Picking up where The Two Swords left off, The Orc King continues the adventures of Drizzt Do’Urden and the Companions of the Hall. King Obould Many-arrows seeks to create a kingdom of orcs, at peace with its neighbors, a thing unheard of in Faerun. Tosun Armgo continues to seek to be a new Drizzt, a dark elf of good character while fighting off the advances of Khaizid’hea the evil sentient sword. And Wulfgar, recently widowed, sets out to find his lost daughter Colson.
R.A. Salvatore has been writing in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting for 20 years, he brought shared world fiction into the mainstream of genre fiction, his novels are sold all over the world, and Drizzt is almost as recognizable a character as Gollum or Captain Kirk.
But for all his accomplishments, it seems that Salvatore cannot get out of a writing rut, when it comes to his characters. The Sellswords Trilogy was received poorly by even his most loyal readers (I among them) as it did little with its potential. With the return to the story of Drizzt, Bruenor, Catti-brie, Wulfgar and Regis, his fans hoped that creativity would sparkle once again. But The Orc King didn’t. Oh, it has the classic Salvatore elements — great fight scenes, Drizzt’s introspections at the beginning of each section — but there is sno character growth.
In The Orc King, Wulfgar is still the introspective former captive of Errtu. Salvatore had already destroyed all that had made Wulfgar a great character to begin with. He had aged from a brave and intrepid youth into a simpering self-pitying character (for all his protestations otherwise). Wulfgar again leaves the Companions of the Hall, the very people who can help him, and sets off on his own, certain that this is the right course. He was just as certain a few books ago, and that certainty left him a wino that had lost Aegis-fang. This character development was one of Salvatore’s poorest and nothing changes in The Orc King.
The behavior of Bruenor is also odd. He befriended a dark elf in the very first Drizzt novel, but can’t seem to get over his prejudice of orcs. Always Salvatore has made it clear that the “goodly” races fear dark elves more than any other of the “evil” races, yet Bruenor can’t see good in an orc. Salvatore tries to explain it away, but as a reader who has devoured all the Drizzt novels, it seems out of character.
Salvatore continues to address the theme of prejudice at the community level. Dwarves and orcs have always despised one another, but in The Orc King, an intelligent orc sees the need for peace between the two races, so that both may flourish. (There seem to be alllusions to ongoing conflicts in our world today.) This is an excellent theme to write about in a shared-world filled with so many races and the use of Drizzt and his companions, who had so eagerly slain orcs in previous novels, to help King Obould realize his dream is appropriate.
And of course, Salvatore continues his trademark battle and fight scenes descriptions. Of the many fantasy authors I have read, few hold a candle to Salvatore’s depictions. He so well describes the actions of the characters, and sets up the setting beforehand, that it’s almost impossible for readers not to visualize the events clearly. For that alone, any Salvatore novel is worthy. I may not like some characterization or some plot, but each fight rouses my spirit afresh. Undeniably, Salvatore has a gift for pacing his novels, always knowing just when the reader needs some good old-fashioned hacking and slashing.
The Orc King is, for all its faults, still a great read. Drizzt Do’Urden is a hero of righteousness and truth, and no reader can help but root for him and his team. Salvatore’s novels are always exciting. I hope that Salvatore really puts his characters through the wringer in this trilogy and makes them into better people. Don’t read this novel for your first foray into the Forgotten Realms, but fans will enjoy, though probably not love this one. It is no Sojourn or The Crystal Shard, but it is fun to read and is a welcome return to the Drizzt legend.