Timeless: A Drizzt Novel
Dark elves and rogue warriors battle for the fate of a savage world in an action-packed, high fantasy relaunch of R. A. Salvatore’s Dungeons and Dragons-inspired franchise.
After a strikingly disorienting prologue—more on that herein—the story introduces the characters of note. Jarlaxle is a talented dark elf (drow) who is recruiting dispossessed members of his kind for his mercenary band. In the Underdark of Menzoberranzan, house matrons reign supreme, albeit with much bloodthirsty infighting, while their male counterparts serve at their pleasure to sire heiresses and defend their matron’s dynasty. The drow are worshippers of the goddess Lolth, the Spider Queen. Salvatore makes clever use of evocative names and imagery: the scheming Matron Malice, house matriarchs wielding snake-headed scepters, and cities built from spider webbing, among many other examples.
As part of a secret double-cross, Jarlaxle is hired to steal a prize warrior Zaknafein from a rival matron, and it turns into a triple-cross. Jarlaxle has notions of persuading the warrior to join his cause. He could use the warrior’s expert swordsmanship for his enterprises in the Underdark, and it’s gradually revealed he has more ambitious motivations. Jarlaxle wants to reunite Zaknafein with his son Drizzt, a legendary drow wizard who has withstood the tyranny of Menzoberranzan’s house matrons. Jaded and somewhat amnesiac from the trial of being reanimated, Zaknafein comes along ambivalently.
This is a story of many clashes, large and small, and the action sequences are surely some of the finest in fantasy—gripping, wildly imaginative with magical devices and nightmarish opponents, and perfectly paced for rapid consumption. Jarlaxle’s belt of magical tricks includes handkerchiefs that swallow enemies into an interdimensional realm and a feather that transforms into a giant raptor. Zaknafein’s weapon of preference is a whip that rips through the airy fabric of the world, igniting sparks, in addition to its more conventional uses. It’s fun stuff.
The reader is in expert hands with Salvatore’s rendering of a world populated by elves, halflings, dwarves, and demons. It’s something of a love letter to Dungeon and Dragons fans, bringing that sensibility to life in vivid, cinematic detail. Magic is a commodity. It can be used for violence or protection though there’s always someone coming along who has more of it than you do. Jarlaxle and Zaknafein’s adventures are filled with tension and high stakes to masterful effect.
While the novel is branded as the first book in a “new trilogy,” it is not recommended as a starting point in the Drizzt canon. The problems come from the novel’s structure and its frequently shifting point-of-view scenes. The story begins with a prologue that seems to require recent memory of the earlier books. Its characters are thereafter absent from the action, and their story is drowned out by so many other character threads.
Things get easier to follow for a while as Jarlaxle and Zaknafein come to terms with one another, but then chapters jump ahead months and introduce new characters who are perhaps well-known to Drizzt fans. For the lay reader however, as engaging as they are, those scenes don’t do very effective work to build a coherent narrative nor to develop the two principal heroes whose histories and motivations one would have liked to better understand.
More broadly, the adventure throughline is something of a scattered trail of crumbs. There’s the reuniting of father and son, and there’s the uncovering of the sale of a castle to a group of dwarves, yet the former never finds resolution and the implications of the latter come out in dribs and drabs, often via scenes of dialogue between an ever-widening cast of characters. It’s such a wide-ranging, knotted conspiracy, I wouldn’t be able to summarize who’s who and what’s at stake. The story is undeniably a set up for a greater contest between Jarlaxle’s camp and the drow hierarchy, but for me, I needed answers before surrendering to the enchantment of seeing where the story will lead.
Timeless is a fantasy story with many merits and surely will be well-received by fans who have been waiting on pins and needles for Salvatore to return to his elfin saga. For readers who are new to Salvatore’s work, the book is time well-spent, like peeking into a finely-crafted snow globe that encompasses a miniature world. It was however lacking in that satisfying element of having fully participated in the characters’ journey.