The main problem with works that are inspired by or that borrow from RPG is predictability. After all, what adventure would be complete without a warrior, a rogue, and a sorcerer. Not to mention the party must include a gruff dwarf and a light-hearted, pleasure-loving halfling. The Crystal Shard has got all that and more, but it also brings to life an original in the form of Drizzt Do’Urden, who’s undoubtedly one of the most well-known and beloved characters in fantasy. That may be the most enduring legacy of this fun if otherwise unremarkable series.
The story is set in the Icewind Dale, a barren, wind-swept region nestled in the armpit of the Spine of the World. Thanks to its remote location, Icewind Dale is largely ignored, until our present story that is, in the lores of the Forgotten Realms, that fabled realm of the vast Dungeons & Dragons universe. Icewind Dale is home to Bruenor, a old, curmudgeonly dwarf (who’s ever heard of a happy go lucky dwarf?), who fled here after the destruction of his ancestral home, and the halfing Regis, an epicurean who’s on the run from some trouble in the south. Befriended to both is Drizzt, a drow-elf ranger on an self-imposed exile from the underground realms of his people. Highly principled and strongly disturbed by the evil and self-serving ways of the drow, he willingly makes his home on the surface world despite the fear and revulsion of almost everyone he comes across. Drizzt’s background and emotional complexity makes him a deeper characters than one would expect from a series like this. Rounding out the group are Catti-Brie, a human girl adopted by Bruenor, and Wulfgar, a fierce barbarian warrior taken under Bruenor’s tutelage. Trouble brews when Akar Kessell, a bumbling wizard’s apprentice, stumbled into possession of Crenshinibon, an almost sentient crystal imbued with vast powers. Aided by the crystal, Kessell assembles a vast army of goblins, orcs and giants to invade Ten Towns and establish himself as the tyrant of Icewind Dale. Drizzt and company must rally the squabbling inhabitants of Ten Towns and gain the help of the hitherto hostile barbarian tribes if everyone is to have a chance.
As transparent as the plot may seem, there are memorable moments such as Drizzt’s confrontation with the demon Erttu and Wulfgar’s journey to the lair of the ice dragon. This was RA Salvatore’s first major work and there are some rough edges here and there. The battle of Bryn Shander somehow lacks the fury and scale of a climactic clash (face it, few are going to be able to outdo the battles of Helm’s Deep and the Pelennor Fields). Nevertheless, the author does an excellent job to bring excitement to one-on-one swashbuckling; one can almost envision the blur of Drizzt’s dual scimitars or Wulfgar hammering everything into smithereens with mighty Aegis-Fang.
The Crystal Shard has something about each character. While I would have wished for less stereotypical portrayals and a little more depth, it’s a satisfactory introduction and launches us immediately into the companions’ even more exciting second adventure.
Originally posted March 14, 2003 on Amazon.com