Exile by R.A. Salvatore
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Having liked Homeland, naturally I picked up its sequel. I started it while still reading A Dance with Dragons, because I wanted something easy and straightforward to balance the increasing complexity and grayness of A Song of Ice and Fire (which at that point was really starting to drag on and on); And since this was really short and even easier to read than Homeland, I figured what the hell. Besides, I like Drizzt even though he is kind of a "Mary sue" character. But thankfully his "Mary Sue"-ness isn't as obvious here.
Anyway, this book picks up a decade or two after the end of Homeland. Drizzt is free of the evils of Drow society and is now wondering the underground wilderness of the Underdark. Basically the book is about Drizzt inner struggle to hold on to his humanity (so to speak) in the face of the savagery needed to survive in the wild. Meanwhile, his family back in the Drow city are hell bent on seeing him dead because he put them in their evil goddesses disfavor and they want to get into their goddess good graces. You can probably see where this is going. Its not terribly original by any means, but then again I'm one of those people who think that its not what you do, it how you do it...and there is where Exile kinda falls on its face.
Don't get me wrong I like Salvatore and Drizzt, but this book feel half-assed at the best of times. It feels like a filler episode, something that was made just to fill a schedule. His struggle to hold onto his humanity gets resolved rather quickly when he's joined by a genome he met during Homeland and another character who was transformed into a monster by a rouge human wizard. From there, the book quickly degenerates into a camping adventure with Drizzt occasionally going physco on an enemy and him lamenting about it afterwards. Now I get what Salvatore is trying to do here: namely the gnome is there to keep Drizzt from losing himself completely, and the monster character is gradually losing its grip on what it once was and is becoming a monster inside as well as out. But Salvatore just doesn't do a good job with it. Just like with Homeland Salvatore just tells us everything the characters are going though, but here its a thousand times worse. I feel like he's trying way to hard to make us feel sorry for Drizzt and in doing so he made me want to laugh at how melodramatic it is.
Despite that, there are some good ideas at play here. For example, as part of their efforts to kill Drizzt, Matron Malice reanimates the corpse of Drizzt's mentor and father, Zak. And apparently in doing so magically turn him into an unstoppable killing machine under Malice's control. Yeah, it kinda does end how you expect too. But I say its a good idea because of wasted potential. Let me just ask, wouldn't it have been a lot more interesting if the plot of the entire Dark Elf trilogy had centered around the relationship dynamics of Drizzt, Zak, his mother and his siblings? Like if a very much alive Zak was forced to hunt Drizzt down (or if the reanimated corpse thing was carried over to the next book) while at the same time showing the price Malice and her family pays for her greed and lust for power? Homeland set up the trilogy to go along these lines, so I can only assume its what Salvatore was originally going for. But in Exile, that whole aspect of this story ends and it ends very awkwardly. In other words, Salvatore tries to fit all of that into a book only a little over 300 pages long and the end result is very messy. Maybe if the book had been longer and everything more fleshed out, it might have worked.
In the end, Exile doesn't deliver on the promises made in Homeland. It feels rushed and poorly planed and is only saved by entertaining fight scenes and promises of a stronger third act. Definitely the weakest entry of the Dark Elf Trilogy. I only recommend it if you're a fan of either Salvatore or Forgotten Realms and have read Homeland first. Otherwise, best to avoid it.
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