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Bewildering Stories

R. A. Salvatore, Promise of the Witch-King:
the Sellswords, Book II

reviewed by Danielle L. Parker

Promise of the Witch-King
Author: R. A. Salvatore
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast, 2005
Length: 345 pages
ISBN: 13-978-0-7869-3823-0

Who’s the most requested fantasy author in my library? If you’re thinking folks pay too much attention to the latest Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy Award winners, you’re wrong. In my alternate librarian persona I have never had one patron request one. If a young man comes up to my desk, and he wants me to order a fantasy for him, I know who the author’s going to be before he finishes telling me. It’s going to be R. A. Salvatore. Without a doubt, he’s the most read, most requested author in the entire under-thirty young male group.

The reasons for that are pretty obvious as soon as you open any R. A. Salvatore book. Let’s take Promise of the Witch King, the latest one that’s come into my hands, as an example. What we have here is a computer game in print, with all the elaborately portrayed action-adventure a husky young fellow could want.

As the book opens, indeed, the former assassin Artemis Entreri (former nemesis of the elf Drizzt, for those of you who have followed the series), along with his new partner the dark elf (not exactly reformed, either) Jarlaxle, are rolling around the tunnels and stairways of an enchanted tower. They’re out there battling killer rolling balls, man-eating gargoyles, iron golems and an undead sorcerer in action sequences as intricately crafted (and unreal) as Swan Lake’s Prince vs. Rothgar denouement. I can see every slice and dice and explosion in all its full-color pixel glory even as I read it and it’s all in the first ten pages.

The characters in the series, too, are stock. We have elves (dark and light, bad and good), dwarves, orcs, stupid thuggish goblins who provide lots of opportunities for head-bashing and chop-chop work, sorcerers, and humans of various, generally tough-gal or tough-guy ilk. Game fanciers will recognize them all at a glance. Did I forget the dragons? We’ve got those too. Oh, what Tolkien let loose upon the world! Do you suppose he’s doing penance for it now, somewhere in Purgatory, or in one of the softer circles of the Inferno, with Virgil at his side?

But I’m doing Mr. Salvatore a bit of an injustice here. I, too, have read a number of R. A. Salvatore stories, and I actually remember the earlier works featuring Drizzt and his companions with some affection (although I was so impatient every time I picked up a book and discovered that no, the anticipated Drizzt and Catti-brie consummation would not happen until the next book, and then the next book, and so on) That’s because, among all the chopping, bashing, twirls and acrobatic fighting maneuvers, Mr. Salvatore can actually make us care about his characters. Affection, or at least interest, creeps up on one unawares, so to speak. Who would have thought?

Mr. Salvatore has mixed success with his cast in Promise of the Witch King. Jarlaxle, the ambiguously motivated, charming conman, is an intriguing character. Entreri is not quite as successful; it’s not easy to portray the emotional redemption of a cold-blooded killer, but Mr. Salvatore works at it. Entreri gets briefly struck on female after female, which doesn’t seem like him; the one he actually gets it on with by the end of the book hardly plays a part in the story at all. There’s nothing like the delicate Drizzt-Catti-brie romance here at least in this outing of our almost-heroes.

For those of you who care about the plot rather than just those action scenes, Jarlaxle and Entreri and a cast of various dubiously motivated fellow fighters battle a magically constructed castle and its denizens. The castle is a relic of the evil Witch King, of course, and it’s got a dragon, more golems, more gargoyles, and plenty of undead to chop-chop. There are traitors and good guys and one annoying selfish dwarf who speaks in nothing but inane rhymes, and by the end of the tale, of course, quite a number of dead characters, both villainous and heroic variety.

Come to think of it, I don’t think I ever did reach the book in the original series where Drizzt and Catti-brie do finally plight their undying troth. Does anyone remember which one it was? Did it ever actually happen? Sigh. I think I’ll go find myself a paranormal romance to read, after all that chop-chop stuff I just finished. Yes, Virginia, men and women really are different. So if you’re an under-thirty guy, take my advice: go get Mr. Salvatore’s latest! You’ll love it!

Copyright © 2006 by Danielle L. Parker

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