The Pirate King: Transitions Book Two, 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.

 Categories: Series, World, Chronicle, Trilogy, Saga and Cycle.

 In brief:  An epic, High Fantasy novel, The Pirate King by R.A. Salvatore is the second installment in the Transitions Trilogy.  It continues the story of Drizzt Do’Urden, the drow elf ranger whose saga is told in some twenty preceding stories, as well as tying in characters from other tales – most notably Captain Deudermont and his crew of Pirate Fighters.  It is an excellent addition to the Forgotten Realms Chronicles, and brings a conclusion to many of the previous story elements (though many more are left open).  On the negative side, it suffers from some of the clichés common to this genre and while it was about Pirates, kind of, it had very few elements of naval combat or high seas adventure in it.  On the positive side, it did a remarkable job of mixing complex political intrigue with high action combat.  It also brought to a close some of the key storylines of Salvatore’s earlier works. 

Setting:

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

In Depth:

Volume II of the Transitions Trilogy overcomes and/or avoids many of the complaints I had about Volume I (The Orc King, Transitions Book One). Though I am not sure I would have understood all the varying subplots had I picked this book up alone, it could almost have served as a stand alone novel.  Furthermore, in this novel R.A. Salvatore manages to do something I have seldom seen before: he weaves a long series of internal-history-laden political plot lines into what amounts to a series of extended battle sequences.  Unbelievably well done.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, there is a long set up sequence involving an almost dizzying set of characters at the beginning, but once the battle gets going, it keeps going. Sprinkled throughout the combat are a set of extremely important political interactions between characters that carry the principal plot, but all the while there are large scale battles moving forward, creating scene after scene of high-combat.  After this comes a brief interlude, followed by a second series of combat scenes that again knock your socks off.

Sadly, none of these scenes actually involve what I would describe as Naval Combat.  This is quite disappointing for a book called The Pirate King. Oh, there are scenes with ships fighting, but like most epic fantasy novels set at sea, there is very little that actually relates to sea-born combat contained within them.  There is a lot of magic, and lots of use of medieval siege weapons in a manner that wouldn’t work at sea, but very little in the way of actual ship-to-ship tactics.  Indeed, there is only one scene of ships fighting one another in the book, with the rest of the ship oriented combat being the siege of a port city.  Even in that naval fight (not enough ships to really call it a battle), there was nothing in the way of Captains’ trying to position and maneuver their ships to maximize the wind in their sails, deny the enemy the same, drive each other into irons, cross a T or the like. Oh, how I’d love to read a book in which magic was used to enhance ship-tactics rather than just replace it… but I digress…

For the most part, the combat that occurs is a rolling urban street fight through the city of Luskan.  It is well described and very exciting, though the frequent reminder of the use of magic items does somewhat detract from the author’s writing (I gathered that Drizzt had magical anklets that increase his speed after the first dozen or so times it was mentioned). 

Most importantly, Salvatore does a masterful job of interweaving his combat scenes and political plotline that keeps the book exciting and intriguing.  No doubt this is a combat oriented adventure book, but there are plots, sub-plot and slowly revealed back-stories enough to intrigue any fan of spy thrillers.  No, it is not a spy thriller, but Dan Brown could learn a thing or two from this.

Beyond the adventure and craft oriented elements, this story does bring closure to some storylines of the Orc King, and many more of Salvatore’s Forgotten Realm works as a whole.  While there remain many more avenues to be explored, with new possibilities set up, I felt in this novel some closure. 

To that end, while I can’t imagine anyone who is not a fan of High Fantasy enjoying this book, I would say that this is a MUST READ for any writer who wants to see how to integrate action with a complex plot.  For those who are fans of Drizzt or the Forgotten Realms it is also a MUST READ. I would also recommend it to fans of High Fantasy, though they may need to read a least a few of the preceding novels to understand the politics. In short, I enjoyed it and it was a good enough addition to the Trilogy that I immediately started in on the third book when done.

Notes about the Audio Edition:

Mark Bramhall did an excellent 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. Fortunately, there were few dwarves in this novel, and therefore his unfathomable Scots-Irish-Godknowswhat dwarvish accent wasn’t as detracting from the story. 

Beyond that, Bramhall’s narration was very good, and his telling managed to reduce the mauve hue of some of the purple prose that existed in the text (no, it wasn’t purple, but like most High Fantasy, Salvatore seems to fall into the camp of “Why use one adjective when you can use five?”).

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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.
This entry was posted in Chronicle, Cycle, Fantasy, High Fantasy, Political Drama, Post Modern, Ripping Yarn, Saga, Serial, Series, Strong Characters, Trilogy, World and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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