Homeland by R.A. Salvatore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
As I said in my last real post, On a recommendation of a friend I decided to give R.A. Salvatore's work a try. I originally wanted to try a book that wasn't connected to Forgotten Realms (a campaign setting for Dungeons and Dragons role-playing games) or any of his other media tie-ins novels. But since Forgotten Realms is what Salvatore is more or less famous for, I decided to bite the bullet and picked up The Dark Elf Trilogy, which consists of the books 'Homeland', 'Exile, and 'Sojourn'.
As most already know, Homeland is the story of Drizzt Do'Urden--one of Salvatore's most beloved creations--and his childhood and coming of age in the underground dark elf city of Menzoberranzan.
While I have yet to finish Homeland in any form, Here is what I think of it so far:
As its own book, it's ok. Salvatore has a very vivid imagination and unlike some other media tie-in authors that I've read, he also seems to have the literary skill to back it up. This is a good thing because, he knows how to tell the story in a way that those unfamiliar with the source material (like me) can pick up the book and enjoy it. I love his description of how brutal and chaotic Dark Elf (or 'Drow) society is. Each Drow noble house is basically a mafia family, using lies and murder to improve their own standing in their society. You want to have more power and influence? Then kill off a powerful house and fill the void that houses leaves. Or maybe you want to improve your standing within the family, then all you have to do is kill your siblings and fill the role that sibling leaves. The only rule: Don't get caught. It doesn't really get much more blunt and Machiavellian than that. So in that sense, Homeland is very much a mafia novel with a Fantasy setting, which is kind of interesting on one hand.
On the other hand I can't help but feel like its a bit juvenile too. I get that the Drow are supposed to be evil, but there are times when it feels like that they are so cartoony about it that it makes me want to bust out laughing. Like for example: The name of Drizzt's mother and the matriarch of his family is Matron Malice. I mean, come on. Malice? Really? The name in of itself makes her sound like a villain from a Saturday morning cartoon. It also begs the question: if social mobility in Drow society is about killing people, then how the hell is this society still standing? I think that with so much murder going around its economy would have fallen in on itself pretty quickly. Salvatore's answer is (get ready for it) because their spider goddess, Lolth (..really?) wills it. No seriously, that's pretty much the unspoken reason for why this society is still standing. Salvatore doesn't really go into Drow religion, but he does make it clear that anyone who doesn't please this goddess will end up dead.
But then again, all the evil of the Drow is contrasted in the character of Drizzt. And that, I think, is what holds the book together. Drizzt and his mentor Zak are the only ones who sees just how amoral and wrong Drow society is. But while Zak lives with it, Drizzt does not. He questions everything about his society, even if it is inside his own head: from the stereotypes (Brain washing really) that his people have about the surface races of the Forgotten Realms, to the Drow religion (which he comments that its more like slavery than a religion). This is what I like, Drizzt is the classic rebel who looks at the traditions, beliefs and practices of his society and rejects them, even though he knows that doing so could hurt and/or get him killed. He has a sense of honor, a rarity among the Drow, and he manages to keep it in tact despite all that his society does to beat it out of him. In other words, he's a thinker as well as a fighter. It makes him stand out... And it also makes him kind of a marry sue.
Let me put it too you this way, Drizzt doesn't discover gradually that his society is evil, he just kind of instinctively knows it, even from a really young age when he's supposed to be to stupid to know any better. And the events of the book just kind of reinforces for it for him. Salvatore tries to cover this by saying that that this is Zak's influence, but only the most naive reader could believe that.
The other big complaints I have with this book is that Salvatore tells us every thing the characters are going through, he never shows us. The result is that the prose doesn't effectively convey any of the characters emotions to the reader. The second problem might admittedly be derived more from personal taste than any real problem with the book itself. But for some reason, Salvatore decides to tell this story with an omnipotent 3rd person narrator. And as a result, he is constantly jumping into different character's head during one scene. If there are three characters in one scene, then before its all over, you will get a POV (or "Point of view") shot of all those characters. Its confusing to say the least, and its also something I don't care for. Because I think there are better ways to convey what a character is thinking without jumping into their POV. Something as subtle as a sly smile could speak volumes as to what a non-POV character is thinking.
In closing, Homeland isn't bad nor is it great. Its just good. It keeps you entertained, is easy to read and definitely warrants sticking with it to the end and picking up its sequels.
Pick up if you can.
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