Matt MacKenzie and I were good friends in high school. One of our sources of agreement was a deep love of fantasy novels – and our deep in the closet affection for Dungeons & Dragons.

One weekend, we both picked up, independently, R.A. Salvatore novel, The Crystal Shard. Set in the AD&D (“Advanced Dungeons & Dragons”) world of the Forgotten Realms (which, by that time, had replace Greyhawk and Krynn as the leading locale for AD&D materials).

Both of us absolutely loved it.

Salvatore went on to right three more books in a trilogy featuring the same characters – and then a three part prequel and a whole series of follow-ups (mainly following the most popular character of the series, Drizzt Do’Urden). I confess that found my interest flagging in the novels that made up the rest of the trilogy. The prequels were better, but still lacked the magic of that first effort.

Then I forgot all about it.

Somehow – I don’t recall how – my memory got jogged. But I found myself wanting to revisit the series.

I had been dragged to a distant strip mall shopping center for the purpose of visiting a Jo-Ann Fabric Store. I reluctantly agreed to go, but then quietly slipped off to a nearby Borders Books & Music. Putting aside my preference for shopping at independent bookstores, I dug up a 40% off coupon and purchased a paperback copy of The Crystal Shard.

A review of a book like this is almost besides the point. Either you have affection for the genre it represents or you don’t. It’s not a book that crosses typical genre readership lines, like the immensely overrated Harry Potter novels (by the way – if you really want to read a great book about schools for wizards, let me suggest the infinitely superior and elegiac, A Wizard of Earthsea by LeGuin).

That said, I instantly fell back under its spell. I did so, completely aware of all its flaws – the rampant clichés and shameless theft of Tolkien (though, really, how can you write a good fantasy novel in the classic sense of the genre without stealing from Tolkien? I’m not even sure that counts as a criticism any more). But the story propelled me along and the characters somehow managed to rise above those cringeworthy clichés that suffused them.

Salvatore’s creations will never be confused with, say, Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser (two fantasy characters who rose above genre clichés and limitations without ever abandoning a pure love of the genre’s mores). But I loved rediscovering them.

I don’t know if I will risk re-reading the follow-ups, though. For the moment, I am not inclined to put the magic at risk.

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