Icewind Dale 1: Crystal Shard

I’m sure I will regret my decision to read through the entire back catalogue of the Forgotton Realms.

So, Icewind Dale: Crystal Shard.

The editing is atrocious.  The typos are atrocious.  Drizzt has a completely out of character and out of context compulsion to eat the mutton being cooked by a bunch of frost giants he’s in the process of killing.  (Was this supposed to be a running joke?  I cringed through this section.)  Wulfgar’s character development is entirely offscreen.  The story is a lessons learned regarding how much story momentum, meaning and opportunity are lost when you get too obsessed with telling rather than showing.

The in-joke of everyone else getting credit for Drizzt’s achievements borders on some very telling social commentary, but the clumsy way certain other complex concepts in the story are handled suggests that this was accidental.

I just cannot talk about Cattiebrie (spelled as Cattibrie, Catti-brie, or Cattie-brie) and the treatment of women in this story, or this will become a six page snarkfest about the 1980s and 1990s fantasy genre being the last bastion of those clinging to the false promises of the patriarchy.  The reason why some dude authors don’t write women into their stories?  Because they honestly can’t, and the attempt to do so under editorial duress is worse than the gentle and familiar insult of being fully excluded from the patriarchal storyline.  Just let those authors be, and gently strike through in red the word ‘woman’ from every page of their drafts.

 

The pacing is good.   Once the need to obsessively describe geography was overcome – about 1/3 of the way through – the flow and pacing really improved.  The affectionate love of weaponry and inventories is nostalgic and grounded in gameverse.

The realism is lacking (horses, avalanches, game tactics, poor concept of time/army movements/provisioning).  Characterisation was painfully shallow, with the main distinctions around race and class.  The closest non-fantasy comparison is a Harlequin novel, where White Male Billionaire or Black Lady Lawyer become the equivalent of a race and (job)class shorthand.  It’s interesting how FR fandom seems to have latched on to Drizzt — while this is my first encounter with a FR story with Drizzt, I can kind of see how his backstory tropes have a much more easily accessed (or at least, familiar) ‘depth’ than the other characters.  And Atypical Chaotic Good Drow Elf Ranger is a goodly sight more interesting than Typical Lawful Good Human Barbarian Warrior and Typical Lawful Good Dwarven Warrior and Typical Chaotic Good Halfling Rogue.  (Although the hints of Regis’ atypicality also pique interest – hopefully to be developed in the sequels.)

But it’s only a FR story?  It’s not supposed to be high literature? It’s not supposed to be deep?  Bullshit.  All fantasy, by the way its creator needs to pick and choose what’s going to transfer from real world concepts and experiences into the realm, how that’s going to transfer, and how it’s going to change, tells more about the context it comes from than the story itself.  I would have been less scathing and highlighted more of the moments of amusement and entertainment, but I also started reading the Realms of Magic anthology concurrently, and the stories, characterisation, diversity of characterisation, and interest factor in Realms of Magic is 1000x what Icewind Dales provoked.  There ARE mature stories and complex characterisations in Forgotten Realms, even in pissy little short stories whose sole intent is to beat a singular moral drum, and what’s more, good storytellers who at least make that single drum beat happen on cue. Unfortunately Crystal Shard really suffers by comparison, and I’ve yet to forgive it.  The elements of a good meaty story are there, but the overall execution was so raw it practically mooed.

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