|Submitted by firstname.lastname@example.org |
(Jul 27, 2010)
For a reader to be considered "well-read" in the genre of Fantasy, one occasionally must head south into the realms of what some would term "Fantasy Porn" - weak plots accompanied by tips-of-the-hat to the various role-playing games in vogue at the time, one-dimensional characters and over-reliance on blow-by-blow tactics. This venture can allow a reader to keep a proverbial finger on the pulse of the low end of the Fantasy-consuming public, and help gauge the direction of where pulp-Fantasy is heading at any given time.
R.A. Salvatore's "Servants of the Shard" is as good an indicator as any of what passes for Fantasy Literature these days. Having read a few of the author's more well-known titles in the past, I had a pretty good idea that any of the major characters (too many by far) would in no time be found, not attending to the business at hand, but reposing on Dr. Salvatore's Freudian couch, submitting to an in-depth analysis of their psyches and emotions. True to form, the author practically relates the entire life story of Artemis Entreri, from swaddling clothes to present, hardly 100 pages into the book. No time for the reader - poor soul that he is - to plumb the depths of Entreri's soul for himself, and through subtle narration come to understand our hero; no, Maestro Salvatore has already supplied all the needed information in one lump-sum up front, no need to waste our time weaving lines of background into braids of narration. The better to teleport us to the reason we laid eye to page in the first place: intrigue and sword-play.
The Drow are no doubt Mr. Salvatore's bread-and-butter antagonists, and in "Servants of the Shard", no more nefarious plotters could be wished for on the dingy streets of Calimport. Unlike our hero Artemis and his doe-eyed Halfling admirerer Miss Tiggerwillies, the Drow make no bones about either their intentions or the means they employ. Unfortunately, the well-laid plans of the Drow and their agents are laid to rest long before we can truly appreciate the meaning of cunning and intrigue. And once again, we have the author to thank for that. Who would willingly watch a horror movie if they knew exactly where, when and how the villian would do his dirty deed? If a reader enjoys suspense in a novel, enjoys the unforseen twists and turns in plot that reward them for time spent reading pages and chapters of layered build-up, then they would do well to avoid this book.
As for action, "Servants of the Shard" has it in abundance, albeit in unweildy chunks interspersed throughout stilted dialogues and tear-jerking appeals to pathos. Whatever happened to spontenaity in combat? As Entreri swishes his magical sword around, the reader is treated to a buffet of technical maneuvers which seem to imply that his opponent's demise is a foregone conclusion. For no moment are we held in fear that our hero is over-matched and unaware of the danger he faces. Artemis' bravado would be more enjoyable if there were a hint of doubt in him as to the outcome. Instead, Entreri, like the plot itself, plods on towards inevitability.
No discussion of Salvatore's writing would be complete without alighting on his technical style. If I had a copper ante for every time the author used "wry" to describe a smile, or some variation of "chuckle" to imply mirth among his characters, I would be a very rich Kobold indeed. (On a side note, both Artemis Entreri's and Sharlotta Vespers' facial gymnastics during conversations are enough to introduce a new character-class into Faerun: think Level 3 Clown). Perhaps a future hero or heroine to grace the pages of an R.A. Salvatore novel would do better to arm him- or herself with a Thesarus, rather than going straight to the magical weapons department. It might also come in handy when trying to paint oneself out of clunky grammatical corners and to breath new life into ill-conceived adverbs. To wit: "pessimistically persistent"; "gleaming grin" !?!?!?!
To put it simply, R.A. Salvatore holds the reader's hand throughout the novel, laying bare every plot, explaining in triplicate every character's motivation, and at the end, gently tucks us in to bed with gushy sentimentalism and hackneyeyed technique, the whole time assuring us that all the hype surrounding his novel(s) are not generated by an easily-satiated Fantasy fan base, but is, indeed, the real thing. Save your dollar, and a mental nose-bleed, and graze on other pulp.