Bear in mind when reading this one, that I got an advance copy of this to read on my tablet, in an editor’s edition with basically no formatting done to it, so this ends up being a little harder to read, and yet this is one of those books that I blew through anyway because it was a lot of fun to read and to get back into not only Drizzt and his friends heads again, but revisiting Drow society when they’re looking to turn things around and get back in Lolth’s good graces. Whatever misgivings I had about the ending of the Neverwinter series is pretty much cleared up between the Companions book that Alex reviewed and I finally got around to reading before I launched into this one, and then this book here. While I feel Neverwinter as a series kind of stumbled around a bit as far as what Drizzt and his group there were doing, the Drow have been moving right along setting things up from the very end of Gauntlgrym and those machinations kick into high gear with this book. Drizzt may have been stumbling around in the dark with Artemis and Dahlia, he seems far more sure of himself now with the reincarnated Cattie-Brie, Bruenor, Wulfgar and Regis. This feels definitely like a return to form and while I liked where Neverwinter started as a series, I absolutely love where the Companion Codex starts off.
It might help a bit to have at least read from Gauntlgrym and on through the Neverwinter series and The Companions before jumping into this one, however Salvatore does a great job of more or less bringing in facts you’ll need to know as you’re reading. If you’re just coming into this series some of the events are going to lack the emotional punch that the others had. While you’re given enough to understand what’s going on, where and how Dahlia and Artemis and their group got to where they’re at is fairly important in understanding most of their motivations, while we deal pretty early on in the book with Drizzt returned companions and their new inspirations fairly soundly. Anyway if you haven’t read those, there be a few spoilers ahead. Basically what you’ll really need to know is that Dahlia screwed Drizzt over at the end of the Neverwinter series and left him for dead while catching up with Artemis and the others and basically forcing them onward after a twenty year sleep. Drizzt spends much of the Companions kind of comatose as we flash back through the years and see Cattie-Brie, Wulgar, Regis, and Bruenor reincarnated with all their old memories and grow up anew with the ultimate goal of being reunited with Drizzt again and saving him and helping him anew with a whole new fight. This was all orchestrated by Drizzt goddess Mielikki.
They all manage to converge on the same point years later when Drizzt was left for dead and save his life. Meanwhile, for the last hundred years or so, the Drow have been setting up the former Dawrven stronghold, Gauntlgrym, as a new city with close ties to Menzobarranzan, which would open up a house vacancy within the city. Several Drow houses including the ruling Baenre family have a lot riding on this being successful. And that’s where this all really starts to get interesting with Night of the Hunter.
While we’ve seen House Xorlarrin start to really gain ground with moving troops into Gauntlgrym and start to convert it over into a proper Drow City, but have met with some resistance since we last left them and haven’t quite made the advancements they want, but they have reclaimed the Dwarven forge there and have started making weapons. Things aren’t going so swimmingly in Menzoberranzan however, as rival houses are getting ready for Xorlarrin to leave properly and have a gap open for another house to step up. Lolth however isn’t entirely pleased and lets the Drow priestesses know this, forcing Quenthal Baenre to take action. Quenthal begins scheming with her brother, Gromph who’s the head mage in the city. He’s been scheming for a long time, and while Quenthal is mostly competent at her job as Matron Mother and head of the city, she hasn’t been competent enough. Gromph arranges a little surprise for Quenthal who is changed very much after the encounter and begins kicking in plans within plans that really amp up the Drow intrigue.
Quenthal makes several deals with other houses and brings in another priestes from a rival house into the fold as Gromph’s wife and then sets about clearing out the former Do’Urden house in the city. The house was supposed to have been empty by order of the council and it seems that several lesser houses had been using it for training. Quenthal recalls Jarlaxle and Bregan D’aerthe to assist in the clearing of the former house which puts the houses that were using it at a loss as they lose access to several Driders as well as their armed forces that were training there. It seems that Lolth is still keen on getting the most out of House Do’Urden despite Drizzt being a blight on the entire city and Quenthal, with Gromph’s assistance, suddenly has the planning capabilities to set off what looks to be a brilliant play. This is a great return to what really make the Drow work. The constant evil scheming without making it look like you’re doing so, bigger plans feeding the littler ones and everyone watching their back for the incoming dagger. Salvatore does a fantastic job kicking this into high gear here after setting this all up over the course of a few books and it’s oh so worth it. It does seem that the Drow are once again pointing their sights on Drizzt for Lolth, but for what true purpose isn’t readily revealed.
On the surface we’re dealing with Drizzt and the group all finally getting to know one another again, because while these are the companions from Mithril Hall, they’re new life experiences have left them very different. While Bruenor was gruff before, he was never this cross or this determined and he has a big bone to pick with the way he left things. Bruenor’s decided that his treaty with the Orcs was his biggest failing when he was Dwarf King and aims to make it right, even if it means a war. Wulfgar has taken this new chance at life with a very different purpose. He’s lived his life before and all his responsibilities are gone and he is very care free and looking to try every new thing he can. Regis is far more sure of himself and has a deadly new set of skills to use to go with that confidence, but he also now has responsibilities elsewhere and a love of his life that helping Drizzt is keeping him away from. Possibly the least changed, other than her skillset which has grown considerably, is Cattie-Brie who’s become an extremely potent spell caster as well as cleric of Mielikki. So while these are Drizzt friends, they’re not quite the same band they once were and are far more prone to setting on each other for verbal sparring than they used to be. They’re unsure of where they future will take them and what, other than rescuing Drizzt at a key moment, they were brought back to do. This ends up leading in a trek back through some known territory and on a quest to help a Dwarf that’s been lost to some evil for a long while, which of course puts them on a collision course with the Drow machinations in Gauntlgrym.
So what about Drizzt former group from the Neverwinter Saga? Well they’re not doing quite as well as Drizzt and the Mithril Hall group. No one really trusts Dahlia or Artemis all that much. Artemis and Dahlia haven’t worked out their relationship all that well. Effron, Dahlia’s son through some rather traumatic means still travels with them along with Afafrenfrere, the Dwarven Monk who’s somewhat still endebted to Ambergris, a Dwarven Cleric of Dumathoin. And of course they’re all trying to avoid any kind of contact with people who might know them as they’ve been basically given a twenty year reprieve to start over with, and then promptly muck it up by going to the one place with a long memory thanks to the Bregan D’aerthe branch that’s stationed there, Luskan. Despite giving the city a wide berth after their mistake, attention is once again called on them and they too end up getting embroiled in the goings on in the area.
Gauntlgrym once again takes the center stage as all the groups fighting for control of the former Dwarven stronghold look to gain more ground holding it and the Drow are plotting something even more sinister for the entire region as well as for Drizzt. As I said earlier, this felt like a return to form and was a good solid and most definitely fun read. Salvatore manages to find some great footing with this one and this the ground running. While I initially thought parts were going to be a bit aimless, it all falls together quite nicely by the time the finale rolls around to tie up some loose ends and get us ready for another ride with the next book. While you can take this one as a stand-alone, this is definitely going to be part of a larger series and is setting itself up for that at the same time it’s tying up some very loose ends from the Neverwinter series as well as the Companions. I really like this new direction for Drizzt and company as it doesn’t feel quite as grim and yet at the same time the situations are just as dire and action packed. Drizzt period of morning and self-discovery are a bit behind him now but things he meddled with are definitely coming back to bite him this go around. This is definitely one to pick up.