The Crystal Shard by R. A. Salvatore
|Book Name:||The Crystal Shard|
|Author:||R. A. Salvatore|
|Publisher(s):||Wizards of the Coast|
|Formatt:||Paperback / eBook|
|Release Date:||January 1, 1988|
Come gather ‘round
Hardy people of the internets
And listen to my look back to a tale of heroes bold
And grand deeds told
From the Tyrant of Icewind Dale
To the deepest of the Dwarven Halls
To the cosmopolitan of Calimport
The legend of our heroes is matched only by their bonds of friendship.
So come, let us hear their tale
Legends bred for the bard
As it begins with the baneful pride of one poor wretch
And the horror of the Crystal Shard
The Crystal Shard is the first in the Icewind Dale Trilogy, which would serve as the first in a collection of trilogies written for the Dungeons and Dragons universe of Forgotten Realms by R.A. Salvatore. The Crystal Shard takes place in the Forgotten Realms region of Icewind Dale, which up until this story was one of the unexplored regions of the setting. The story opens with Kessell, the inept apprentice to Morkai the Red, killing his master and reporting to his fellow wizards, who promptly double cross their stooge and leave him to die in the frozen wastes of Icewind Dale. It is here that he discovers Crenshinibon, the titular Crystal Shard and a sentient item of evil…isn’t that always the case? This item, which in a unique twist is powered by the sun, begins to sow dreams of grandeur into our mage, erects a massive version of itself for Kessell to live in, and also calls for every goblin, orc, and giant in the area to come join in a massive horde. And so, Kessell then proceeds to try to plan his eventual conquest of Icewind Dale. But of course, he fails to take into account the resolve of a collection of fishing villages, a barbarian and serving wench raised by a grizzled dwarf, a pudgy Halfling with a magical gem, and a drow with blades of steel and a heart of gold. Oh, and a panther of magic.
Enter Ten-Towns, the aforementioned collection of fishing villages huddled around several lakes that are home to a rare species of fish. These towns have prospered with trade in these waters, but also compete with each other over the resources. Imagine Deadliest Catch if the fishing crews came at each other with clubs and curses. Within this setting, we meet Regis, a lazy halfling with a penchant for good living, scrimshawing, and owning a ruby he stole from his previous employer before making his home in Icewind Dale. This gem, which comes back to haunt our good friend later, has the power to persuade anyone to agree with the views of the wielder. Regis is friends (loosely) with an old dwarf named Bruenor Battlehammer, who, in addition to being the leader of a disparate band of dwarves and a master blacksmith, is also the adopted father of the tough human girl Catti-brie. Bruenor dreams of taking back his ancestral home of Mithral Hall with the aid of his friend and the fourth hero of our cast, Drizzt Do’Urden. Drizzt is a drow who took one look at the race description in the drow section of the Monster Manual and elected to annoy the DM by playing a good, noble character. Initially created at the last minute as a side-character to replace someone written out of the book, Drizzt at the time of The Crystal Shard has spent fifty years on the surface world, away from the home of his fellow drow. However, as he discovers even in Icewind Dale, you can take the drow out of Menzoberranzan, but you can’t take the reputation out of the drow. Everywhere he goes people judge him not by the content of his character (and let me tell you his stats are IMPRESSIVE!!), but by the color of his skin. Save of course for Bruenor, Regis, and Catti-brie. We spend the majority of our time in the Icewind Dale trilogy following Drizzt Do’Urden and seeing the world through his eyes. Despite being excluded from society due to his race’s evil reputation, Drizzt has a relatively positive outlook on life and doesn’t (in this book at least) let the prejudice get him down.
The book essentially features two plots, which are really little more than two groups attempting to take over Ten-Towns for their own purposes. When we meet Drizzt, he’s just come back from spying on the various barbarian tribes that are amassing to assault the region. After some clever political manipulation and intense conflict, we finally meet Wulfgar; a young, proud barbarian who served as a standard carrier before being concussed by Bruenor. Bruenor, instead of killing the barbarian, sees something he likes in the young man and takes him as his apprentice for five years. At the end of his time, Bruenor forges a mighty warhammer named Aegis-fang for Wulfgar and has him train in the ways of combat with Drizzt. At first, it seems a bit strange to see the two of them spar: one is a nimble fighter who prefers the Florentine style, and one is a brutal warrior with a weapon better suited for smashing than finesse, but over time Drizzt disciplines Wulfgar to fight not only with his impressive strength and will, but also cunning and grace. During this time, Wulfgar and Catti-brie spend much of their time bickering, so we all know where that could possibly end.
The second part of the book takes us back to Kessell, who is now sporting a harem, a demon general and a killer manicure (I’m serious he has his nails painted in one scene). Oh, and that aforementioned horde of goblins, orcs, and giants is also bolstered by the remaining barbarians, who are quite eager to deliver revenge to Ten-Towns for their previous defeat. Is this the end of Ten-Towns? Will Kessell remain master of The Crystal Shard, or will the Shard conquer him? Will Drizzt and his friends be able to save their home?
Well…I’m not going to tell you, because that’s something you should read for yourself.
The Crystal Shard plays as a very straightforward fantasy story: wizard gains evil power, evil power corrupts, band of diverse heroes come together to defeat the evil. However, there are some underlying elements that keep this from being just another story, and proof as to why R.A. Salvatore has essentially made a career based around one hero in particular. The relationships between all of the characters are very well done, and the heroes are believable. I also like the play of light and dark: Drizzt is a good person who comes out of the darkness, which most people, even outside of fantasy, associate with being evil. Crenshinibon is an ancient relic of truly evil power, but is powered by the sun, which is normally seen as a source of goodness. It’s an ironic duality that will become more prevalent in the sequel, but for reasons I shall not divulge here.
I have heard that Wulfgar was meant to be the hero, with Drizzt playing the role of his sidekick. Although there were times in combat when Drizzt would instruct Wulfgar on the finer philosophies of fighting, there were no times when one felt inferior to the other. The characters had a very strong teacher-student relationship that was born from hard-won respect. Wulfgar does not simply stay in the role of the student, however, as several times he goes out independently to seek his own battles in order to find a way to help. It is during one of these instances that Drizzt finds the first of his two famous blades: Icingdeath.
One cannot speak of the characters without bringing up the realm of Icewind Dale itself. A staunch departure from traditional fantasy, Icewind Dale is a snow-blasted wasteland that can swallow the slow and destroy the stupid. Ten-Towns is a unique oasis in this foreboding wilderness, but far from safe. Each town is a self-contained community that has no loyalty to its neighbors in so far that it takes magic mind control to get them working together in the first place. It’s a cutthroat den of greed and avarice fighting against the biting cold, but it’s also the home of our heroes and the one thing standing against Kessell. Even if they don’t know it.
Aside from the heroes, the action is quite a pleasure to read. There’s a nice flow to the combat and as most of the characters are more or less melee oriented, fights seem to be determined more by elegance and might than the casting of spells. There are a few instances where Drizzt uses magic to distract foes or of enemies who use magic and breath weapons, but even then they are still well-incorporated.
Overall, I quite enjoyed The Crystal Shard and found it to be a strong introduction to not only the Icewind Dale trilogy, but to Drizzt and his friends as well. Stay tuned for Part Two, where the party will recreate what Gimli and Legolas probably did after Lord of the Rings by attempting to retake the Mines of Moria! Er… I mean… Mithral Hall.
Heroes: Without a doubt the strongest aspect of the story. Each of the main cast is well-rounded and likeable. – 5/5
Villains: Let’s face it, there really is only one true villain in this story, and that is the giant living ice cube that is Crenshinibon. – 4/5
Narrative: There are a few instances of “Tell, Don’t Show” regarding some of the aspects, but they did not detract from the story. The action is well-detailed. – 4/5
Plot: Very straight-forward with few twists, but the beauty comes in the details. – 5/5
Magic: Anyone familiar with Dungeons and Dragons will probably understand how magic works in this setting. Kessell uses magic learned from study and enhanced by Crenshinibon. – 5/5
World: Icewind Dale is a nice, savage part of the world that has much to offer despite being a veritable wasteland. – 5/5