Back when I was in junior high, I would look at the wall of tie-in books — Dragonlance, Star Trek, Forgotten Realms — in Waldenbooks’ SF section and sneer. Who’d read those trashy things, I always wondered, as I picked up the vastly superior literary output of Terry Brooks and David Eddings.

But then at some point, I had a philosophical epiphany, which was that popular things are popular for a reason, and that instead of just dismissing them as trash, I should try to figure out what that reason is. So I bought a couple of DragonLance books — the Weis and Hickman ones that start things off — and they were pretty decent, as fantasy novels appealing to junior high kids go. So I then proceeded to buy every novel TSR published — all the DragonLance, all the Forgotten Realms. Yeah, I know. It’s how I roll.

But as I read them, I couldn’t help but note that a lot of them were, how shall I put this... horrible. Because of course it turned out that Weis and Hickman were vastly better writers than most of the converted RPG-designers that they had churning out these other books. But there were some exceptions, the most notable of which was R. A. Salvatore, whose Drizzt books were up at that Weis/Hickman level and stood way above the rest of the crowd.

We skip ahead now to my college years, when I had another philosophical epiphany, which was: A lot of popular things are popular because people have bad taste. In the grip of this epiphany, I finally broke my TSR novel habit, and gave away a giant box of terrible books to a surprised and grateful geek. But I did keep the “good” books, those Weis/Hickman ones and all the Salvatore.

Fade to black again, and this time the curtain comes up on the present. Well, okay, last month, due to the part where I’m perpetually behind on this thing. Having just finished a book on classical history, I’m in the mood for something counterbalancingly trashy. Well, it turns out that I have R.A. Salvatore’s Passage to Dawn sitting around, and what’s trashier than the tenth chronicle of Drizzt Do’Urden?

After reading it, I can officially say: Not a whole heck of a lot, because boy howdy, this is some trashy trash. Either my high school judgment of Salvatore was overly optimistic or my tastes have matured quite a lot, because this book was just objectively bad in a whole bunch of ways. The gamey roots of the novel were thrown right up front, with explicit reference to game mechanics. I mean, look:

It was Robillard’s turn, and he focused on a single zombie that had cleared the water and was ambling up the beach. ... A line of fire rushed out from his pointing finger, reaching out to the unfortunate target monster and then shrouding it in flames, an impressive display that fully consumed the creature in but a few moments. Robillard, concentrating deeply then shifted the line of fire, burning away a second zombie.

“The scorcher,” he said when the spell was done. “A remnant from the works of Agannazar.”

The first thing that’ll stand out to any player of Baldur’s Gate is that they just name-checked a third-level wizard spell. And accurately described its mechanics, down to the part where a high-level wizard can target multiple enemies with a single invocation. But beyond that, it’s hard not to wince at the writing. “Target monster,” really?

So, yeah, the writing’s bad. The plotting’s also pretty lousy, the characters are stereotypes, there are awful pretentious “philosophical” interludes between sections of the book, and in general the book has virtually nothing to recommend it.

Unless you grew up reading this stuff, anyway, in which case, it’s a direct injection of nostalgia such as you can’t get many other ways, which is why I secretly enjoyed reading it. Still, it’s impossible to actually recommend this book, so what I’d instead suggest is that you go back in time and read better stuff in junior high. You deserve a better grade of nostalgia than this.


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