When I was getting ready to interview R.A. Salvatore for the release of Charon’s Claw, I was given a review copy to read on my Kindle, but it was an editor’s version, not formatted, and a little more than difficult to read. I was elated then when I got an actual copy to read in hardcover. Book III of the Neverwinter Saga, Charon’s Claw builds on the foundations that R.A. Salvatore built in Gauntlgrym and Neverwinter, adds in some new problems and then sets the book on a furious pace that keeps you turning pages. I felt this was a far stronger entry into this series than Neverwinter was. Pacing was much better as was the plot and direction. Neverwinter seemed to meander a bit too much while everyone tried to figure out where they wanted to be and really almost felt like two separate novels that couldn’t seem to mesh as well as they should. The focus in Charon’s Claw is much clearer and sends the reader on an emotional roller coaster right along with the Forgotten Realms hero, Drizzt Do’Urden.
To give a bit of back story to this book we need to look at the first two books in the Saga. Expect a few spoilers here. Gauntlgrym‘s story was a bit more sedate, setting the wheels of a cataclysm in motion throughout the book as we’re told the story of Bruenor Battlehammer and his quest to find the lost Dwarven city as well as those who would use it to destroy Neverwinter and harness all that power for dark purpose. It’s a big goodbye letter as both Drizzt and the Dwarf Lord mourn their losses and try to move on, but at the same time bringing in new enemies with the Tiefling Herzgo Alegni, Dahlia Sin’felle who is hunting Herzgo while at the same time working for the Red Wizard of Thay lich Szass Tam who doesn’t quite trust Dahlia and has also sent Sylora Salm. Bruenor is lost in the final moments once the old Dwarven forge is found and Dahlia ends up joining Drizzt as Szass and Sylora turn on her, but not before the fiery ancient unleashes itself on the city of Neverwinter, wiping most of the city out in the process.
Neverwinter picks up where Gauntlgrym left off, and while the enemy seems to know exactly what they’re plotting throughout the book, Drizzt is entirely lost, dragging Dahlia with him across the Forgotten Realms countryside even though Dahlia knows exactly what she wants and it’s not in the direction Drizzt is taking. Even though a lot happens in this book, the townspeople growing to trust in Herzgo though his machinations and the eventual take down and death of Sylora Salm as well as the involvement of a lich wizard, most of what goes on in this book is pieces moving about the board trying to set everything up for a big finale between the heroes and teh enemies introduced in the first book in Book III. The other big reveal is that Artemis Entreri, a long time rival of Drizzt is being forced to work for Herzgo under an alias, a fact that sends Dahlia over the edge on her quest for revenge for what the Tiefling put her through long ago. She didn’t know that the Tiefling was in Neverwinter when she had been working for the lich and that drives her need for revenge even more as she realizes betraying him for Drizzt cost her a shot at Herzgo.
Charon’s Claw starts out with them trying to figure out how to take down the Tiefling while working with Artemis even though he is bound to him through his former sword. Dahlia and Drizzt have sparked off a love affair with the two of them having mostly sorted out how they work together in combat, the relationship end of things could use some work, and Drizzt does try. One very important piece of the puzzle rears its ugly head at the beginning of the book, the Drow from Menzoberranzan are plotting to take Gauntylgyrm and the ancient fire being under their own power and have sent out forces to do just that. Salvatore does a fantastic job weaving the plot threads started in the first two books in with a few new ones in this book. Dahlia’s and Drizzt relationship feels believable and you can really feel for what Artemis is going through trying to resist the commands he’s given because of the sword, Charon’s Claw, the sword he used to call his own now in the possession of the Tiefling Dahlia wants dead.
The trio decide that the best way to rid him of this bond is to destroy the sword itself and hatch a plan to toss it into the forge fires in Gauntylgyrm and run into all kinds of problems there as well. This may be the third part of the Neverwinter Saga originally billed as a trilogy, but there is more to the story as not all the threads are tied up by the end of the book. While quite a few of the threads started in the first book are tied up, and you could probably stop with this one (why would you want to?), there is definitely more here to get you to read the next title when it comes out as well.
Salvatore’s writing is really strong in this book as you can tell he’s getting into the inner conflicts and turmoil that Drizzt and Artemis and even Dahlia are going through. His action scenes, as always, are well-paced, descriptive and inventive and well suited for the setting. As someone who enjoyed the Dark Elf Trilogy and the Icewind Dale Trilogy, the Neverwinter Saga has managed to capture that feel I loved as Drizzt tries to settle into what has become the new normal, dark and even more deadly, in the Forgotten Realms setting and has come to realize his world is not as black and white as he’d like it to be.