The Orc King, Transitions Book One, R. A. Salvatore (Wizard’s of the Coast, 2008) {Random House Audio, 2009; Narrator: Mark Bramhall}

Grade: Δ — Good book within the genre.  Solid story, good characters, if you like this genre, read this book.

In brief: The Orc King has a very shaky start, but in fairly short order become an enjoyable fantasy page turner.  It continues the story of Drizzt Do’Urden, the drow elf ranger whose saga is told in some twenty preceding stories (which presses the definition of a Book One pretty hard if you ask me).  Still, to fans of the Drizzt saga this is an excellent addition.  Sadly, it suffers from classic High Fantasy novel clichés and begins with a prelude that serves as a spoiler for the rest of the book.  Nevertheless, Salvatore pulls you in to the story quite quickly and it is the character development that pulls you through. 

Setting: The Forgotten Realms, a High Fantasy world of Orcs, Elves, Dwarves and the like based upon the Dungeons and Dragons game.

In Depth: I have to admit that I laughed out-loud at the prelude of this book, and almost put the volume down right then.  The prelude is set a hundred years after the conclusion of the story you are about to read, and serves as a complete spoiler for the main plot of the novel.  I say this because it tells you right from the beginning, that Drizzt is going to live (not really a shocker, but still) and how the principal plot line regarding the would-be Orc King Obould turns out without really adding anything to the tale. Talk about taking away the tension.

Added to this, the bulk of the Prelude is a combat sequence that is so remarkably over-complex in its description that I began to form geometric drawings in my head to diagram it out. In fact, I’m thinking of writing a short story called The Trigonometre! in which I describe arcs, planes foot pounds of pressure and geometric formula’s as the combat progresses, maybe ending with some bits of calculus for the final bit of the combat.

Having said this, there are enough secondary plot lines based around Drizzt’s various friends and companions that the story soon pulled me back in and I found myself enjoying the plot line quite a bit.  Indeed, though the prose did at times have a tint of purple about it (as do many fantasy stories), Salvatore creates believable characters that one can readily sympathize with… even his villains.  In fact, perhaps especially his villains. 

Soon I found myself wrapped up with the characters I had first come to know in the Icewind Dale Trilogy some twenty years ago.  I was delighted to see that I could pretty easily figure out what was going on despite the fact I hadn’t ready any of the other tales about Drizzt and his companions since the early nineties. 

Having said this, this really is not the best book to start with if you want to read Salvatore’s works.  It really is a bit dubious to call any work Book One of a series when you are walking into the middle of a set of stories that have been being written for twenty years.  In fact, it makes me think that we really need some better nomenclature when it comes to discussing stories of this sorts.  Series is used to describe serial stories, stand alone stories about specific characters, whole worlds in which the characters of one tale may have nothing to do with the characters of another and stories that have beginnings middles and ends of their own, but still follow a sequence of events. I may have to write something about this topic… mmmm.

Anyway, if you like High Fantasy (adventures taking place in alternate realities, often and in this case with Elves, Dwarves, Orcs etc.), I think you will enjoy this book.  If you like the Forgotten Realms, then this is a must read, for it seems to be a new start for new set of adventures.

Notes about the Audio Edition: Mark Bramhall did an admirable job narrating this story. He played to the tone of the text without letting the heavy emphasis on description draw him into overacting.  This is a trap that many narrators fall into, and Bramhall neatly avoided it, walking a fine line. 

Unfortunately, where he did fall down was in the accents of the dwarves.  I don’t quite know if they were supposed to be Irish or Scottish or mutant Welsh, but they grated quite heavily on my ear as they were read. 

I’m not sure when Dwarves began to pick up their Celtic influences, though it was around before Peter Jackson turned Gimli, one of the greatest and most complex characters of the Lord of the Rings, into funny little Scottish excuse for comic relief.  Still, the odd mix of P and Q Celtic accent existed in Salvatore’s text, and Bramhill just couldn’t bring it to life. 

Regardless, he gets a A for effort and other than his McDwavish, he gave an excellent read of what was no doubt a complex text to narrate. 

About Thomas Evans

I'm a writer of mysteries, espionage, and speculative fiction. In my previous incarnation I was an archaeologist specializing in gender and identity in Iron and Bronze Age Europe. Mostly, however, I was known for my works with the use of geomatics, multiscalular spatial analysis and landscape theory within archaeology.
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