The Drizzt Novels: Exile by R.A. Salvatore
Spoiler Alert – Stop Reading if you do not want to know what happens in this book.
Figure 1. Original paperback cover Hardcover artwork by Todd Lockwood.
In the beginning of this book we find Drizzt in a battle for his life against a powerful foe, the basilisk. He has survived an unprecedented ten years in the brutal conditions and hostile environs of the Underdark alone, save for his part time companion, the magical panther Guenhwyvar. He has become The hunter, a creature of deadly instinct who survives in a world without mercy or compassion. He is little more than an animal who merely exists than truly living the joy that life has to offer. Meanwhile things are going poorly for his tyrannical mother and family back in Menzoberranzan. Finding themselves out of Lloth’s favor due to Drizzt’s actions they call upon the powers of the Spider Queen to grant them Zincarla. They use this power to resurrect the corpse of Zaknafien and send it out into the Underdark to hunt down and kill Drizzt.
Drizzt begins to struggle with his isolation and seeks the company of the Svirfneblin, a goodly Underdark race of gnomes, and finds himself in the company of Belwar Dissengulp whom he had spared in an encounter in the first book Homeland. Is time in the gnomish city of Blingdenstone is short but he regains control of his alter ego the hunter and leaves Blingdenstone before the wrath of Menzoberranzan is brought down of his new friends. Belwar in a surprise move, accompanies Drizzt back out into the Underdark as he ventures into unknown territories attempting to make a life worth living for himself. They travel together for weeks all the while being pursued by the Zincarla.
They have many adventures together and meet clacker, another friend who has an interesting dilemma of his own. While traveling the three of them are captured by a city of mind flayers and forced into slavery. The Zincarla is instrumental in their escape but the ramifications of that horrible creature are not fully realized by Drizzt until he is forced to confront and do battle with the twisted remnant of his father. Realizing that his wicked kinfolk will never let him live in peace Drizzt makes the difficult decision to leave the Underdark and venture forth onto the surface world to try to make a life free from the burdens of his heritage.
Another character that makes another appearance in this book is the enigmatic leader of the rouge male spy network call Bregan D’aerthe. Jarlaxle is a wise and conniving Drow more interested in his own amusement and profit than the well laid plans of the matron mothers of Menzoberranzan.
This is easily one of my favorite books in the entire collection. It is Drizzt at his Drow best. The Underdark is nothing but one struggle after another, each adventure more thrilling than the last. R A Salvatore is renowned for his battle scene descriptions that make you feel as if you are right there in the middle of it instead of in your favorite reading chair safe at home. They say one of the hallmarks of a successful author is that they can make you see in your mind’s eye what is being described on the page as if you were watching a movie. Salvatore delivers on this concept in spades in Exile. His character development is unparalleled in that you truly begin to care for Drizzt and his friends as they overcome, and sometimes succumb to, one hardship after another. There are a plethora of other interesting characters in this book but I find myself reading through the alternate storylines in anticipation of getting back to Drizzt because I need to know what happens next. I will often lose track of time while reading these books only to look out the window and see that the sun has come up.
As is the case with many trilogies, the second act is usually not as good as the first. This is just not the case with this book. Exile stands apart from other books in both story development and suspenseful nail biting action. Drizzt’s battles with monsters are secondary to his internal struggles of conscience and the meaning of life. Matt Stover puts it best in his introduction to the book,
“It’s about the pain of being alone. It’s about how friendship is the only defense against madness. It’s about how a real friend is the greatest treasure, and how a real friend is someone who helps you be better than you were before.”
Friends come and go in one’s life. They move on and so do you, but there are a few people that we meet in our lives that have a lasting and positive effect on us whether we like it or not. I have had hundreds of friends during my time in this realm, but only a precious few do I stay in touch with no matter the distance between us and when you find yourself together again, it’s as if no time has passed at all (you know who you are). Drizzt is my friend in a realm inaccessible to me other than in print and R A Salvatore facilitates the time I spend with that friend. Drizzt has been like a friend for more than twenty years and I can’t wait to see him again. Thanks Bob, keep them coming.
The next book in the series is Sojourn, click the link below to read the review: