So, I ended up reading Homeland, by R.A. Salvatore, instead of the Belisarius books. I’m not going to write a formal book review (heh – I’m not setting myself up to reviewing Ulysses, thank you very much), but I wanted to put a few of my thoughts down anyway.
First, a bit of background. Homeland is, chronologically, the first Drizzt Do’Urden novel, though not the first published. That matters because Drizzt is probably the most overexposed D&D character (perhaps only challenged by Raistlin from Dragonlance), and certainly inspired the most carbon-copies and barely disguised clones at gaming tables around the world. And that certainly colored my perception of the book.
In fairness, I can’t blame the author for creating such a popular character. I’m actually impressed in how well Salvatore read the late 80s, early 90s geek zeitgeist. The “loner misunderstood hero” stereotype was certainly something that connected with readers, and it’s certainly a lesson I’ll keep in mind when planning my future books.
Now… while I don’t hold Drizzt’s popularity against the book, and can certainly admit I would have found him really cool back in high school in the nineties, I can’t help but mention how irritating I found the character as a first-time, mid-thirties reader. It’s the not-quite-whiny, yet somehow holier-than-thou perception that really get me.
By contrast, the secondary characters look much better. Despite needing the drow elves to be mostly capital-E Evil (to comply with existing D&D rules and lore), Salvatore managed to write a genuinely diverse cast. Malice isn’t Vierna isn’t Maya isn’t SiNaFay.
Speaking of D&D rules and lore – the other big flaw of the book in my view is again not the author’s fault, or at least not entirely. Being stuck using the cookie-cutter magical abilities of low-level D&D wizards and the uninspired Underdark bestiary hurts the book a lot. Menzoberranzan should have felt alien, the Underdark wilds even more so, but instead we get rolled-on-a-chart monsters and generic fighters and wizards.
Final thoughts: I’m no longer the target market for this book/series… and that’s fine. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad book (although as far as I’m concerned, the D&Disms alone probably drop the book into the “meh, read it if you need something to pass the time” category.) I’m not going to read another Drizzt book for sure, but I certainly might take a look at some of Salvatore’s other works.