August 13, 2020


Relentless. By R.A. Salvatore. Harper Voyager. $28.99.

     Like its predecessors in R.A. Salvatore’s latest mashup of Tolkien and video games, Timeless and Boundless, the conclusion of the trilogy, Relentless, is subtitled “A Drizzt Novel,” marking it as focused on one of Salvatore’s most-popular characters, the dark elf Drizzt Do’Urden. But Relentless has an important point of distinction from the two prior novels in this grouping: Drizzt is not in it. Well, he sort of is, in spirit and in the effects of his nobility and in the way other characters think about him and respond to his non-presence, but Drizzt himself – umm, nope. The reason for his absence was made clear at the climactic conclusion of Boundless, but it is understandable, in a world where it is possible to be reincarnated even after being dissolved in acid, that readers will expect the hyper-potent drow warrior Drizzt to re-emerge, if not in the first 10 pages of Relentless, then in the first 100 or so of its totality of 450.

     This is not to be, though. And yet it may well not matter to longtime fans of Drizzt and of Salvatore’s Forgotten Realms books, within which Drizzt has drifted for, lo, these 30 years. In Relentless, Drizzt is as much an idea, and an ideal, as a character, and much of what happens in the novel occurs in response to things that he did in the past, or that other characters believe he would have done if he were present, or that he would be expected to do in the future if he should miraculously reappear.

     That makes Relentless very much a “fan” novel, a book for initiates rather than readers who may come to it without any existing deep immersion in the Forgotten Realms. Yet even the apparent intended audience of longtime fans may find some elements of Relentless disappointing, notably the unusually dialogue-heavy first half of the book and the rather formulaic nature of Salvatore’s trademark massive battles – which here, unlike in other Forgotten Realms books, lack any particularly novel tactics or interesting strategies, becoming gigantic exercises in attack-and-repel that fans will surely recognize as having happened many times before.

     But it is always a mistake to be dismissive of the sheer narrative skill of Salvatore, who, even when not at his best, crafts books that are strongly paced and contain fascinating elements – even when some of those elements do not quite fit. Thus, in the case of Relentless (whose title is apt in its reflection of a character’s comment on “the same darkness, over and over, relentless and destructive”), much time is spent recapping and explaining earlier events, but the explanations themselves are well-done and involving; and in the chapters dealing with Menzoberranzan, the “City of Spiders” where the main currency is intrigue and plotting, the machinations are spelled out with far too much detail and clarity of purpose – but the explication is handled with considerable skill, for all that it leaves nothing of note for readers to figure out on their own.

     As matters are with scene-setting, so they are with character delineation. The most-interesting character in Relentless (and, it could be argued, in the two prior books) is Zaknafein, Drizzt’s father, revived from the deep past into a new and very different world and trying to cope with, among other things, a level of cooperation and mutual respect among different races that is at odds with everything in his upbringing and experience. Zaknafein is attractively flawed: deeply racist and suspicious of all those who are not like him (and most of those who are), but striving mightily to overcome his instinctive and learned-early-in-life feelings and responses. Few other characters have intriguing flaws (Drizzt had them in earlier Forgotten Realms books, but both he and his imprint are essentially flawless in this trilogy). The mercenary Jarlaxle remains an engaging blend of selfishness and emotion-driven willingness to help others, and Kimmuriel Oblodra, the co-leader of Jarlaxle’s group, is also interesting for the ways in which he responds when his intellectual detachment from events is repeatedly challenged. But there is little other subtlety in the characterizations here – for instance, the self-protective stance of powerful mage Gromph Baenre is shown in an entirely negative light.

     If there is an overriding flaw in Relentless, it is a certain level of obviousness. It is unthinkable that Salvatore would kill off Drizzt permanently just when his wife, Cattie-Brie, is about to have a child. It is unimaginable that the vast, powerful forces of darkness will be able to muster sufficient strength to overcome Zaknafein and the forces of positivity (not exactly “good”) that he represents. It would be unbelievable for Salvatore to convey any message in the conclusion of this trilogy other than one that says love and compassion can and will defeat all evils, no matter how strong. So the way Relentless and the elements of the trilogy it concludes come together is, really, scarcely surprising. But Salvatore’s strength is in the way he gets to the foregone conclusion, the way he moves between and interrelates past events and those set in the “present” of the characters, the way he constructs scenes ranging from those of grand battles to those of individual characters sniping at each other with words rather than weapons of steel. Salvatore is a past master of the Forbidden Realms universe, and if Relentless is neither a satisfactory entry point to those realms nor one of the best explorations of them, it is nevertheless a highly satisfying, well-paced, internally consistent and often very exciting foray into them – whatever the merits may or may not be of describing it as “A Drizzt Novel.”

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