted in their reborn lives. I think that this spectrum of experiences paints a very nice picture and while the heroes of this novel all take different paths to fulfill their promise, they all do so.

The Companions is really all about loyalty, friendship and love.  There is no overarching villain that needs to be conquered, their are no grand battles, this is the story of three journeys, about three lives lived and the varied victories and defeats that occur along the way until these friends can reunite as companions.

Salvatore has a number of cliffhanger chapter breaks throughout the novel in which our heroes are left seemingly on the verge of death, this technique is used with each character and serves to heighten the dramatic tension.  While there is a number of fun action scenes in the novel particularly featuring Regis, there are also times where some of the potentially more interesting action happens offstage, particularly on Bruenor's final climb through the north to meet his friends and what occurred to Drizzt just before his appearance in the novel.

As a relatively new reader to the Forgotten Realms universe, my only previous experience being Paul S. Kemp's two Erevis Cale trilogies, there are some references I am sure I missed in this novel.  I didn't have the benefit of knowing the back story of Drizzt and his friends or knowledge of some of the other regions and history of the worlds.  All that being said, The Companions worked for me as a stand-alone novel, though I think my enjoyment was greatly enhanced by my previous reading that gave me at least a feel for the rules and realities of this universe.  By telling the story of the heroes being reborn Salvatore is able to use the perspective of each character through memories, internal and external dialogue and occasionally the discussions of third parties to give us a window into the shared history of these characters.

All that being  said, I really enjoyed The Companions, though it definitely is a story that begs for a follow up, what will the Companions do now that they are reunited?

For more on The Companions, visit Wizards of the Coast and to read a sample of the book visit R.A. Salvatore's website.

Author's Note: A digital review copy was provided by the publisher via NetGalley for this review.

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