Thursday, May 24, 2012

Book Review: Neverwinter

Once more, I've delved into the fantastic world of Dungeons and Dragon's setting of the Forgotten Realms with R.A. Salvatore's new book, Neverwinter.
    Picking up mere ten days after the close of the first book of the trilogy, Gauntylgrym, we follow our hero Drizzt Do'Urden as he is forced to cope with the cataclysmic events that closed the previous book. Treachery and fire having sundered his ties to The Companions of The Hall , Drizzt has been given the freedom to strike out on his own and begin anew.
    Though he knows precious little about the deadly and enigmatic Elf with whom he's become acquainted through the events of Gauntlygrym, Drizzt nonetheless partners with Dhalia Sin'felle, a fierce warrior whose skill in combat may rival that of his own. Her hand in the chaos that has befallen Drizzt is still ambiguous, however, and it's both Drizzt's fascination and suspicion that press  to keep her within his company.  Deciding upon the mutually beneficial goal of investigating the port city of Luskan, the two resolve to work together to uncover a clue to the whereabouts of the Drow mercenary Jarlaxle.
 It doesn't take Drizzt or Dhalia any time to see that Luskan has fallen far from once proud heights. Much has changed since the city fell under control of ruling pirate lords, and any welcome Drizzt may have once received has long run out. Ambushed by a host of vengeful pirates and coming uncomfortably close to an unforeseen demise, the twosome find themselves within instant conflict.  If not for an opposing house of "privateers", the formidable duo may  very well have met their end. Now, believing that Drizzt and Dhalia are indebted, the privateers of the ruling House Kurth have reached out to the Elf companions, imploring them to render their mutually devastating talents to the service of the High Captain of their house. 
    An intriguing offer, to be certain, and most likely profitable. However, will the honorable Drizzt Do'Urden find the pirates life to be one of fulfillment and moral certainty?
    This  question, along with many others, is more than examined during the course of Bob Salvatore's second installation of his new trilogy, Neverwinter. For, unbeknownst to the two elves, Syllora Salm and the evil Tzaz Tam, the Thayan villains of Gauntylgrym, have regrouped within their accursed Dread Ring,  amassing an army of undead horror. Not only will the two elves have these former adversaries to contend with when they inevitably cross paths, but also the Tiefling warlord Herzgo Alegni, who has entrenched himself deep within Neverwinter and has his within his power a deadly servant with whom Drizzt Do'Urden is most intimately familiar.
    I enjoyed reading Neverwinter far more than its predecessor, but it still seemed lacking to me. There's been a certain sense of mediocrity within the last several pages of Drizzt Do'Urden novels, and the moral rhetoric just feels tired and over-bearing these days. The progression of Drizzt's moral code has long been his driving force as a character, but instead of evolving it only seems to drag along rutted circles. The character of Dhalia is interesting, certainly, but as any long-time fan of the series can tell you, she only serves as the moralistic mirror off of which the Drow ranger bounces his conflicted feelings and ethics. While this is not a glaring travesty in the face of good fiction, it just isn't what I'm looking for anymore.
    Nearly twenty books into a franchise, some things never change. There's got to be some reason that we keep coming back, though. Right?
    Sparing every doubt, it is Salvatores's ability to so effectively create a skirmish inside the mind of the reader - from a sword duel in the shadows, to open combat in the streets of a crowded Calimport, all the way across the board to full scale assault between massive armies - that keeps me coming back.  Every blade stroke is masterfully accounted for, every  maneuver dictated with eloquence; the author's dutiful attention to combat, the true essence of Dungeons and Dragons, cannot be ignored. It's no small wonder that the author himself  regularly attends fencing meets and martial arts competitions to better research and portray his blade savvy characters, a dedication which I, for one, am grateful.
    Putting aside the tendency to nit-pick, I'll say that if you're at all a fan of the genre, you will like this book - it's everything we've come to both love and expect from Bob Salavatore, with a couple of extra surprises that you may not see coming. And hey, even if you do, it's entirely worth it to see all of those particular blades spinning and slicing side by side again.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Book Review: A New Earth

Whenever one sets out for something at least resembling truth, I've always found it best to take the bulk-gathering approach;  sifting through reams of alleged facts, and then separating the muddled chaff of opinion from the sweet-tasting wheat of similarity. While similarity itself my not be the truth, placing it under review is  apt to point you in a more favorable direction in service of your pursuit.
    Having just finished my reading of, author, Eckhart Tolle's book  A New Earth, I've got to say that the aforementioned practice of separation has served me well. Borrowing from one of the more prominent biblical verses, the book's title offers a somewhat misleading, yet no less profound glimpse into it's depth of content, and shouldn't be written off at a glance as yet another heap of pseudo-spiritual self-help.
The work deals primarily with our species and it's wonderfully detailed and strikingly imaginative self-concept or ego - imaginative in that it's just that - not at all real.  Exploring ideas and philosophies ranging from Zen Buddhism, Gnostic Christianity, Taoism, as well as Hindu teachings from the Bhagavad Gita, the author seeks to illustrate that we are not the preconceived notions of ourselves, but instead a vast and interpenetrating consciousness that is the formless space wherein the very thoughts of who we are reside.  The author proposes that if we were to focus our awareness onto that space within ourselves - to become present inside of it - then we could all as one people progress and become transcendent.
    It cannot be over-stated that Tolle's A New Earth deserves a crowbar separation from the new-age jargon that seems to have infected the news-stands and bookstore shelves over the past ten years, and should be recognized as the product of an individual who spent ample time studying and reflecting. A graduate of the University of London, Tolle is a speaker of three languages, and has studied both literature and psychology, as well as astronomy. In my opinion, the man who wrote this book  has clearly done his own seeking, his own bulk-gathering of scientific theories and so called 'fundamental truths' from around the globe, then spent an even lengthier time sorting the similarities and constructing a road-map, or what the writer himself refers to as 'Signs That Point To The Truth'. This was something new to me, as I'd never read any other work that appeared so ethical, so unbiased.
    Having myself come from a background of Qabalistic study and practice, it may seem as if my opinion of the book is one of heavy bias;  that it only  reiterates the concepts with which I've become familiar. I tell you now that it's more than a reiteration to me. There are times, in study or practice, that it's all I can do to hang on to one thread of comprehension. A New Earth reflected many ideas that I've examined over the years, but it did so in a way and with such clarity that I had never known before.
    It can be an extraordinarily complex world at times, and there's almost an equally frustrating amount of tomes, texts, and self-made guru's out there just waiting to prove to you the effects of Sturgeon's Law. If you'd like to put Dr. Phil or Madonna on hold for just one minute - just one - you could do no worse than read this book. I was moved, and you can ask anyone - I'm hard to humble.