Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Companions Review

The Companions by RA Salvatore
(review by Jon Armstrong)

This book was typical of RA Salvatore’s work:  a widespread epic story with intricate webs, dazzlingly powerful characters, and a plot that is always moving.  Coming off of his wonderful Neverwinter series, this book doesn’t disappoint (mostly). Spoilers abound, but here we go.

Plot synopsis:

The Companions of the Hall (minus Drizzt) are stopped by Mielekki (the goddess Drizzt worships) from going to their eternal homes after death.  Instead, they are given the chance to be reborn in order to help Drizzt. They are each reborn to parents of the same heritage (though with a twist for Regis).  Catti-Brie becomes a powerful wizard/sorceress, Regis is a thief/swordsman, and Bruenor is a dwarf of a different nearby clan.

The time covered in this book matches the time covered in books 2, 3, and 4 of the Neverwinter series, after Bruenor dies in book 1.

The good:

Pretty much everything except what’s listed under the bad.  This was a treat for those of us who have read all of the books about the Companions of the Hall, and who experienced the same sense of bewildering loss and confusion as Drizzt did while we read about his exploits without the rest of the gang.  It’s always nice to see Bruenor return, but to see Catti-Brie and Regis after their long disappearance…that was great.  I would’ve liked to see Wulfgar too, but perhaps because of length issues, we don’t see him return, instead thinking he refused rebirth until he surprises us at Kelvin’s Cairn at the end.  I do hope that we will get to see what Wulfgar did for all of that time in some book in the future.

Bruenor decided at great personal cost to forego his eternal honor in Moradin’s halls to be reborn for the aid of his friends. It was a decision he had a hard time making, and once he did he felt he had betrayed what he had lived for his whole previous life. Then, as if he needed a kick in the crotch, he finds that the good and peace he tried to accomplish—the signing of Garumn’s Gorge that allowed the orc kingdom of Many-Arrows to exist peacefully beside the good races of the region—was quickly unraveling, leading him to find it useless. In a shortening of a complex situation, Bruenor ended up feeling abandoned by his dwarven gods. Bruenor’s story about faith in a god that seems quiet was a wonderful comparison to how it can be when living with the true God of reality.  Sometimes it is confusing and sometimes it is disappointing, but if we know the character of God, then we must remember to trust Him (and we must remember ultimately that it is we who follow Him, and not vice versa!  He is the reward of our heart, in the very end).  When we don’t trust Him and we are seeking to control everything ourselves, then we will get just as angry, rebellious, and temperamental as Bruenor did with the dwarf gods! Special mention of Bruenor trying to master his infant instincts—that part was well done and hilarious. Five gold stars for this part of the book.

Regis’ tale was the best of the bunch.  Determined to not be the weakling he’s always been, he goes out of his way to practice courage and also increase his skill in combat.  Born with a bit of genasi blood that allows him to hold his breath for incredible amounts of time, he becomes a master pearl diver at a young age despite his poverty, eventually leading to his adoption into a halfling assassin’s guild that has its run of things in the city. The relationship he had with his drunkard dad, and the wooing of the beautiful granddaughter of the Grandfather Pericolo (master of the assassins) gave his story a wonderful touch of growth. It was well-rounded, giving him greater depth as a character than we had ever seen before (he was always the least well-defined of the original Companions). We saw him master skills and become capable, but also seize many of the relational opportunities he failed to have in his previous life.  Not to mention, he ended up with some awesome items! Five gold stars for this part of the book.

Catti-Brie had some touching moments with her original family, and it was cool seeing her journey to become a powerful wizard/sorceress, particularly with her druidic spellscar and the three different tutelages she received. However, of the three stories, hers drew me in the least.  It was fun and a page-turner as you went through it, but nothing that really sticks out to me after the fact.  In this way, it was unlike Regis and Bruenor.  Four gold stars for this part of the book.

Wulfgar!  Just glad he came back, that’s all.

The bad:

A little bit of stiltedness from the characters we haven’t seen in awhile. Regis avoided this, though perhaps this is because Salvatore had him purposefully set out on a life full of growth, one that made up for a lot of missed opportunities in his first life.  He could re-envision Regis, making it almost like he was writing about him for the first time.  Bruenor was Bruenor, but he wasn’t gone for that long, all things considered.  It was mostly Wulfgar and Catti-Brie that seemed stilted.  Catti-Brie was pure, wise, otherworldly, and essentially completely unrelatable before her rebirth. It was like she was supposed to be some angel from above that fits all of Drizzt’s nostalgia for her. She got better once she hit the flow of her new life.  Wulfgar was some rampaging buffoon warrior, strictly holding to honor of his clans over any honor of his friends. Actually, pretty much acting like they were never his friends. Just weird. We didn’t get the chance of seeing him the rest of the book, so this impression sort of just stuck out like a sore thumb. And then he reverses course in the end?  Well that seems odd too. He was so adamantly and angrily set in one way in the beginning, and we last see him walking to his eternal home even, and then he shows up in the end?  We clearly missed something. I’d accept that, except that like I said, it was a stilted caricature in the beginning.

Drizzt.  Plain and simple.  Drizzt had basically no appearance in this book, except for one thing:  the journal entries.  That’s right, even though Drizzt wasn’t in this book (you know, except for when his friends find him dying at the end and heal him), he was still writing journal entries somewhere along the way so that RA could publish his philosophical ramblings. Honestly, these entries have been pages I’d like to skip for the last several books, but it seemed glaringly so when the character wasn’t even around!  When I first started reading these books and enjoyed these journal entries, I was young and philosophical and viewed the world romantically like Drizzt. Now I find them sort of inadequate. I mean, really?  All that matters is that we have friends who agree with our values and who remember us fondly for living them out in life?  I’m sorry, but isn’t that incredibly hollow?  I just watched a documentary on the most dangerous gang in the world. These are gangsters who deal the most dangerous drugs, kill for territory, and are involved in human trafficking. They agree on what they are fighting for. They love their brothers in arms and will graffiti huge memorials telling the lives of the ones that fall. So is that it? Is that the ultimate profoundness that we’ve been waiting years to read?  Oy shalloy. You might think Drizzt would find something more advanced for all his century and a half of pondering. It’s almost as bad as Drizzt in the last book of the Neverwinter series. In that one, Salvatore is pretty much championing a mind to the exclusion of emotion lifeview in order to maintain a highly moralistic lifestyle. That’s not even healthy. A whole person is not controlled by just their mind or their heart, but the influence of both. It’s not too hard to think of damaging examples of both extremes. RA made Drizzt an emotionally unreachable character by the end…it’s no wonder his former lover (who had serious emotional issues, of course) tried to kill him. So remember that people…those who are mind over emotion = moralistic and good; those who are emotion over mind = uncontrollable rage-aholics who will kill you over scorned love. Maybe Drizzt can be reborn without his pensiveness. Here’s to hoping.


Don’t let my rants in the bad section stop you. This book was excellent, and probably the most fun to read since Gauntlgrym (which I also rate very highly). Great stuff, and I’ll keep reading in the future.

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