This was my first ever book from the Forgotten Realms world of books – purely by chance I went into it with pretty much zero idea of the characters or the rules of the world, I feel that’s important to get out of the way at the start here!
In any case, it was not only that, but it was one of the first two audiobooks I got from Audible recently so multiple new experiences!
A quick overview:
The titular Drizzt is a Dark Elf and he is a character in the Forgotten Realms, which in turn is a fantasy setting built as a campaign setting for Dungeons & Dragons gaming. It is HIGHLY popular and from what I can tell, is very interestingly laid out as a world, drawing from both conventional Tolkien-esque fantasy and various other entries in the genre and has become a lovingly crafted world for fans of Fantasy and adventuring.
This collection is meant to be a set of 12 short stories from all over the life and times of the long-lived Drizzt, including tales of the birth of his magic-Panther companion/side-kick to rollicking action pieces and so on and so forth. That Drizzt is a Dark Elf (an otherwise evil and cruel race) and has turned his back on his people and is known as a fearsome but heroic figure in thsi world adds a nice touch and makes for some good character interactions as prejudices and fears surface, much as they can in real life.
As for the stories themselves, I’m going to bundle-review the stories first and then briefly touch on the narration from the star-studded cast who bring it all to life.
The main reason for my relatively low rating on this book is that I found the choices of stories terribly uneven. Perhaps to a person at least partially versed in the life of Drizzt or the adventures and characters mentiones, it all makes sense – but to someone just in for a good fantasy read, it was peculiar to say the least, that in a dozen stories, only a couple of them actually had the titular hero present. Many stories are comprised of characters that seem to have no connection to Drizzt at all – I only learnt about them because after reading, I took them time to look it up and try and understand what I was missing.
For example, multiple stories star a thief/assassin named Artemis Entreri – who by the way seemed more interesting than Drizzt who was mostly the somber anti-hero-ish cliche at points. Turns out he’s some kind of nemesis for our “hero” in the larger scheme of things, BUT at no point in any of the stories do their paths ever even seem to come close to crossing. I would understand if you bobbed back and forth and had them face-off (even if open ended) in one of the last stories, it keeps it loose and yet gives us a connect for the stories you’ve been giving us to go through.
The randomness and disconnected nature of the stories was bad enough, but I found the stories themselves a tad uneven. Not that any were bad, let me be clear on that. Mr. Salvatore has a nice, light hand with fantasy stories that moves fluidly, but I found some of the stories extremely good fun and others I actually felt like just skipping ahead or skipping entirely. Didn’t, but getting that feeling is not a good thing – and I will admit, in a couple of cases that was because of the narration to which we are headed next!
The only disconnected story which I genuinely enjoyed and at the end felt good because it was a thread that clearly tied back to Drizzt, turned out to be about the birth/creation of a mystic Panther that becomes Drizzts’s “sidekick”. Though when Drizzt came into it is still a mystery to me, at least I could enjoy it as an origin story for a character that shows up in the hero’s actual stories.
There was also a pretty decent-ish story about a Lich (undead wizard) trying to play politics and manipulate powerful dragons that was quite enjoyable as a concept – not the greatest story of the lot and seemed more like (as several stories did sadly) like an extract from a larger ongoing narrative. It had good ideas but the feeling that it was just a wee bit of a larger going-on was a little too ever-present here, I can go with that to a point but this felt too, too random.
Now the audio narration:
The first name on the list was Felicia Day (The Guild, Supernatural) who is more or less a geek-goddess to many so I wasn’t too surprised to see her involved and can imagine she actually wanted to do this and not just for the cash. While her voice is not the first one I would have thought of for reading action-packed fantasy, she actually did a good job! Energetic, enthused and trying to do some voices, she made it fun to listen to and started off the book on a great note.
The surprisingly good narrators who I didn’t expect to find as engaging were definitely “Wierd” Al Yankovic, Melissa Rauch (The Big Bang Theory), Wil Wheaton (Star Trek: TNG) and Sean Astin (The Lord of the Rings). The biggest surprise of this lot was definitely Wierd Al who just killed it and really felt like he was into it all! Rauch is normally associated with her high-pitched character from the show, but her regular speaking voice is much more pleasant and she did a nice job, same with Sean Astin who surprised me. Wheaton was again enthusiastic and energetic like Day, but I wish he had tried a little harder to do some more distinct voices, would have really made his contribution excellent! I also just remembered that even Community creator Dan Harmon did a damned good job, though he didn’t try and do anything beyond his basic voice, he had a nice, pleasant timbre to his voice that carried an otherwise passable story.
On the mediocre/bearable end of the spectrum were Danny Pudi (Community), Tom Felton (Harry Potter) and Greg Grunberg (Heroes). I don’t have anything really as a big plus but no big negative either. They did a competent job.
Now the sad part, the disappointments – and make no mistake, they were all shockers to me.
First and foremost: Ice-T. I really like the mans voice, he is a true badass and has a cool confidence that comes across when he speaks. BUT, his enunciation of various word (like constanly emphasising the “w” in sword) and of names (like how he over-pronounced Drizzts’s every damn time) was just a wee bit annoying – it also didn’t help that for me the story he was narrating was not only the most boring out of the entire book, but it felt like it dragged on and on and on. It was the only one I seriously contemplated skipping entirely and even though I was just listening, had to slog through. Another total disaster I’m sorry to say was the teller of the final tale, David Duchovny (The X-Files, Californication) who all I can say is, felt like he was bored and couldn’t care less and was utterly and totally phoning it in – in fact there were moments like I felt like he was almost amused at what he was reading as if he was finding it silly. Maybe I just got that impression, maybe I’m dead wrong, but that’s what came through. Last but not least is the biggest waste here, Michael Chiklis (The Shield), who I actually expected to do a killer job but despite not doing too badly, there was something very… blah… about listening to him read. The voice was good but like Duchovny, it felt like he was just trying to get through it.
In conclusion, I think that the author is a very talented person and I look forward to reading more of his work down the line. BUT I would not recommend this book to anyone not familiar with the franchise/world/character(s) because it’s all over the place and not all that fun for anyone like me who knows none of it – for a collection of stories about a character, this is to my mind a terrible, terrible choice of stories to have culled together under this title.
The audio was mostly pretty decent and there was enough good that I intend to continue trying stuff from audible, but it also made me cautious, especially with special “celeb” narrators. At least the pro’s are pro’s at it for a reason, this is what they do – but the celebrities come in as a name/bonus and they are not all going to be great and some maybe even bad.
BOTTOM LINE: Great for those who know Forgotten Realms/Drizzt and a bit of a bust for anyone who doesn’t – maybe worth a try if you like Tolkien-esque fantasy or are into D&D but that’s about it I guess.