Book Review: The Crystal Shard
More than Darkwalker on Moonshae – which I need to get around reviewing at some point – The Crystal Shard by R. A. Salvatore is very much the introductory jumping on point for fiction within the Forgotten Realms campaign setting – and the introduction of possibly the most infamous character in fantasy fiction – Drizzt Do’Urden.
The Crystal Shard – unlike Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman’s Dragonlance works – is a less conventional quest narrative. Instead, the story starts as a bit of a war narrative – with the Ten Towns facing impending destruction at the hands of a barbarian horde, leading Drizzt Do’Urden, through his friends Bruenor Battlehammer – the leader of the local Dwarf settlement – and Regis – a halfling and semi-retired thief who has fit himself into the general political power structure of the Ten-Towns, to unite the otherwise at-odds settlements of the 10 Towns into a force that can repel this invasion. They manage to succeed, barely. In the aftermath, Bruenor takes a captured barbarian youth, Wulfgar, as ward to “work off” his debt to the people of Ten Towns.
During all of this, a middling wizard from Luskan, Akar Kessel, finds a powerful sentient magical artifact known as Crenshinibon, which saves him from death, and gives them the power to get revenge on his fellow wizards that attempted to kill him, along with building a force of goblins, giants, and other critters, and eventually the demon Errtu, who escapes from an amateur wizard who tries to summon him and feigns loyalty to Kessel in order to get at Crenshinibon.
During this half of the story, while keeping with Bruenor, Drizzt, and Regis as point of view characters, Wulfgar becomes a far more prominent viewport character in the story, as he’s trained to be a better fighter by Drizzt, leading to Wulfgar going into a brief quest to slay a dragon and then challenge for control for the Barbarian tribes, before leading them to help Ten Towns against the monster hordes.
As a narrative goes, it’s not particularly involved or challenging. It is, in a lot of ways, the fantasy equivalent of the Airport Novel – an adventure story with engrossing characters and a fun but shallow story that, on its own – divorced from the larger context of the Drizzt Do’Urden series, would be a fun but utterly forgettable read.
That said, in its own way, this shows something that is absolutely lacking in modern fantasy fiction – most fantasy anymore these days tends to emulate Game of Thrones and Wheel of Time with long-form epic fantasy series, instead of something more episodic like this book.