Chapter 1: Introduction
Publisher: Harper Collins (September 10, 2019)
My Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Additional Information: Artwork for the cover of Boundless and used above is originally done by Aleks Melnik.
I.1 Pure Positives
I.2 Muddled Positives
II. Mediocre Writing Style
II.1 Bad Descriptions
II.3 Laborious “Action”
III. Poor Characterization
IV. World Breaks
IV.1 Blinders Against the Greater World
IV.2 Befuddlement of Earth and Toril
IV.4 Dungeon Amateur
IV.5 Utter Nonsense
V. Ego Stroking
V.1 The Ineffable Companions of the Hall
V.2 Me, Myself, and I
VI. World Breaks
VI.1 No Homo
VI.2 Disrespect of Women
VII. What’s Next
VII.1 Drizzt Ascends to Godhood
VII.2 Profane Redemption
VII.3 Passing the Torch
VII.4 Don’t Notice Me Senpai
What Has Gone
Boundless is the second book in a series that is a turning point for both the Drizzt saga and for the Forgotten Realms novels. Salvatore’s dark elf series is the only series to have escaped Wizards of the Coast’s termination of the entire franchise’s novel line, as it was the only one that interested an external publisher enough for them to adopt it. With the novels in the series now totaling close to forty, Salvatore was keen on Timeless acting as a point of entry for new readers and as something to still entice his loyal followers. However, as it was written, Timeless was a direct sequel to Hero, and as such, many readers, the returning ones specifically, found it hard to follow. Much had transpired, events that they hadn’t read, many of which were significant. Timeless might’ve been less confusing for new readers, but at least of those with whom I spoke, they felt that they’d picked up a book in the middle of a long-running series. Salvatore’s goal of defying reality appeared to have fallen flat.
In my review of Timeless, I non-ironically described the book as “Salvatore’s best work to date”. I’d say that I’m a hard person to impress, especially when it comes to Salvatore’s writing, as it has led me to become pretty jaded. In Timeless, I saw improvements in writing style, storytelling, characterization, and consideration of the Realms as a whole. Timeless made me feel bad for having stood by my belief that the Drizzt books are responsible for the Forgotten Realms novel franchise being labeled as third-rate fantasy, because Timeless possessed a potential that never before existed in a Salvatore book. Timeless reignited my guttering hope and made me think that holding out for so long wasn’t a foolish exercise in futility. As such, I was very optimistic about the then not-yet-named trilogy that Timeless was kicking off, I sincerely felt that it set a strong precedent for what was to follow. I even dared to believe that the future of the Forgotten Realms novel line wouldn’t suffer with Salvatore as its sole author, if the example set by Timeless was followed.
Unfortunately, Boundless doesn’t follow Timeless’ example. It is a tragically big step backwards. The tug of potential that I’d felt from Timeless slackened like a severed fishing line. I’d commented that during my reading of Timeless I felt like I was reading the work of a different author. I could say the same regarding how I felt while I read Boundless, but for a very different reason. While Timeless offers noticeably better fare than what is typically served up by Salvatore, Boundless’s few good turns of phrases here and there are offset by brain hemorrhage-inducing phrases that feel like they belong in the likes of Fifty Shades of Grey. I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised that my hopes and dreams for the Drizzt books didn’t pan out, but honestly, I didn’t expect them to be dashed so thoroughly, so quickly. However, as grim as things are looking, I’m nonetheless sheltering a small flame of faith that things could recover. It’s definitely doable, since the final book in the now named Generations trilogy just needs to be up to par with Timeless, and Salvatore did pull off Timeless, though probably with the help of the Harper Collins editors. He still has those editors, though why they don’t seem to have been as present during the creation of Boundless as they were during Timeless is a mystery. The inconsistency in quality is as though they checked over a few passages here and there and left the rest as-is, figuring that Timeless was successful enough that they could expend minimal effort on Boundless. This would certainly be consistent with how Salvatore didn’t attend ComicCon this year to hand out physical ARCs of Boundless like he did for Timeless last year. Or, perhaps, the text was tedious enough that the editors’ eyes glazed over throughout much of it.
All joking aside, At the very least, Boundless’ quality hasn’t plummeted to the depths of Hero, which isn’t insignificant, given that my earlier analysis said, “The best case scenario that I could hope for in reality was that Salvatore couldn’t get any worse, but oh boy did he get worse in the Homecoming Trilogy”. As the middle book in a series, there’s the potential for things to turn up for the better. Of course, they could also go much, much worse, following the trend in the preceding Homecoming Trilogy. Nonetheless, as usual, I’ll discuss all the things that I felt went poorly, the things I found positive, and my own take on how things could be improved.
In an effort to make these long articles less clunky, I’m adopting a new format in which I’ll separate my analysis into sections. I’ll begin with the positive aspects of the novel before delving into the aspects of Salvatore works that I typically address, which in this case encompass his writing style, his writing practices, his characterizations, his regard for the Realms as a whole, the increasing levels of self-flattery in his books, and the problematic themes he tends to employ. I’ll end with consolidating my speculations and forecasts about what’s coming next based on the contents of Boundless, my knowledge of the Realms, and my experience with Salvatore’s work. In the final section there is a sub-section dedicated to the discussion of Artemis Entreri, who my blog is dedicated to, and who hooked me into the world that I’ve grown to love so much.
Chapter 2: Positives
All the positive aspects of the novel.
I’ve found that the untrammeled positive elements of Boundless exclusively have to do with solid turns of phrase peppered throughout the book. There are also semi-positives in terms of characterizations and literary devices that Salvatore uses, but these are at best mixed.
Salvatore pulls off some surprisingly good descriptions in Boundless through the usage of a more varied vocabulary than his standard repertoire, evocative imagery, compelling metaphors, and other effective strategies. An example of a good passage is, “The demon responded with a word of its own, a croaking, grating combination of hard syllables that sounded to Regis like a porcupine being rubbed across the flesh of a giant frog.” in normal Salvatore tradition, the description would’ve been left without the metaphor. Heck, I’m not even sure that “croaking” and “grating” would’ve been employed in regular Salvatore fashion. In addition to speaking to the imagination, the metaphor evokes the fantastical nature of the world, a world where giant frogs exist, ones that wouldn’t simply rupture when a porcupine is rubbed against them. Furthermore, the metaphor harmonizes with the adjective earlier in the sentence, for even though the frog is not the thing doing the croaking, “croaking” matches frog, just as grating matches porcupine quills.
Another example of solid writing in Boundless can be found here, “Every syllable hit Rethnorel the way the flowing breath of a speaker might make the flame of a candle blow back.” Like the previous example, this one combines the usage of a noun associated with an uncommon adjective and demonstrative imagery to good effect. The metaphor shows us that the character is buffeted in an almost soft manner, for such is the flicker of a candle, but it is a continuous assault.
A line that is almost too good to imagine coming from Salvatore is, “…scurrying along like a pair of giant rats fleeing the purring pursuit of a hungry displacer beast.” This description is short, concise, and yet contains so many effective elements: “scurrying” instead of “running”, the alliteration in “purring pursuit”, and of course, alluding to a unique creature specific to the world. Putting all of these elements together paints an expressive image of an earnest and high-speed chase, the predator full of pleased anticipation but the necessity of its hunt not allowing its contentment to tamper its progress.
A passage that I wish every Salvatore paragraph could emulate is this one, “Even the way she talked grated on him, every bitten-off word making him feel like someone was running the bark of an old and gnarly oak tree down the back of his neck. It seemed like this drow woman could barely get the words out of her mouth, so tight was her jaw, and when they did come out, they carried the hissing timbre of an open fire in a downpour.” The standard Salvatore version of this would be something along the lines of, “Even the way she talked grated on him. Every word was bitten off tightly”, which, granted is more concise than what was published, but falls far from embodying the soul of wit in its brevity. The imagery in the published metaphor more than lets us hear the way the female character talks, it lets us feel it. So, too, can we feel what it’d be like to try to talk while our jaws are locked. “Hissing timbre” is a beautiful description on its own, but combined with inciting a sound that everyone can at least imagine, even if they may not have heard firsthand, results in a punchy and effective description.
An example of another effective description, and one that doesn’t make use of a metaphor is, “Some time later, they lay beside each other, the soft glow of candlelight catching pinpricks of sparkle in the beads of sweat they both wore.” Sweat is not normally an attractive feature, even when it’s associated with a sexy scene. The way that this imagery is presented however invokes a sense of soft decadence, as though the characters were covered with a delicate and exotic garment strewn with countless pearls. The many sparkles from this “garment” help to further set the romantic mood far more than the soft candlelight would have done by itself.
Although the description, “bag of demonic despair”, doesn’t look like much when presented by itself, and isn’t as strong as the preceding examples, it’s worth a mention because of how it adequately serves as a concise summary. The object that it refers to is Entreri enveloped in an unbreakable cocoon that an unknown demon trapped him in. The word “cocoon” shows up many times in relation to this object, and admittedly, is an concise, if a bit bland, way to describe the object from both within and without. Inside the encasement, Entreri is held in a state of perpetual torment, whilst outside Dahlia, and to a much lesser extent, Regis, are worrying about his condition. Perhaps “demonic” could be replaced with another adjective but overall I’m fine with the way it is, for anything referring more to Entreri’s suffering might run the risk of sounding melodramatic.
“Running stride” is also worth noting because in a world that doesn’t use the same units of measurements that we do, it’s always jarring when inches, feet, and miles are cited, especially when readers of the text hail from countries that aren’t the US. Without the known common terms, it is understandably difficult to effectively convey distances in a concise and comprehensible way, so units of measurements like this example are wonderful because they use something that we all understand, and do so without breaking immersion.
Tasteful omission is as important as smart inclusion. I’d criticized Salvatore for trying too hard in Timeless by using “fashioned” in in awkward way, and he’s dropped this altogether in Boundless. By the same token, “six hundred pounds of panther” doesn’t appear at all. Salvatore’s favorite adjectives, “magnificent” and “fine”, are both used better in Boundless. The former appears thirteen times in Boundless but unlike in Timeless, the usage of most of them aren’t vague and lazy ways of characterizing splendid objects, characters, or actions. Six of those thirteen usages can maybe be improved still, but that is already a huge positive change from the fourteen out of seventeen occurrences in Timeless. Meanwhile, “fine” appears fifty times, but many of that is part of modifiers like finer, finest, etc, and through a cursory scan, by itself, relatively few are used in inane ways.
Aside from the examples in diction above, Boundless does contain praiseable elements, specifically even in areas where I usually criticize Salvatore. There are moments of decent, even good, characterization, and some of the negative potential I’d feared Timeless was leading towards are not realized in Boundless. Furthermore, there are improvements to be found in the themes that Salvatore employs, and some descriptors stand up to fact-checking.
One of my biggest criticisms of Salvatore is that he routinely disrespects what I describe as the beautiful tapestry of the Realms, which was woven together by the hands of many creatives who worked in harmony. In Boundless, the amount that Salvatore insensitively scribbles his name in Sharpie over the tapestry is reduced. Ironically, sometimes Salvatore scribbles over the portions of the tapestry that he’d worked with others to create, but in Boundless, he doesn’t perpetuate this disservice to both himself and others as much as he has in the past. For better or worse, Salvatore did create a lot of information about drow, though his work is mostly limited to the city of Menzoberranzan. While the Drizzt books contain the most drow content than any other FR novel series, they’ve done so through their sheer volume, and they mainly portrayed the drow in a one-dimensional fashion. Just as there are many more drow settlements than the fanatic Menzoberranzan, so too, are even Menzoberranzanyr drow capable of qualities other than scheming self-service in the name of dedication to Lolth. In Boundless, we see more dimensions to the drow characters presented. Zaknafein is not the only drow in Menzoberranzan who possesses a moral compass. Loyalties born of motivations other than pride exist beyond the Do'Urden bloodline, with familial concern and the kind of love that’d been described as being unknown to drow inspiring or dissuading murderous deeds. In previous books, the closest that we got to “non-evil” drow were drow who had the potential to be good, perhaps even living for awhile in a goodly way, but eventually and inevitably squandering that potential. For example, Drizzt’s sister Vierna was not as cruel as the other Do'Urden females, but ultimately, through trying to seduce her own brother and then turning a different brother into a drider, turned out to be just as bad as the rest of the Lolthites. Another similar example could be found with Tos'un Armgo, whom although having created a family with a surface elf, ultimately participated in the murder of his own family and returning himself and his daughter to the depraved society of Menzoberranzan.
In Boundless, although the priestess Dab'nay Tr'arach follows a course similar to Tos'un, her path is much more nuanced, and although she squanders her morality for station, she does so with great ambivalence and regret. Dab'nay’s house is long destroyed, with she and her siblings’ surnames changed to reflect this. She stands to gain nothing by preserving members of her bloodline, but nonetheless, she endangers her own life to see that her brother isn’t killed, a selfish thought of rebuilding her long-lost house not at all factoring in to her concern for her kin. It is also clear from actions such as Dab'nay running her finger playfully along the top of Zaknafein’s nose while telling him that he, not his services, were worth waiting for, that the feelings that she develops for him are more than those a female in a matriarchal society entertains towards a favored pet or sex object. Dab'nay allows her vulnerability to show in Zaknafein’s presence and does not conceal the tears she sheds for the way that they must live their lives. She also fears for Zaknafein’s safety even though she’d arguably stand to gain from his demise, and feels guilt for implicating him negatively for the sake of her own survival. Before the Generations trilogy, these qualities were not possible in any genuine or long-lasting way in any priestesses of Lolth, not even a disgraced one. Prior, a disgraced priestess who isn’t killed or turned into a drider would become even more dangerous, with having nothing to lose by concentrating the proverbial venom in her veins.
Dab'nay isn’t the only Menzoberranzanyr drow who demonstrates the capacity for multiple dimensions in Boundless. So, too, does Harbondair Tr'arch and Arathis Hune. Harbondair possesses the same familial loyalty as Dab'nay, and, like his sister, possesses the ability to genuinely overcome past prejudices. Despite Zaknafein having destroyed his house and despite Zaknafein issuing him a death threat should he attempt to harm him again, Harbondair grows to develop a real friendship with Zaknafein. Arathis, while definitively more “evil” than the Tr'arch siblings, is motivated by more than his rank in Bregan D'aerthe to eventually go to a head against Zaknafein. It’s never stated that Arathis’ rivalry with Zaknafein isn’t based solely in Arathis feeling threatened in his second-in-command position. However, from the way that Arathis is described to behave while Zaknafein is absent, Arathis appears to be motivated by jealousy that he’s no longer Jarlaxle’s favorite and most trusted follower. Jarlaxle makes it abundantly clear on numerous occasions that he considers Zaknafein and Arathis equally valuable, hence why he prohibited either from trying to kill the other, so were Arathis worried about his position in the mercenary band, he needn’t have gone so far because he and Zaknafein were equals in that regard but Zaknafein was definitely his better in combat. However, there can only be one favorite, a fact that Arathis couldn’t engineer, but because he could ignore it when Zaknafein was away, his mood was noticeably better when he was the only lieutenant by Jarlaxle’s side. It’s actually quite pleasant that Salvatore didn’t spell out the nature of Arathis’ motivations, the way that Arathis is successful in that it is shown and not told to us. Unfortunately, Arathis’ fate is soon met, which is probably for the best, as this lets him safely fall into the “gets killed off before too many books ruin him” category that I’d previously (and prematurely) populated with Zaknafein.
Although the Boundless version of Jarlaxle continues to be consistent with the Timeless version of Jarlaxle, ergo de-fanged to his current timeline self rather to the much more morally ambiguous character he was in the earlier Drizzt books, there is a comical and memorable scene in Boundless that is true to Jarlaxle’s irrepressible humor even whilst in the middle of delivering a solemn ultimatum. While forbidding Zaknafein from going after Arathis Hune, Jarlaxle manages to bring a smile to the very angry weapons master by assuring him that in any other circumstance, “I promise you, if we two were trapped in a cave alone and starving, I would not kill you. But if you died first, I cannot promise that I wouldn’t eat you.”
There are improvements in Boundless even when it comes to the less morally gray drow of Menzoberranzan. One such individual that gets a more profound treatment is Mez'Barris Del'Armgo, the future Matron Mother of the second house of Menzoberranzan. During Boundless, her mother holds that title, and House Barrison Del'Armgo is far from its destined ranking. High Priestess Mez'Barris, the most promising member of her house, has her position recognized by being the only one allowed to copulate with the strange and giant Uthegentel, a dubious honor that the other priestesses aren’t interested in anyway. Other priestesses tease Mez'Barris’ preference of Uthegentel because “it was unusual, almost unheard of, for a drow woman to be attracted to a man so physically superior to her”. However, “Mez'Barris couldn’t deny the thrill she felt when Uthgentel so easily tossed her up upon his hips, holding her aloft while he took her, never tiring. He threw her about as if she were a child, but he knew how to throw her indeed!” Other than the more than slightly disturbing analogy to a child in the context of a sexual setting, which really could’ve been better done comparing Mez'Barris to anything else, a rag doll maybe, or heck, even an animal, there are a lot of things going on in the description of Mez'Barris and Uthegentel’s relationship dynamic that are pretty outstanding for Salvatore. First, it is made clear in no uncertain terms that Uthegentel’s size is unusual, which directly addresses the misconception that elves in the Forgotten Realms are larger than humans. Elves are larger than humans in worlds such as Middle-Earth and Azeroth, but this is not generally the case on Toril. Second, Boundless specifically states with regards to Uthegentel, “He was stronger than the women, too – another anomaly among the drow – and was easily the strongest dark elf in the city. Even with magical assistance, other men could not match him, and even with Lolth-blessed spells of physical enhancement, other women couldn’t, either.” An extremely too-oft practice among the many people who love the very popular drow race is to ascribe Earth human characteristics to them: that the males are usually bigger than the females. Drow of the Forgotten Realms, like many animals of our world, are a species in which the females are larger and stronger than the males. The aspect that stands out the most about Mez'Barris and Uthegentel is a message about reversed gender roles and how, by conforming to the norm, one might miss out on some very exciting experiences. I don’t really dare hope that this is a message that Salvatore was consciously conveying, but it would be pretty awesome if it was intentional on his part. Taking that message and reversing the genders for our patriarchal world, if Salvatore could encourage the idea that men do not become any less masculine when they break conventional ideologies of what a man should be, I would be willing to consider putting serious effort into building him a pedestal, and even gazing upon it favorably from time to time.
There’s one other thing going on with Mez'Barris with relation to Uthegentel, specifically, “as it pertains to the other priestesses’ teasing, ”‘How can you be with a man who is stronger than you?’ most women asked, seeming sincerely aghast at the thought. 'It isn’t natural! Are you sure that you don’t simply prefer the bed company of women?“ Mez'Barris was sure.” I’d actually completely overlooked this three times: as I was doing my read-through, as I was organizing my notes, and as I was reviewing my notes. It occurred to me, while I was writing the previous paragraph, that Mez'Barris’ certainty about her preference of Uthegentel isn’t based in anything sapphic, which, added to the fact that Boundless doesn’t contain any gratuitous lesbian sex scenes means that Boundless is the first Drizzt book in quite possibly forever in which Salvatore doesn’t fetishize female/female non-heterosexuality. This is, if it is what it is, HUGE. One of the things for which I regularly criticize Salvatore is how frustratingly often he drops in a female/female sex scene or has implied female/female sexytimes going on. Specifically its that this happens in a totally non-representative manner because, of course, the same treatment isn’t even considered in terms of male/male representation. I’ve gone into this enough in the past and I’ll go into it again later so there’s no need to do that here, but seriously, just the fact that not once do we have anything even close to some random priestess whose name we won’t remember banging this other random priestess whose name we similarly won’t remember is such a large improvement. And with Mez'Barris conveying the reverse gender role ideology with Uthegentel, if Salvatore intentionally did all of this, I would totally consider, yet again, and pardon my french, building that fucking pedestal and putting him on it.
Dab'nay and Mez'Barris are two very different priestesses, but their respective scenes of intimacy are better done than such scenes in previous Drizzt books. The passion in Dab'nay and Zaknafein scenes are marked by affection, whereas in Mez'Barris and Uthegentel they’re solely lustful. There is tenderness, even hints of trust, between Dab'nay and Zaknafein, whereas what’s between Mez'Barris and Uthegentel is detached and mercenary. One is a silken handkerchief while the other is a stinging riding crop, and though each priestess doesn’t feel jealousy that her lover is ridden by others, one willingly rents him out, while the other has thoroughly accepted that she is not entitled to possessive emotions.
The drow aren’t the only characters who enjoy improved literary treatment in Boundless. The dramatis personae of the World Above receive some refreshing new dimensions. Wulfgar specifically, who has been hammered flat even prior to his resurrection, becomes more than a plot device that fights as much as he beds. Since his resurrection, the carefree barbarian has been primarily embodying getting the most out of his second life by sleeping with anyone and everyone willing to do so. In Boundless, we’re told that Wulfgar has been with Penelope Harpell exclusively, even though she is a much older woman and, as Penelope herself realizes, Wulfgar can get practically any younger woman that he wants so he chooses. However, Wulfgar chooses Penelope and exclusively Penelope, because he’s enamored with her confidence and authenticity. One of the things that I criticize Salvatore for is his poor handling of female characters, especially with regards to how the most redeeming features for his female characters are youth and beauty. For instance, Drizzt and Catti-brie’s supposed great love has never been tested “on screen”, for Catti died in her forties and was returned to Drizzt’s side as a hot young thing. We never got to see how the glorious hero would’ve behaved as his mortal wife grew old and frail while he remained young and hale. Drizzt might’ve told himself that he’d never think Catti ugly, but he was never tested. Admittedly, Penelope isn’t super old, but having the hunk that is young Wulfgar faithfully and exclusively stay by her side goes some distance in making up for the previous treatment and portrayal of women in the Drizzt books. The only downside to Wulfgar and Penelope is that their scenes of intimacy are awkward to the point of cringe-worthy, which suggests to me that Salvatore is writing outside of his comfort zone. Nonetheless, he’s giving it an honest effort, and even though it doesn’t work out, it looks to be a genuine attempt, for there aren’t any contradictory messages in Wulfgar and Penelope’s relationship.
Boundless is the first time that we see Dahlia up and about since Night of the Hunter. I’d feared that Salvatore was going to have Kimmuriel fix more than the damage wrought unto her by Methil El-Viddenvelp. It would’ve been an easy and lazy plot device, along the same lines of Idalia’s Flute and the aboleth’s influence in “developing” Entreri. Thankfully, Kimmuriel has not undone Dahlia’s past traumas, nor even eliminated the more recent ones and the personality flaws that she has as a result of those traumas. What we see in Boundless is that Dahlia is still who she was during the Neverwinter Saga, modified by the experiences of her relationship with Entreri. As we follow Dahlia through a Waterdhavian nobles’ ball, in addition to learning more about her through her thoughts, we’re able to glean additional information through her physical appearance. Most of those details that are mentioned in the past, but certainly don’t hurt to see repeated. For instance, “She was tall for an elf, nearly six feet, with black hair that she dyed with streaks of cardinal red.” Specifics like height tend to be vague in Salvatore’s writing, for after so many books it’s clear that he can’t keep track of his own details, so it’s good to see Dahlia’s, and even better that, once again, Salvatore reminds the readers that elves in Toril tend to be short. It’s good to see that Dahlia still wears the diamonds she’d accrued from her years of being a black widow, for even though she’s abandoned those practices, she hasn’t abandoned her past and who she was. Furthermore, she now wears her hair in the manner that she’d use for her softer guise when she was with Drizzt, except this is presumably neither an illusion nor as a result of trying to manipulate Entreri as she did with it and Drizzt. It’s a subtle reminder of how things have changed for her in a lasting way.
In the previous books, we’d only seen Dahlia be angry, vindictive, selfish and petty. Although I’d always liked her more than any of Salvatore’s other female characters, my opinion regarding Dahlia is an unpopular one. Dahlia felt very much like a character that Salvatore wrote for readers to hate. In Boundless, he appears to be trying to make her more than that. During the ball, Dahlia is comical, even silly, both of which can begin to endear a reader to a character. Throughout the rest of the book, Dahlia exhibits courage and loyalty so steadfast that it’s easy to forget that she was once a villainous character, but she doesn’t do so in such a way as to come across as goody two-shoes either. Dahlia is still very much not a goodly character, nor should she be at this point. Unfortunately, there exists a rather large problem with Dahlia, and that is her relationship with Entreri. In just as artificial as a way that it started, so, too, are we told more than that we’re shown, namely, that Entreri had overcome his childhood demons and is now helping her overcome hers. The thing is, that whole plot with how Entreri overcame his demons by doing Drizzt-like good deeds doesn’t ring true at all, and we’re not shown how Entreri has been helping Dahlia overcome her own demons. I doubt we ever will, but I’ll discuss the poor handling of Entreri in this book later. For now, I will add that I thought it was a good touch by Salvatore to have the apartment shared by the couple to be located in the Southern Ward of Waterdeep. The Southern Ward is, as of fifth edition D&D and the current timeline (~1490s DR), is no longer the poor ward that it used to be, which is very fitting for Entreri because he wouldn’t want to live in the grimy Dock Ward or the destitute Field Ward any more than he’d want to live in the aristocratic Sea Ward, the Watch-infested Castle Ward, or the noble-infested North Ward. The Southern Ward is inhabited by common folk instead of hoity-toity nobles, with a good portion of its population hailing from southern Faerûn. Although Entreri’s Calishite heritage is not given much treatment in the Drizzt novels, it would make sense if, even with his rough and austere childhood, that associations of home would bring some degree of comfort or at least familiarity. Waterdeep’s Southern Ward is home to some of the best singers of Calishite music and probably the best examples of Calishite cuisine. The location of homes above stables or around inn yards allows us to accept that Entreri would have been able to ensure a good sightline of the goings-on around his domicile, likely a necessity for one of Entreri’s nature. The only downside to all of this is that Salvatore calls the Southern Ward the “South Ward”, a nomenclature that only fools would use, according to Volo’s Waterdeep Enchiridion.
The best-developed member among the resurrected Companions of the Hall is Regis/Spider Parrafin, and this continues to be the case in Boundless. In the past, I’d criticized Salvatore on numerous occasions about how his heroes perform a lot more questionable actions on screen than do his villains. In the travesty of the series, Hero, I’d specifically noted that Regis and Wulfgar kicking people who were already lying down to be decidedly not heroic, even if the victims of said kicking were highwaymen. In Boundless, Regis doesn’t do anything of the sort. No, in fact, he actually performs what would be a humbling or even degrading act himself by normal Salvatore standards, and conveys a surprising and important message thereby. Much like how I’m uncertain that the message conveyed by Mez'Barris and Uthegentel is intentional, I’m not sure if this is the case with Regis, but Regis admits to using his looks to get what he wants, which is unfortunately a strategy traditionally attributed to women alone, both inside and outside of Salvatore’s books. When Regis states to Dahlia, “Because I do the same thing, as does my lovely wife, Donnola” as he points out that Dahlia knows how to use her looks to gain an advantage in her negotiations, he, in my mind, is performing a much more admirable feat than slaying a hundred rampaging ogres singlehandedly. Humility is a mark of any true hero, and although Drizzt and his companions are supposed to possess tons of humility along with other virtuous qualities, we see so little of those qualities. Instead, much of their actions are full of sanctimony and self-satisfaction. Another thing that was done well with Regis is his reaction to being in Entreri’s presence. Despite the significantly de-fanged current nature of Entreri, and Regis’ intellectual knowledge that the assassin wouldn’t hurt him, Regis struggles to suppress the fear he feels in Entreri’s presence. This is one of the few instances in which Salvatore correctly portrays trauma. Regis has more than enough reason to behave the way that he does, Entreri inflicted significant distress in his previous life, and, as Regis notes, “Was there any amount of time and any number of deeds that could fully erase that?” Regis’ musing is at the core of many trauma victims’ journey to recovery. Furthermore, there is no contrived PTSD in Regis’ experiences like was the case with Drizzt in Hero. Accurate, too, is the way that Regis’ struggle is focused on the stub of his pinky, with which he fidgets while fighting to hold his voice steady. This shows us rather than telling us that Artemis Entreri is still very much a trigger for Regis, and speaks more to Regis’ courage in facing that trigger than had he been the one facing down Demogorgon in Menzoberranzan.
Those are the major positives in terms of characterization and literary devices employed in Boundless. There are also good points dispersed among the descriptions and interactions with lesser characters and incidental elements. While we’re not quite sure what the demon possessing the little girl named Sharon is (or if it’s a demon at all), Salvatore did a decent job of making Sharon unsettling and creepy under the creature’s influence. It’s also refreshing to see intrigue in a Drizzt book that isn’t confined to Menzoberranzan. Although Salvatore doesn’t do the intrigues of Waterdeep justice, he does make an effort to include them, and even if he doesn’t show us a great amount of it, I appreciate the nod that he gives to its complexity through indicating that despite months spent in the City of Splendors, one as acute as Entreri hasn’t been able to unravel the mysteries he’d been tasked to solve. Unfortunately, there’s a total hiatus from the further development of the Neverember plot. The final thing that I wanted to mention for this section is a detail, that, although minor, stood up to fact-checking, which delighted me. A lot of Salvatore’s action scenes and descriptions, despite going into overlong detail, are often impractical or simply incorrect. Towards the end of Boundless, we see Drizzt running with everything he’s got, “his arms pumping for maximum momentum in the desired direction”. I’m not a runner, so I had to research this, but I was ecstatic to find that pumping one’s arms does actually help one run faster! Bravo, Salvatore!
That concludes the positive-oriented analysis of Boundless. From this point onward, I’ll be performing my brutally critical and honest breakdown of the novel. Fair warning, it’s not going to be pretty, because Boundless isn’t. Sit tight though, and I’ll tell you all the ways that it was bad in excruciating detail, for better or worse.
Chapter 3: Mediocre Writing Style
Critical analysis focused on the novel's writing style.
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I admire some authors for their lyrical phrases, some for their poignant imagery, some for their rapid-fire dialogues, and with so many others, for their ability to show a true mastery of language. I have never felt this way about Salvatore’s literature, which will probably never win any awards for its diction if it remains consistent to its current level of quality. Salvatore has his moments, which I’ve described in the previous section, but sadly, they range from being vastly to overwhelmingly dwarfed by the rote and tedious writing practices he employs. It doesn’t help that in addition to the employment of unimaginative diction, Salvatore writes a lot of long and laborious scenes full of words that serve little more than to fill up space. There is so much telling instead of showing, a problem further compounded by the exhausting amount of poorly-chosen anecdotes which he relates that, despite being a nonstop action book, Boundless is very hard to pick back up after putting it down. And, of course, there’s the repetition of the same themes, of the same kind of things happening to the same characters, that certainly doesn’t help the predictability.
For every good turn of phrase I mentioned earlier, there exists a score of bad ones. If I were to give examples of all of them, with the other things I’d like to discuss, this article would end up being as long as the novel itself, so I’ll simply point out the most cringe-worthy ones.
The metaphor that takes the cake for the worst of the book is, “The horde had come, and now it pounced upon them misshapen humanoid forms, the wretched lesser demons known as manes, shambling out of the brush like an army of humans risen from the dead.” Basically, what is happening here is that Salvatore pretty much wrote, “those demons came shambling out like zombies”. It doesn’t matter how much one dresses up a turd, the most one gets from the effort is a fancier-looking but just as stinky piece of excrement. Furthermore, the dressings that Salvatore uses in this example are flimsy and unsatisfactory in substance, with the vague adjective “wretched” that’s as descriptive here as his customary usages of “magnificent”/“fine” and the tedious repetition in “humanoid” and “human”. Additionally, it begs the question of why Salvatore specified an army of humans in a world in which the undead of all races would shamble, or, better yet, why not simply say “zombie”, for a zombie is a prevalent and known theme in both the Realms and our world. It would’ve been one of the few ways Salvatore uses a shared concept without incurring a world break like he normally does.
A close second in the diction mediocrity contest is, “as if Yvonnel’s breath, blowing them out, was that of a magical dragon, one designed specifically against the life force of a demon.” Why a “magical dragon”? Are there non-magical dragons that breathe magic? Not that there exists a type of dragon in Forgotten Realms lore with a breath weapon that is specifically designed against the life force of a demon. However, as is par for his course, to counteract lore not agreeing with his lazy constructions, Salvatore doesn’t bother to research an appropriate in-universe analogy. He completely invents one but doesn’t actually develop it, not that doing so would be appropriate in this context, but the creation of it is wholly unnecessary for the sake of a poor analogy.
Another awful passage is, “with horrid creatures – half drow and half spider – all around the drow women and filtering back through the many shadows of the forest. Scores of these horrid mutants milled about…” It’s bad enough to use the adjective “horrid” in an empty and vague way, but to do it twice in quick succession makes it seem like Salvatore doesn’t know how to describe driders. By itself, a half-drow half-spider creature isn’t inherently abominable. There’s an increasingly large number of art pieces featuring dark elf arachnid centaurs, with beautiful humanoid faces and torsos attached to streamlined spider bodies that would even give arachnaphobes pause. What makes driders menacing, which Salvatore has described himself in the past, is that they’re not these romanticized images of spider centaurs. Their humanoid torsos, rather than looking like they should belong to supermodels, are bloated and misshapen such that they’re more reminiscent of the flesh beasts of nightmares. They have vicious mandibles protruding from their cheeks, sometimes multiple insectoid eyes, making their faces look more decidedly non-elven even with pointed ears. Admittedly, the physical appearance of driders has fluctuated through the D&D editions, but it’s as though Salvatore couldn’t be bothered to look up what their current iteration is. Maybe he did try and couldn’t find a definitive answer, in which case he could’ve approached the drider’s description in a more evocative way, for example by describing how the tips of their arachnid legs were sharp like swords digging into the earth, or perhaps by mentioning their aura of menace as they regarded the dwarves whom they towered over with hungry anticipation, as though the shorter folk were their cocooned victims waiting to be devoured. Or, even referencing how the driders came to be, the excruciating transformation process and fall out of favor with their goddess, both of which would’ve rendered them at least slightly unhinged.
Some descriptions consist of fewer words, but are just as bad. For instance, Jarlaxle’s bracers are at one point described as “magical wrist pouch”. This evokes an imagery of literal pouches hanging from around his wrists, dangling like a pair of testicles in the wind, testicles that shoot out magical daggers into Jarlaxle’s hands. Another similar example doesn’t contain an analogy but is just as bad is, “a smallish man dressed in finery worthy of a noble house. His face was clean-shaven, his hair cut short and neatly trimmed.” This description is so ambiguous and features adjectives that have been applied so frequently to other characters that it could have easily been Artemis Entreri, except it is someone quite different (Kimmuriel Oblodra). Putting aside how jarring it is to use “man” to describe male drow, there’s a world break here in that drow shouldn’t need to be clean-shaven, as they can’t really grow facial hair, but at least there’s the nice detail that Kimmuriel is apparently short-haired, contrary to what many assume of him to have long hair. Nonetheless, what happened to the usage of the word “short”? Furthermore, why not just state a height for Kimmuriel and put it into his character bible? To be fair, I’ve speculated that Salvatore doesn’t use character bibles, but it’s never too late to start.
Boundless sees a return of what I’ve dubbed “Salvatorisms”, which are clichés and poor sentence structures that Salvatore abuses frequently. In Boundless, there’s more than just those Salvatorisms dragging the narrative down. It’s disappointing to see a professional author, especially one who’d been working in the field for over three decades, fail to follow a rule taught to amateur writers. Making the New York Times’ Bestsellers’ list does not make the usage of clichés, such as “merry band of misfits”, acceptable. Especially considering how it’s not even appropriate in the context that it’s used for, namely, describing Bregan D'aerthe. Even though it’s a priestess of Lolth who is considering the mercenary band this way, it’s so incredibly unlikely that she’d think they were jolly, which the meaning of that cliché specifically includes.
In Boundless, we also see a return of the “how [character] [action]ed!” sentence construction, after a refreshingly complete lack of any in Timeless. This is one of Salvatore’s favorite ways to tell and not show, for stating how a certain thing performs a certain feat doesn’t, ironically, actually ever convey how that thing is done. There’s a new overused Salvatorism to add to his cliché stable, namely, the “up went”, “down went”, and other similar ways to open a sentence. There’s nothing wrong with these kinds of phrases when used sparingly and with variety. As it is, the flavor of the text is quite intolerable, seasoned as it is with an excess of one type of additive. By the same token, in a fight scene between Arathis Hune and Zaknafein, Zaknafein’s superior prowess is indicated by the sentence, “Except Zaknafein wasn’t there”. This sort of device can be effective to convey surprise and the unexpected, again, when used sparingly, but unfortunately, it is yet another one of Salvatore’s favorite writing practices. The sentence is hardly even a proper sentence, but is used as its own paragraph.
The telling and not showing approach in Boundless extends beyond the diction. On numerous occasions, it’s almost as if Salvatore couldn’t be bothered to actually demonstrate how something is true, but instead, just tells us that it’s the way it is. One way that he does this is through the usage of rhetorical questions, for instance, “Could anything be more invasive and traumatizing than having your body stolen from your control and turned against you?” I’m not sure if any of his readers can actually answer that question from personal experience. It’s almost as though Salvatore did that purposely to minimize the possibility of someone realizing that different strokes exist for different folks and that the most traumatizing scenario for one person could be very different from that of another person. That aside however, a question like this leaves little room for imagination, and is even a bit bullying, for it corners the readers into having to answer “no” even while the scenario painted prior to it was not powerful enough to solidify that impression.
Another way that Salvatore tells rather than shows is to use empty comparisons that lack a frame of reference. For instance, the reader is to understand Athrogate’s strength and resolve through, “A lesser fighter would have fallen away in terror. A less sturdy person would have simply melted before the reeking horror.” The problem with these statements is that they don’t serve any purpose. They state the obvious, and are a poor attempt at being evocative. They have the same effect as simply stating that Athrogate stood his ground and didn’t falter, except being more verbose and less effective.
It’s not just word usage that’s repetitive. Boundless sees a continuation of the theme of having the same sort of things happen to the same characters. It’s as though each character is a designated target for certain motifs, with those motifs not being applicable to other characters. For instance, Entreri appears to be the go-to target for torture, and after being made the one with the repeated childhood sexual assault, the sexual victimization in Menzoberranzan, the victim of rape by a succubus in Neverwinter and the over seven decades of enslavement, I’m getting very sick of seeing him the victim of yet another long-term grueling experience. Meanwhile, Drizzt is as holier-than-thou and full of sanctimony as he was in Timeless, and it’s not a flattering look for him. I’m not sure if Salvatore thinks it is, but it isn’t so much character consistency as stubborn obnoxiousness. In Drizzt’s journal entry, he writes, “I fear that Zaknafein’s transformation will not come in time to earn friendship, even familial love, from Catti-brie or from our child, and in that instance, it will not be in time to earn the love of Drizzt Do'Urden.” Drizzt then goes on to state, “But he is my family by blood, and she is my family by choice. I have come to learn that the latter is a stronger bond.” While the message that’s attempted to be conveyed here is a very important one, the validity of it is harmed by the context. It’s very unfair for Zaknafein to be presented as though he were more akin to the other Do'Urdens instead of the unconditionally loving father who didn’t hesitate to put himself in harm’s way, including dying in excruciating and humiliating ways so that his son could have a chance at freedom. This is yet another scenario in which Salvatore creates unnecessary drama while ignoring facets of his story that have genuine dramatic potential. Zaknafein is not the type of character with whom Drizzt should have to choose between family by blood and family by choice, as he’s already shown that Zaknafein is trying his best to adapt to the new world. It is true that there are few opportunities for Drizzt to flaunt his moral beacon in Boundless, but there’s nothing wrong with that, and should’ve just been left as it is, but it’s as though Salvatore can’t write a Drizzt novel without Drizzt having to be sanctimonious and preachy. It was wholly unnecessary to villainize a non-villainous character to repeat some of the same old tired writing practices.
Also in the category of repetitive and tired themes, albeit one that doesn’t further butcher the characters, is the catching of projectiles in one’s cloak. This is a phenomenon that happens so frequently in the Drizzt books that had a reader no knowledge of the purpose of cloaks, they might think that their main purpose is to act as an anti-missile system. Cloaks originally became common because they protected the wearer from inclement weather while allowing access to the wearer’s worn possessions. In D&D and other games, it became an additional equipment slot and as such, gained an practical value as well. A cloak without enhancing properties would actually serve as a detriment in a fight, acting as a loose and difficult to control extension of one’s body that can be easily grabbed by the opponent, something that’s accurately made a point of in The Incredibles. I suppose that there could exist a magical item like a Cloak of Missile Catching, but this isn’t what any of Salvatore’s characters ever wear. It’s difficult to give Salvatore points for coming up with a creative use for what’s basically an aesthetic item because it’s just so impractical and unrealistic. It doesn’t help that he repeats this motif so much that it approaches ego-stroking levels.
The second most major contributing factor to Boundless’ tediousness is the obscenely large amount of recollections strewn throughout the book, making them overall more unsightly than the plastic polluting our modern day oceans. In the scenes set during the current timeline, almost at every turn we’re given a history of what so-and-so is, or who so-and-so have associations with. These reviews, although brief, make up for their concision with their frequency. I can understand why Salvatore does this, for Timeless wasn’t as standalone as he’d hoped, but his attempted method to rectify this fact in Boundless is more distracting than enlightening. Especially considering that much of the reviewed content is along the lines of, “Drizzt, trained in the ways of the monk by Grandmaster Kane”, ergo, telling us how awesome Salvatore’s protagonists are rather than shedding light into the significant events that shaped what is happening in the current book. When a significant event is mentioned, it is done so in such a cursory way that all a new reader would know is that something happened in the past that relates to what is happening presently, but otherwise it’s like explaining different colors to someone who’s never had vision before. For instance, “this was a trick Kimmuriel had used before, and very recently with Drizzt in Menzoberranzan, creating a telekinetic barrier that absorbed the power of every strike, magical or physical, holding it in stasis, ready for the magically armored person to release it back.” This recap does manage to explain the relevant mechanic, however it also alludes to a very significant event, yet it’s unclear what the purpose of it doing so is. The reference to what Drizzt did in Menzoberranzan doesn’t say enough to allow anyone who hasn’t read Hero to understand, but someone who’s read Hero should remember the details of the climax of the book. So much of what Boundless presents is like this, retreads that make the novel tedious to read for those who have been reading, and probably only serve to further confuse those who haven’t. Who is Salvatore writing for, then? Those who continue to throw money his way but never pay enough attention to what happens in his books to remember the climaxes? Are these the kinds of people that any author should point to as “proof” of their literary excellence?
The one aspect that drives most of Boundless’ tediousness is the sheer amount of long and boring action sequences that are wordy and not much of anything else. Salvatore’s action scenes are more reminiscent of IKEA furniture assembly instructions than descriptive imagery, except that IKEA instructions are actually visual enough for one to use in constructing a pragmatic (and sturdy) physical object. Salvatore’s action scenes are reminiscent of the type of smut in fanfiction that gives fanfiction a bad name, namely, cut and dried descriptions that are more like making a grocery list than painting a picture. At the very least, Salvatore’s action scenes are not too anatomically ridiculous (yet), which makes them slightly better than the kind of fanfiction referenced.
An example of a grocery list action scene is as follows:
There’s so much going wrong in this passage. The inconsistent specificity of each element makes the whole feel like an incongruous collection of parts. Jarlaxle hooking his fingers on a jag in the stone is clear enough, as is flipping over, and rolling his feet can be understood even if vague, but how all of that ties together is as clear as a chunk of obsidian. How Jarlaxle pulled himself around the base of a mound isn’t articulated, other than that he did it while keeping his momentum, which is superfluous because any acrobatic maneuver would keep its momentum because momentum is what makes those maneuvers possible. It’s like the only basic physics concept that Salvatore understands is gravity, because “he fell with gravity” is one of the few things he doesn’t spell out in his action scenes. In any case, specifics like if Jarlaxle went left or right aren’t what’s needed, but rather, how about some evocative imagery like, “he snapped like a whip around the sharp turn”? I’m not saying that’s the correct analogy to use, I honestly don’t know, because I have no idea what’s supposed to be going on in this passage. The same is true of what’s said of Zaknafein, which while a bit better, is still painfully dry. Some of the stuff doesn’t make sense, for instance, how did Zaknafein leap on the wide base of the stalagmite? The base of a stalagmite is that which the stone formation grows out of, inside the rock itself, does Salvatore mean that Zaknafein propelled himself off of the side of the stalagmite near its base? The rest of the sequence, it’s unclear what Zaknafein is flipping over and running along. Is it still the same stalagmite, or a different stalagmite? All of that is just words words words, except, of course, the one thing that’s clear enough: that Drizzt is awesome and so is his dad.
Another grocery list action scene is, “A glance left, a glance right, and off he sprinted, up the side of a stalagmite mound, leaping, spinning, somersaulting, to hit the ground in perfect balance and at a full run.” What this scene brings to mind is more along the lines of a Driver’s Ed course followed by the Sky Dancer toy from the 90s rather than the agile moves of an acrobat. Again, an excess number of words are used to little effect, and all that’s conveyed is, “Zaknafein is awesome”. I almost feel like he should be clad in skin-tight black leather and be wearing high-tech sunglasses.
Yet another example of writing that only conveys how awesome Salvatore’s characters are is, “the barbarian came to realize that this foe was far more akin to Drizzt or Entreri than to what he’d expect from a pampered Waterdhavian lord. The man’s sword worked in a blur, every movement sending it at Wulfgar in a different angle, sometimes a slash, sometimes a stab, sometimes a punch from the hilt.” The first sentence in this passage, although not describing any action, tells us a lot more about Wulfgar’s opponent than the second sentence, which does actively describe the man’s actions, even to a new reader whom wouldn’t know about Entreri’s history and what makes him what he is. Furthermore, there’s a stuttered nature to the second sentence, with the “blur” description disagreeing with the choppy rhythm of the specified attacks. Rather than a blur, the noble’s attacks feel more like a predictable pattern of programmed thrusts from an automated training dummy.
Boundless wouldn’t be the first Salvatore book in which I’d wondered if he’d confused himself with his writing. One example of what leads me to think so from this novel is:
What is even going on here? Did Salvatore switch Zaknafein and Jarlaxle’s names by accident, intending for Zaknafein to be the one caught by surprise? Zaknafein’s “don’t wait for us!” suggests that he knows what’s going on and has some level of confidence in the circumstances, yet as is demonstrated later in the passage, this is not the case. Indeed, later in the sequence (not shown), Jarlaxle is the one in control, deploying a back-up plan to guarantee their safety amidst the chaos. Yet, it’s unlikely for Jarlaxle to scream, and Zaknafein to gasp, so perhaps Salvatore meant what he wrote. It’s all too convoluted to tell, however. Further, while its a trifle nit-picky, wouldn’t the command to “Let ‘em fly, boys!” come before the quarrels were discharged? I mean, these are quarrels that do make things like stalactites explode, both powerfully AND beautifully, but dwarves have a lot of discipline.
Perhaps the most tedious action sequences are Zaknafein’s extensive training montages, like the one in chapter four. It takes up literally forty percent of the chapter and proceeds in excruciatingly dry detail. The entirety of it is too long to quote here, but there are a lot of statements like, “hands across his belly to grab the hilts of his swords at his hips, right forearm over left”, “he turned his right wrist as that sword came across bringing it vertical in its sweep, then shortening the cut, while the left went across perfectly horizontally, with full follow-through and even a step with the left foot in that direction”, “he went to a series of same-hand, same-hip draws, where he brought forth the sword on his left hip with his left hand, right hand for the right”, and so on. It’s like Salvatore is writing The Dummy’s Guide to Drow Swordfighting, as these sentences are more like step by step guide points than flowing combat moves. It’s actually worse than that, because more than likely, these moves are more theatrical than actually practical, such that anyone who followed such a guide would indeed be a dummy, and quite a dead one at that if they expected to survive in drow society like that. And there’s just so much of it, such that it begs the question of if Salvatore had a word count quota that he had to fill.
Finally, after a refreshing break away from it in Timeless, the standard Salvatore C-rated Hollywood stop motion fight scenes are back. Speaking to many members of the SCA and historical combat re-enacters and fencers, including ones who have read Salvatore’s books, have taught me that most of the combat scenes, specifically concerning the usage of swords, are totally wrong. A consensus among the actual martial artists is that there’s a lot of slashing when there should be stabbing, and the way that the characters conduct themselves in combat is more akin to sports than martial arts, being particularly evocative of hockey. It isn’t surprising that Salvatore’s inspiration comes from hockey, that is what he knows after all (more than swordsmanship and D&D anyway), but it seems that rather than improving his knowledge with research, he supplements it with popular themes in movies. Something like, “slowly they closed, though, until they were but a few strides away, when both, as if some silent understanding had passed between them, leaped into the air and roared” feels more like a transcription from a live action sequence, for in reality no purpose is served for two combatants to leap at each other roaring. It’s a waste of energy, especially as the two have been aware of each other’s prowess for a while and are not easily intimidated. If this scene was something that we were watching rather than reading, the sound effects might enhance the the drama, and while imagined sound effects can do the same for a written scene, something as bland as simply “roaring”, just makes the whole scene banal.
Chapter 4: Poor Characterization
Criticism of the novel's character development, with emphasis on Jarlaxle Baenre, Arathis Hune, Wulfgar, Artemis Entreri, and Dahlia Sin'felle.
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Boundless sees an overall regression from Timeless in terms of quality of characterization. It almost feels as though Salvatore is saying, “I don’t have room for character development because Boundless is such a non-stop action novel”. Most of the page space is taken up by the many unfolding events, with opponents one after another that Zaknafein has to duel in the past and a full on war fought on at least three separate fronts in the present. However, even putting aside the fact that so many of those pages could’ve been truncated and space dedicated to character progression, instead, what we find in Boundless is shallow, self-inconsistent, lazy, and really, just mediocre. I’m not sure what effect Salvatore was trying to achieve through the cursory and flat overviews he gives to all of the characters in his Dramatis Personae section that precedes the body of the novel. Descriptions like the one for Briza Do'Urden, which reads, “Malice’s eldest daughter. Huge and formidable” makes me wonder if Salvatore was going for humor. Yet, there isn’t anything funny about the rest of the characterizations, except in an ironic sense in how bad they are, as though they were the words of someone trying to explain the characters to a not very bright child. I suppose it’s an appropriate precedent, given how the “fleshed out” characterizations go in the novel.
As suggested by Boundless’ cover art, there’s a lot of Jarlaxle in the book. Sadly, this manifests as a sort of butchering of Jarlaxle’s capability and characterization in both the past and present timelines of the novel. Overall, Jarlaxle is very flat-footed, constantly doing the proverbial rocking back on his heels and falling on his butt. A character rocking back on their heels is one of Salvatore’s favorite descriptors, and while, ironically, that phrase doesn’t appear in Boundless, Salvatore does an excellent job of showing that Jarlaxle does it a great deal. This would be great in terms of showing instead of telling, except that, unfortunately, it happens when Jarlaxle’s supposed to be doing something clever or there’s some great revelation that manages to escape his masterfully strategic mind. I’d often joked that Salvatore isn’t smart enough to write a character who’s supposed to be as smart as Jarlaxle is, and this is very much evident in Boundless, except there’s nothing funny about it. It’s really just disappointing to see a character who is actually a nonconformist dragged down and forced to conform to Drizzt. Jarlaxle is also becoming more like Drizzt in the sense that he acts very differently from how he’s supposed to be, all while we are being told over and over how he is truly, for real, pinky swear that certain way. In Drizzt’s case, it is a judgmental, sanctimonious, pretentious, self-aggrandizing and presumptuous twat hailed to be the shining hero of goodness and virtue. And now, sadly, in Jarlaxle’s case, a dopey, shortsighted, reckless, inattentive and not very bright clown wrapped in the cloak of one whose flair is matched only by his genius.
As he is presented in Boundless, Jarlaxle would’ve been wholly consumed by the perils of Menzoberranzan almost immediately. The Jarlaxle in the past timeline should be closer to how he was in the Legacy of the Drow trilogy, but he’s been tempered to beyond how he is in The Sellswords trilogy. He’s even more tame than how he appears in Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, where he features as a genteel, at worst mischievous, sort of villain. Jarlaxle has become closer to Drizzt than even Zaknafein, with Zaknafein being more brutal. The Jarlaxle of the past is nearly identical to the Jarlaxle of the present, as though he were transcribed across the hundreds of years. I don’t understand the reason that Salvatore did this. The current version of Jarlaxle is unpalatable enough, with all of the “intrigue” and the being for himself stance as nothing but empty posturing. It makes no sense that Jarlaxle would be that way in the past, for supposedly, experiencing the personality-altering phenomenon that is Drizzt Do'Urden hadn’t even happened then.
That said, let’s look at some details. First, Boundless introduces an activity that Jarlaxle and Zaknafein enjoyed together, “cavern jumping”, which is what we call free running or parkour in our world. They first partake of this activity in a super inspired and uniquely-named chapter entitled “Running Free”. I was sarcastic just now, but I’m absolutely not sarcastic when I say this: parkour is dangerous. Even in our world, experienced traceurs can and do get hurt, and they don’t normally run in an environment where many individuals stand to benefit if a fatal accident befalls them. Despite Jarlaxle saying that the risk is what makes the activity fun, this seems like a weak justification injected by a paranoid narrator who’s aware that they’re recounting a very unlikely event. For, the reality is, it’s already dangerous that Jarlaxle and Zaknafein perform risky acrobatic maneuvers in one of the deadliest cities of Faerûn, they’re doing it without any of their magical equipment. The very fact that Jarlaxle engages in this activity is reckless, and what makes it even more unlikely is the lack of assurances that are put in place to minimize potential “accidents”. Zaknafein and Jarlaxle’s cavern-jumping escapades aren’t at all like when they pillaged Barrison Del'Armgo’s armory. Although both are adrenaline-seeking activities, the latter was a controlled simulation that Jarlaxle had engineered and pulled strings to achieve. Jarlaxle might be a daredevil and an excitement-seeker, but he’s not stupid, and he’s supposed to be prudent, else everything that he’s worked for would be for naught. He takes risks but we’ve been told that they’re calculated ones, ones in which he’s already figured out and examined every possible outcome. There’s nothing calculated about cavern-jumping, and the only aspect that’s even approaching consistent is their route. Even then, “consistent” can hardly be applied, for the two are constantly one-upping each other, pushing one another to quicker paces and more daring maneuvers. There aren’t even Bregan D'aerthe scouts watching every turn, keeping an eye out for any parties of ill intention that might target the two high profile male drow. Heck, Jarlaxle isn’t even aware of who’s watching them, and he should both know and care, especially since Zaknafein is big enough of a target that many individuals wouldn’t care about implicating Jarlaxle while attempting to “cavern-jump” Zaknafein. In fact, we even see in the same chapter one such interested party, and given that so much of the book is about people wanting to kill Zaknafein, I feel like the whole free running thing was just an excuse for Salvatore to show off his action scenes, except that there isn’t anything to show off there. Simply showing off to this degree puts both of them at a disadvantage given how cutthroat and scheme-based drow society is supposed to be. Shouldn’t Jarlaxle be worried about illustrating how flexible and agile he is, and doesn’t Zaknafein want opponents to underestimate him?
Far from being circumspect, Jarlaxle doesn’t seem to think at all. Even obvious things that would’ve occurred to a novice strategist escapes the one indirectly dubbed as “maestro”. Following the fight between Zaknafein and Duvon Tr'arach, a holder of a century-long grudge against the weapons master who destroyed his house and humiliated him in combat, Jarlaxle is surprised to find that the drow whom he thought were ambushers were actually reinforcements brought by Zaknafein. This is not evocative of a streetwise genius maestro super spy. Of course Zaknafein would bring back-up, he knows the way of his society and knows how many want him dead. It would have been more reasonable for Jarlaxle to be surprised if Zaknafein hadn’t brought anyone from his house with him. Salvatore has Jarlaxle thinking Zaknafein clever, but what should’ve happened is that Jarlaxle should have known about Zaknafein’s backup in the first place, and have had agents monitoring them the whole time instead of embarrassing himself with his lack of foresight. Even better would have been if he feigned being surprised and impressed while we see Jarlaxle’s agents melt back into the shadows without them alerting Zaknafein’s assistants.
Jarlaxle being blindsided by the relationship between Zaknafein and Dab'nay, while more reasonable than the previous example, nonetheless doesn’t belong to the same drow who, during the Crenshinibon era, knew immediately that his two lieutenants were conspiring together against him. It’s true that Jarlaxle is younger and less experienced during the flashback scenes of Boundless, but there’s already a rapport between him and the members of his band, a trust that would not have built up solely based on individuals sharing the same plight. Jarlaxle’s followers are fiercely loyal to him, and not solely because of his charisma. Jarlaxle shows these second-class citizens of his society something they’ve never known before, that someone is interested in who they are. He wins their favor because all they’ve known previously is that their worth is measured by their bloodline, their aptitude in combat and their aptitude in the bedroom. Even if Jarlaxle’s intellect wasn’t enough to allow him to foresee Dab'nay and Zaknafein hooking up as a possibility, his personal knowledge of Dab'nay should’ve suggested the probability to him. There’s another poor characterization in that if Zaknafein’s hatred of priestesses was as absolute and blinding as we’ve been told that it is, the only dagger he’d have plunged into Dab'nay wouldn’t have been the one that’s permanently attached to him. However, the relationship between Dab'nay and Zaknafein being what it’s forced to be, surely, Jarlaxle would’ve known Zaknafein well enough to at least suspect the possibility.
Although Jarlaxle is only literally stated to have “for once, seemed at a loss for words”, his demonstrated lack of cleverness fails to back this up. Even in the scenario in which that is explicitly written, it’s uncharacteristic of Jarlaxle to not know what to say. The passage reads:
So, from this we are to believe that the genius Jarlaxle can’t produce an answer to that simple statement, when even I can think of a number of things to say on the fly: that Jarlaxle’s not just any drow, that there are varying levels of trust that should be adjusted based on the circumstance, that there’s such a thing as “trust but verify”, that, fundamentally, the drow word for “trust” isn’t as black and white as what Zaknafein is demanding. Jarlaxle’s int score is a staggering 20, and he should easily come up with everything I’ve come up with just now and many many more answers that I can’t even begin to think of with my far less staggering intellect. Things like these are just downright embarrassingly inept portrayals of Jarlaxle’s alleged brilliance.
In the current timeline, Jarlaxle is even more dull, which I suppose is appropriate given the nerfing of who he was in the past. In addition to being just as flat-footed and shortsighted as his past incarnation in Boundless, Jarlaxle draws some really inaccurate conclusions. For instance, “Jarlaxle knew, of course, that Bruenor was more friend to Drizzt than Zaknafein had ever been, and indeed, more father to Drizzt than Zaknafein had ever been.” Really? He knows, of course and indeed, this totally untrue assessment, does he? The first might be true, for Zaknafein wasn’t present in Drizzt’s life for nearly as much as Bruenor was, and even while he was there, the interactions between him and his son was restricted. But when did Bruenor risk his life on numerous occasions to simply ensure that Drizzt’s moral compass and free will were not tainted? When did Bruenor sacrifice himself so that Drizzt might live? Bruenor was never even in a position to entreaty an assailant to take him instead of Drizzt. Perhaps if Salvatore defines father figures as aloof and distant presences in one’s life who give tough love but never direct validation, then certainly Bruenor has been more of a father to Drizzt than Zaknafein was. However, the reality is that Bruenor never protected Drizzt the way that Zaknafein did and never guided Drizzt the way Zaknafein did. The only way that it would make sense for that assessment to belong to Jarlaxle is if Jarlaxle’s own understanding of parent and child relationships is so incomplete that he doesn’t know better, or if he’s as stupid as he is shown to be in Boundless. The first possibility is most likely true from a personal angle for Jarlaxle, but Jarlaxle has lived long enough on the surface, mingling with enough surface folk to know, especially with what should be his level of perceptiveness, what it means to be a good father. He would need to have a good understanding of those kinds of dynamics, because they contain weaknesses that can be exploited. So, really, the only thing that would make all of this consistent is the latter possibility, which sadly, is where everything is trending anyway.
I’m not very emotionally invested in Jarlaxle, though I prefer him to most of the rest of the somewhat bland characters we see in Boundless. So when this many things make someone like me unhappy about Jarlaxle’s characterization, I’d hate to see what someone who feels towards him like I feel towards Artemis Entreri will take away from Boundless. I’m sure that I’m missing a lot of irksome things, but the ones that I’ve pointed out are what stood out to me, and I’ll end the discussion of Jarlaxle with one final example. In both Timeless and Boundless, Jarlaxle has this strange and decidedly non-Menzoberranzanyr perspective regarding “married couples” of drow. The usage of “husband” and “wife” in these books is extremely weird, because as we know from all D&D and Forgotten Realms source material, including Salvatore’s own books, that there is no formality in Lolthite drow relationships. Females take males at their pleasure, abandoning them as whimsically as they pick them up, and being a Patron of a house means nothing. What’s even more strange is that Zaknafein isn’t even the Patron of House Do'Urden, Rizzen still holds that title while Zaknafein and Malice are sexually active together, yet since Timeless, Zaknafein has been referred to as Malice’s husband. Furthermore, while, as far as we know, Jarlaxle has never slept with the partners of people that he likes, it was always more of a strategic decision rather than a moral one. For instance, he found Calihye and Dahlia unstable, thus not cuckolding Entreri and Drizzt, and the closest he’d come to showing interest to a “taken” partner was with Catti-brie, but even then, morals aren’t what prevent him from pursuing her. Yet, steeped in the degenerate society of Menzoberranzan, Jarlaxle prefers not to have sexual contact with Malice because Zaknafein is his friend. Where did this belief come from? It certainly doesn’t exist in drow culture, males are sex objects for the females, perhaps sometimes rising to the rank of favored toy, nothing more. In a society like that, the toy doesn’t have delusions of possession. Jarlaxle is one of the few, if not only, male drow in Menzoberranzan who even has a choice, who can even say no to a female without being killed horribly. I get that Salvatore is trying to show that Jarlaxle is honorable towards his friendship with Zaknafein, but he doesn’t have to break the character in addition to his own world-building, as well as that of other creatives’, to do so. There are so many ways to do it, but I suppose those are less obvious and require more thinking.
The poor characterizations extend beyond what’s done to Jarlaxle. The number of times that an inconsistency arises between what a character is supposed to be/know and how they perceive things or act is staggering. In the past, there is Arathis Hune, Jarlaxle’s first and only lieutenant for a long time, and presumably, one of his most trusted friends. Arathis and Jarlaxle should understand each other quite well, so the fact that Arathis didn’t foresee that Jarlaxle would assist Zaknafein during Zaknafein’s rigged duel with Duvon Tr'arach is unlikely. Arathis might’ve had an ace in the form of psionic assistance in swaying the match, but unless he is a total fool, he wouldn’t think that Jarlaxle wasn’t aware of his dalliances, especially with potential allies as powerful as Oblodrans. Furthermore, Jarlaxle’s fondness of Zaknafein is enough of a thorn in Arathis’ side that Arathis would’ve certainly anticipated Jarlaxle intervening on behalf of Zaknafein, even if Arathis didn’t specifically guess that Jarlaxle would do so by means of lending Zaknafein his eyepatch. Even if Jarlaxle had never explicitly told Arathis about the functionality of his eyepatch, Arathis, who would’ve certainly witnessed Jarlaxle constantly escaping the various mind-manipulating magics of the priestesses of Lolth, should’ve been able to deduce that Jarlaxle has a magical item that protects him against such intrusions. Arathis might not be a master genius like Jarlaxle, but he is a drow, who are supposed to be masters of intrigue in their own right as being able to survive in Menzoberranzan requires such of them. Moreover, he is a capable enough drow that Jarlaxle chose him to be at his side, rather than tending the bar at the Oozing Myconid. Yet, Arathis doesn’t foresee any of what he should’ve known immediately, nor did he have a backup plan, which to a drow is something that one possesses as certainly as keen eyesight.
In the present timeline, Wulfgar suffers from the same treatment given Arathis, which is really saying something since Wulfgar’s characterization has been all over the place even before his rebirth. Nonetheless, two things that Wulfgar is supposed to be, are one, a good guy if not a hero, and two, not dumb, if not intelligent. Yet, Wulfgar’s portrayal in Boundless shows him as possessing none of these positive traits. For the first trait, it wouldn’t be the first time that a member of the Companions of the Hall thought or performed something dishonorable. In Hero, this manifests as Regis and Wulfgar literally kicking people who were already down. In Boundless, Wulfgar is surprisingly nonchalant about the possibility of Kimmuriel committing casual murder, even hoping for it:
The only thing that Calico Grimm is guilty of, that we’re shown anyway, is being boisterous and foolish, which is hardly grounds deserving of death, unless it was early Artemis Entreri doing the adjudication. But this isn’t early Artemis Entreri, or even current Artemis Entreri harboring such thoughts, it’s Wulfgar, a returned hero. Calico Grimm might be obnoxious, but he’s still a comrade in arms whose ship Wulfgar boarded. Even if it were the case that Calico Grimm is actually a pirate, one of the ne'er-do-wells that gives Luskan its shady reputation, it doesn’t change the fact that they are on the same side. After all, the Companions of the Hall are supposed to stand for noble self sacrificing values like not randomly murdering people that are even temporarily on the same side as them.
Not only is Wulfgar’s moral compass unaligned with how it’s supposed to be, apparently, the damage that he’d done to his brain during his The Spine of the World alcoholism managed to stay with him through the reincarnation. That, or Drizzt and his supposedly tight-knit group of friends aren’t as close as they’re made out to be. During Wulfgar’s duel with the demon-possessed captain of the fleet besieging Luskan, Kimmuriel imbues Wulfgar with a psionic shield that absorbs all damage and releases it all at once at the absorber’s will. It’s the same mechanic that’s been used countless times in the past, including but not limited to saving newborn Jarlaxle from Matron Baenre’s sacrificial dagger, preventing Calihye’s blade from piercing an otherwise defenseless Entreri’s heart, and, of course, allowing Drizzt to strike down Demogorgon with one hit. That last scenario is pretty monumental, and the kind of thing that Drizzt would’ve told his friends every detail of, for even if he didn’t volunteer, surely they and others would’ve pried and pried about how he defeated Demogorgon. Yet, Wulfgar has no idea what’s happening when his opponent’s blows fail to scratch him. It’s just mind-boggling that he doesn’t make the connection, especially since psionicists are rare enough already in the Realms, even more so in Salvatore’s corner of the Realms; Kimmuriel is literally the only psionicist that the Companions of the Hall know. Wulfgar’s failure to put one and one together really leads me to wonder if the whole purpose of making him so obtuse is to perform yet more tedious review and Drizzt-flattering.
Most painful to me, of course, is Artemis Entreri, who only appears a bit more in Boundless than he does in Timeless, but what’s done to him in Boundless is pretty bad. Entreri’s characterization kicks off on the wrong foot from his entry in the Dramatis Personae section, which reads:
For the umpteenth time, Entreri would not have a concept of “friend”, especially how it is presented in the Drizzt books. It’s an oversimplification and kills the nuance of a character who would still have significant psychological scars and trust issues, even if he were truly and completely over his childhood traumas, which in itself is highly unlikely. I can forgive this bad summary of Entreri, but I can’t overlook how, quite frankly, melodramatic, he’s presented to be in Boundless. While the assassin seems to talk the talk, calling Regis a fool and ridiculing him for his naiveté, he definitely no longer walks the walk. The aura of intimidation that’s so integral to his character no longer feels present. Entreri is quick to reassure Regis about the safety of Donnola, something that even his tempered down self seems unlikely to do. Regis and Entreri have history, and not all or even most of it was pleasant. It’s as though Salvatore forgot that Regis found a helpless and broken Entreri dangling precariously from a branch, and rather than finishing him off quickly as would be the honorable thing to do, Regis stole Entreri’s most prized possession, then cut him loose so that his final moments would be spent in fear and helplessness. One as fiercely protective of his own free will as is Entreri would not forget that so easily, and even if he doesn’t actively hate the Companions of the Hall anymore, just as it makes sense that Regis is uncomfortable about the stub of his pinky that Entreri had inflicted on him in his previous life, Entreri should’ve let the little rat squirm before perhaps mentioning off the cuff that all the citizens of Bleeding Vines survived.
The worst thing done to Entreri in Boundless, however, is worse than the physical trials and travails that befall him. Given that the situation that ensnares him is that he’s trapped in an unbreakable cocoon being stung on every mentionable (and unmentionable) part of his body by vicious demonic wasps, more and more I feel that it’d be best for Entreri if Salvatore just killed him off before ruining him more. While Entreri’s plight is pretty dire, still, it doesn’t seem like enough for him to launch into Drizzt journal entries’ level of melodrama. Entreri has high levels of pain tolerance, as we’ve seen countless times in the past with him losing none of his agility or fighting prowess even after taking a blade through the ribs. Furthermore, the amount of psychological punishment he’s endured far outweighs what he’s gone through physically, such that he shouldn’t resort to wishing for death right away, or cursing everyone, including himself, so quickly. I can maybe accept that he’d do so after a couple of tendays, but we only see him in the cocoon for a few days during Boundless. Furthermore, the impression given by how the pain is described in Boundless is significantly less than the pain that Herzgo Alegni inflicted upon Entreri by striking a tuning fork against Charon’s Claw. It’s more likely that someone of Entreri’s discipline and willpower would’ve found some way to put his mind above the constant pain to focus on figuring out how to get out, if not simply detaching himself from the sensation. Instead, right from the get-go, the first soliloquy we see from him in the cocoon is:
In addition to being too weak, Entreri’s portrayed as being too dependent. As a person who’s lived twice as long as he should have and endured much more than his fair share of torment, one who is used to depending on no one save for himself, how quickly Entreri cries out for Dahlia, how quickly he wishes for death to be spared the pain, just doesn’t fit. Instead it simply completes Salvatore’s neutering process, now not only is Entreri a good guy, but he is no longer even a disciplined warrior. Salvatore’s handling of Artemis Entreri is akin to what I’d said about Salvatore being not intelligent enough to write someone as brilliant as Jarlaxle. It’s clear that Salvatore doesn’t have enough understanding of trauma and physical pain thresholds to do justice to Entreri.
Another poor characterization in Boundless has to do with Dahlia, who seems to have completely forgotten about Effron. Effron doesn’t make an appearance, or is even so much as mentioned, despite some portion of the novel dedicated to the Hosttower of the Arcane, where he currently resides. While I can buy that Effron isn’t significant enough for Gromph to even think of him when declaring the position the Hosttower will take, he is, or at least should be, important enough to Dahlia for her to at least think of him. The relationship between Dahlia and Effron might have started off at a badly, but throughout the entirety of the Neverwinter Saga, Dahlia is tormented by guilt over her son. Seeing what she believed to be the remains of Effron broke Dahlia’s mind and will, causing the normally fiery and irrepressible elf to docilely accept being dragged away for further torture. Seeing that Effron was safe and being reunited him would’ve granted Dahlia closure, but closure doesn’t mean that she wouldn’t want to see him and be near him. We’ve seen that Dahlia tends to be very clingy to those she cares about, so it seems unlikely that she’d accept living in a different city from Effron. Given what Dahlia’s like, she should be torn between her love for Entreri and her love for Effron, especially as the two male characters don’t much care for each other and most certainly wouldn’t want to live together, which Dahlia would likely prefer so that she can be close to both. It should be a cause for tension, not Dahlia simply following Entreri around like a pet, not that Entreri would’ve allowed that anyway. For all of his dislike of Effron and his brusqueness with the general populace, Entreri has shown himself to be extremely devoted to the women that he’s loved. Just as he looked for Calihye after she tried to kill him and accepted her back into his life years later, Entreri would’ve made certain that Dahlia wouldn’t be miserable choosing him over her son.
Chapter 5: World Breaks
Discussion of the ways in which Boundless fails as a piece of tie-in fiction for the Forgotten Realms franchise.
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There’s a reason that Salvatore’s dark elf books are more popular than his works in his own settings, and that reason is only partly due to the Drizzt books being around longer. A fair number of people who actively like the Drizzt books don’t much care for Salvatore’s Demonwars books, and I suspect the reason is that the Drizzt books piggyback off of a greater world built by better creatives. One would think, then, that Salvatore would respect the foundation that has helped lift him to his height, but sadly, the opposite is true. Instead, Salvatore seems chagrined by, even resentful of, the fact that what makes his work in the shared world as popular as it is is the fact that the world is a sum of the efforts of many. Salvatore’s earlier books were much better, in part due to his significantly more humble attitude, but also due to a greater care in respecting what others have woven around him. With each new Drizzt book however, it seems Salvatore is puffing out his chest more, intent on writing his name in a giant sharpie over the tapestry that many hands painstakingly wove together before. The Forgotten Realms may not have some facets as developed as other fantasy worlds like Middle-Earth, but nonetheless, even while missing complete languages, FR has enough self-consistency to at least maintain the feel of the whole. With each new book however, Salvatore turns his nose up at the Realms a new degree. Even if a reader doesn’t care about the world outside of Salvatore’s take on it, I would hope that they’re reasonable enough to see how disrespectful and petty it is to disregard and, at times, erase the work done by others in that same setting, especially when even the creator of the world himself is not exempt from this treatment.
Blinders Against the Greater World
Salvatore’s corner of the Realms has always been very insular, but Boundless takes ignoring of the wider world to a whole new level. To Salvatore, it is as though all there is to the Realms is Faerûn. The planet that is Toril has been reduced to a single continent. Even the great Gromph Baenre, whom Salvatore has fought to elevate to the levels of Blackstaff if not Elminster, doesn’t seem aware that the planet is round. When Gromph tells Penelope Harpell to take Catti-brie far away from danger, he states, “send her away, far away, to the ends of Faerun, to another plane, even.” This presentation is as silly as the flat earth theory of our world, perhaps more so, because to put it in perspective, if this happened in our world, Gromph basically said something alone the lines of, “take her to the ends of North America, to another dimension, even,” when he meant, “take her to the ends of the earth”. So, again, there are two possibilities here: one, that Gromph isn’t as great as he’s made out to seem and actually believes that all of his world is the continent of Faerûn, or two, Salvatore is working very hard to erase the rest of a world that he has no use for. Both possibilities are equally bad.
I think that Salvatore’s hubris prevents him from fact-checking, even when it is exceedingly easy for him to do so. Ed Greenwood routinely answers questions from fans about the Realms, only holding back when something is blocked by non-disclosure agreements. Salvatore would be spared that block, and it would be a simple matter for him to just ask Greenwood through the myriad of available instant messaging methods and ask for a quick fact check. It’s very evident that he doesn’t, however, nor even so much as bother Googling something like “map of Waterdeep”, as is evidenced by his incorrect nomenclature of one of the city’s wards. Entreri and Dahlia have made their home in the Southern Ward of the city, but Salvatore calls it the “South Ward”, despite every map of Waterdeep throughout the editions specifically labeling it as “Southern Ward”. Even in the recent D&D module, Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, Volo’s Enchiridion notes that, “It is called the Southern Ward, not the South Ward. Waterdhavians are peculiar about this, and if you insist on referring to it as the South Ward, expect to be corrected or thought a fool.” I suppose that Salvatore is a fool then, for Dahlia, and most certainly Entreri, wouldn’t be foolish enough to erroneously call the area they live in the South Ward, especially since they’re performing undercover reconnaissance, which would entail not standing out like a sore thumb as foreigners.
Befuddlement of Earth and Toril
One thing that Salvatore did manage to do better than some Realms authors is that, at least in the past, his dialogue read like speakers in the fantasy world rather than in our world. He’s been slipping more and more in the recent books, with Boundless hitting a new low. For instance, Salvatore uses the word “okay”, despite it being specifically stated by Ed Greenwood as not existing in Common. The etymology of “okay” is very specific to our world and, just as it’s unlikely for Common to have come from Latin, “okay” wouldn’t have independently evolved into existence in the Realms. Furthermore, while in Forgotten Realms canon there exist portals connecting different realms in the multiverse, including Earth to Toril, which has allowed for the interchange of language and ideas across worlds, such transmission is rare. Even more unlikely is for an already low probability word making its way into the depths of the Underdark, into a very xenophobic Menzoberranzan, meaning that Jarlaxle actually knowing the word “okay” in past Menzoberranzan is next to impossible. It’s lazy writing, Salvatore isn’t even trying anymore. The same is true for “salty”, which, although is less specific to our world, did come into prominent use in recent times, a fact aligning with Salvatore’s usage of it to beg the question of if he’s actively trying to dumb down his writing to appeal to a wider audience.
Unfortunately, Salvatore’s regression in staying true to Common isn’t limited to individual words. In Boundless, there’s a glaring instance of the usage of a phrase that is specific to Earth. Specifically, during one of Entreri’s melodramatic monologues, while he ponders all the analogies of death, one of the things he specifically thinks is, “the ring around the rosy”. While this isn’t an exact replica of a line from a well-known nursery rhyme, knowing Salvatore it was most likely a typo of “rosie” to “rosy”. There are several issues with the reference. First, it’s evident that Salvatore was referencing the hypothesized morbid nature of the rhyme, when it was believed that it was about the Black Death, with the “ring around the rosie” specifically referring to the swollen red rings around the plague victims’ eyes and/or the the black circles that would appear on their bodies. The Black Death is specific to our world, with no indication of anything similar having happened in the Realms. Even if there was a plague similar to the Great Plague, it would be curbed way before it developed into a pandemic in a world with as much magic as exists in the Realms. Thus, it’s unlikely that a nursery rhyme would develop, especially as plagues are nasty business, bards and the like would much rather extol heroes and heroic deeds. Second, it’d always been weird that a children’s song would be so dark, but it was recently disproven that the rhyme is about the Black Death at all. The plague explanation was one concocted a long time after the appearance of a rhyme with no definite origin, and while a number of different theories exist for the meaning of “ring around the rosie”, folklorists pointed out evidence such as the plague explanation not appearing until the mid-twentieth century and the symptoms supposedly described by the rhyme not fitting with those of the Black Death. Perhaps most tellingly, the Black Death interpretation is based on the modern (and usually American English) form of the rhyme, which is not the rhyme’s original form. This particular phrase that Salvatore uses demonstrates both a world break and a failure in research.
Another world break also happens in that same monologue, specifically, when Entreri thinks, “No existence… no existence… that, so I learn too late, my only heaven.” Salvatore could’ve easily avoided this instance by using the word “salvation” or “peace” instead of “heaven”. As it is, the concept of heaven is unique to the religions of our world. In the Realms, there is no “heaven”, unless one is referring to Mount Celestia. After death, souls go to the realm of the deity they worshiped in life, and if an individual didn’t worship a deity, their soul would go to the deity whose portfolio most closely aligns with how they lived their life. Those like Entreri who reject the worship of any deity would’ve ended up in the Wall of the Faithless, but even that eternity would’ve been better than that of the cocoon. Since Entreri is defining his eternal peace as nonexistence now that the cocoon has shown him the potential horrors that await him, the Wall of the Faithless should feel pretty welcoming to him. The Wall is by no means a pleasant fate, for one’s soul is eternally mortared into it, but neither is it eternal suffering either. However, there’s another world break here in that Salvatore doesn’t seem to want to acknowledge the Wall of the Faithless’ existence. He’d go so far as to create a nonexistent “demon” that will torment those that it deems evil for eternity. The “demon” could actually not be a demon at all, but its human-faced wasp minions certainly don’t seem like the kind of critter that would belong to a goodly creature.
A consistent problem that occurs in the Drizzt books is the lack of self-consistency. Salvatore often seems to forget and/or mix up which of his characters have done what. This was better in Timeless, but worsened in Boundless again. One example of this that is also a disregard for the shared world as a whole is, “Dab'nay stirred from her deep slumber”. Such a simple statement, yet one forgetting something as fundamental as drow having ebony skin. Elves of the Forgotten Realms, which includes drow, don’t typically sleep, unless they are extremely injured. Their equivalent of rest is reverie, which they only need half as much of as creatures needing sleep, and it’s a state in which they are perfectly lucid. I suppose elves can choose to sleep, but it’s illogical that Dab'nay would do so even as comfortable as she feels in that moment. Dab'nay is relatively safe in her hideout, but fundamentally, she is in Menzoberranzan, in the Underdark after all, and there, no place is truly safe. Unless a drow has a death wish, they wouldn’t relinquish the advantage afforded them by reverie unless they had no choice, i.e. when they’re seriously wounded, which leads me to conclude that Salvatore simply forgot, yet again, that drow don’t sleep. It’s really a shame, and also somewhat embarrassing, given that one of his more memorable and evocative lines is, “They sat there under the stars and let the Reverie calm them” (The Two Swords). And that’s not taking into account the War of the Spider Queen series that he supposedly oversaw, in which reverie is referenced in a non-insignificant way.
Another example of self-inconsistency in Boundless is:
This is deserving of a John Stewart baffled look. Drizzt, Jarlaxle and Entreri were allowed to walk free from Quenthel’s dungeons, but Zaknafein was never there, not during Quenthel’s rule anyway. I suppose we don’t actually know where Yvonnel the Second brought Zaknafein back from, it is conceivable that she resurrected him in Quenthel’s dungeons. However, this is super unlikely, because Yvonnel had already left Menzoberranzan behind by that point with no intention of looking back.
Yet another inconsistency in Boundless is Guenhwyvar apparently losing one of her oldest abilities, specifically, her capacity to carry others with her to and from the Astral Plane. This ability initially appeared in the first Drizzt book Salvatore wrote, The Crystal Shard, in which Guenhwyvar whisks Regis away to the safety of her home while the final Cryshal-Tirith crumbles about them. She does this again in The Halfling’s Gem, stealing Regis away again right as things were getting hot for him in Pasha Pook’s guild. In that same book, she later returns to the Prime Material Plane with other astral panthers to obliterate the wererats in the Thieves’ Guild. Just the circumstance of Regis going on a joyride through the Astral Plane not once but twice should’ve led to Drizzt learning about this particular special and powerful ability of his wondrous companion. However, if for some strange reason Regis was tight-lipped about both of his extraordinary experiences with the panther, the spectacle of a pack of panthers materializing to help the Companions rout their enemies should’ve definitely drawn enough notice to inspire some question and investigation. It’s simply inconceivable that Drizzt wouldn’t be aware of Guenhwyvar’s ability to transport passengers to the Astral Plane, unless he were so dense as to not notice, or so oblivious as to not wonder. In Boundless, Drizzt demonstrates himself to be either exceedingly forgetful or exceedingly stupid to not think of this most convenient ability of Guenhwyvar’s that may have solved the Retriever issue right away. Of course, since what Salvatore “created” isn’t a standard Retriever, it’s possible it gained immunity to most everything and incomprehensible cosmic power, but lost its ability to track and travel to other planes? Perhaps that’s its form of an “itty bitty living space”? Yet, in increasing Salvatore fashion, this inconvenient fact is conveniently forgotten, as even Drizzt’s most trusted companion Guenhwyvar isn’t immune to being nerfed so that the golden boy is elevated to new levels. After all, if Guenhwyvar simply took Drizzt to the Astral Plane and lost the Retriever that way, how could Salvatore make Drizzt do that awesome discorporating thing at the end of the novel?
Perhaps the biggest recurring issue in the Drizzt books is the arbitrary impermanence of death. Even putting aside the fact that the Companions of the Hall are immune to permanent death, always finding some way to come back even if it entails a hundred-year time jump imposed by D&D’s edition change, Salvatore seems to blatantly ignore that the resurrection mechanic exists in the world. Resurrection magic might be difficult to access in remote villages as well as being prohibitively expensive for the common folk, but Drizzt and the companions are far from common folk. Bruenor is one of the wealthiest people on the continent, and the companions have allies in advanced, magic-rich cities such as Silverymoon. This isn’t accounting for the fact that even in their midst, Catti-brie should be more than powerful enough to perform one resurrection a day. Pikel, too, is represented to be very powerful, and while he might not be able to resurrect, reincarnating a lost friend in a different form should certainly be within his magic arsenal. Why is none of that being employed to bring back Ambergris when she was slain in Timeless? Why was it not used when Pwent was killed, which would’ve had the bonus effect of also curing his vampirism? The fact that even the endlessly resourceful Jarlaxle doesn’t have some sort of death-defeating spell on hand, even during the Spellplague era, is a gaping hole of an incongruity that’ll never be rectified. Putting that aside, Salvatore treats death even more whimsically than Realms authors who do acknowledge resurrection magic in their books. It really feels like Pwent is revealed as not dead due to popular request, whereas Ambergris is killed off to build drama. Similarly, I question if anyone still draws any tension from any members of the Companions being in “mortal danger”. It doesn’t matter that Drizzt can’t escape the relentless Retriever pursuing him, because we know that he’s not going to die in any permanent sense, and that everything will work out all right for him. This is perhaps not something that can be laid at Salatore’s feet though, as it is intrinsic to most novel series (at least those not written be George R.R. Martin).
Another thing that’s evident from the Drizzt books is that, despite Salvatore styling himself as a D&D expert, his actual understanding of D&D mechanics is very poor. His stats for Drizzt are so laughably optimized that a properly min-maxed character could easily defeat him in one-on-one combat while being as much as ten levels lower than him. However, Drizzt has the thickest plot armor of possibly any fantasy character, so there’s no need for Salvatore to understand the game system that his books borrow from and are based in. Still, it’s very cringe-worthy to see, especially as with each new book, Salvatore is flagrantly disregarding D&D even more. For instance, in Boundless, Jarlaxle’s bag of holding is described as being able to “hold a roomful of goods”. I suppose this is true if it was a pretty small room or if it’s a room full of not very heavy goods, because bags of holding can’t exceed a capacity of five hundred pounds, and if we’re speaking in terms of pure volume, sixty-four cubic feet is the limit. Based on the way that Jarlaxle is pulling forth pouch after pouch full of gold from that bag of holding though, Salvatore makes it sound like he’s got a dragon’s hoard stored in that magical container. Gold and treasure is heavy, so if Jarlaxle indeed wanted to fit a roomful of goods in his bag of holding, he surely must stock some lightweight junk amidst all of those coins.
The above example admittedly isn’t all that bad, especially when considering that since multi-classing into monk, Drizzt’s plot armor thickened exponentially, giving him a bevy of awesome new abilities even though his previous awesomeness meant that he’s high enough level such that he should only have one level to spend into monk. In Boundless, it seems as though Salvatore is reassigning Drizzt’s levels, perhaps taking out those levels in those ranger abilities he never uses and putting them into monk, or perhaps simply by removing the level cap for him. With his sole level in monk, Drizzt kicks a balor in the head for massive damage, even though that one level would’ve only granted him proficiency in unarmed strikes, an alternate low amount of damage (d4), or the possibility for an extra attack. Yet Drizzt is kicking that balor for the damage of all of his fighter levels, as well as being able to remove poison from himself, an ability that monks don’t even have anything similar to until level ten in the form of poison immunity.
At times, Salvatore seems self-conscious about the world and mechanic breaks he performs, and appears to try to make up for them. However, the way that he does so is clumsy and inspires one to facepalm. For instance, a guard “crumples to the floor as if she had been stomped by a tarrasque” after receiving a strike from Dahlia’s nunchaku. The tarrasque is a creature that is unique to the Forgotten Realms, however it is also fifty feet long and seventy feet wide, weighing a whopping value of one hundred and thirty tons. Any medium-sized humanoid, which the guard that Dahlia strikes is, would be little more than a bloody smear even if the tarrasque gently put its foot on them. Yet, the guard didn’t die immediately from such a strike, was even groaning afterwards. The vast ridiculousness of the analogy aside, it’s very unlikely that the guard would be alive at all, for Dahlia’s un-tarrasque-like strike nonetheless was enough to splatter the nearby Regis with “blood, bone, and brain”.
In the same vein as not making sense is:
Since when is “what in the Nine Hells” an old dwarven cliché? As far as I can remember, this is the first time it’s mentioned in a Drizzt book, and I don’t recall seeing that phrase categorized as such in any other Forgotten Realms novels or sourcebooks. It hardly makes sense to and reeks of poor and lazy worldbuilding, While all “facts” in a fantasy setting are made up, this detail is just so random and doesn’t fit with dwarf lore. Dwarven souls can end up in the abyss and Baator (the Nine Hells) as readily as any mortal soul, but dwarves as a race don’t mingle with devils as much as, for instance, humans or even elves do. As such, it’s unlikely that fear of the hells would come from the dwarves. Besides, Bruenor would certainly know the difference between demons and devils, and would thus know that the lawful evil devils would not be marching aside their hated enemies, the chaotic evil demons besieging Gauntylgrm.
One final piece that makes little sense, a tidbit that breaks both D&D rules and Salvatore’s own consistency, is Regis lifting Entreri’s cocoon. Regis doesn’t drag the cocoon, but actually lifts it, gets it on his shoulders, and carries it across a room. Sure, his legs were shaking, but the feat shouldn’t have been possible for him at all. We know from Salvatore’s own text via The Sellswords trilogy that Entreri weighs one hundred and fifty pounds. Assuming that’s with armor included, although it’s unlikely since a man that is five foot five inches tall and as muscular as Entreri is would weigh that fully nude, the cocoon itself should add at least fifty pounds, although more likely much more as it’s described as being thick and made of sludge-like material. As a halfling, Regis would weigh around thirty pounds, and from what we’ve seen, he’s more of a dexterity-based character than strength-based. He shouldn’t have been able to lift the cocoon at all.
There are a number of things that aren’t just inconsistent with the rest of the shared world, they’re not even consistent with our world. A carry-over from Timeless is what was supposed to have been a nightmarish fate left to the priestess who failed, Ash'ala Melarn. The climax of the awful punishment was supposedly “when the maggots hatch in the filthy tub all about [her], that [she] can feel every bite and every squirm over the days as they devoured [her].” As I pointed out in my analysis of Timeless, maggots only eat dead flesh. They don’t eat live flesh, which is why they can be employed in medical treatments as a form of biotherapy. Because they specifically target dead tissue, maggots are effective in preventing infection that is promoted by the presence of dead tissue. Thus, unless drow possess the capacity to maintain sensation in dead tissue, Ash'ala wouldn’t feel the maggots’ bites. It seems that Salvatore just kept compounding his mistake, for in Boundless, we’re reminded of how Ash'ala is “being slowly eaten by maggots”. I suppose that can be true enough if more and more of her tissue is dying and the maggots move on to consume the newly dead tissue, but it’s not really a horrific image because, fundamentally, all dead things are going to be eaten by maggots. I get what Salvatore is trying to go for but if the maggots in their world is the same as ours, it wouldn’t work the way that he’s describing.
Another example of something that just doesn’t fit in either world appears during one of Entreri’s monologues:
I can’t find anything for what “piffy” might mean here. There’s an entry in the Urban Dictionary that states that it means “sexy”, but that definition hardly fits in this context. There’s also an explanation that it’s a British saying that means to be conspicuous but left out of an activity, but that hardly fits either. Is this Salvatore’s version of Trump’s covfefe, or a truly epicly bad spelling of pithy that doesn’t really fit either? Perhaps its an attempt to show us that language is “Boundless”.
Chapter 6: Ego Stroking
An examination at the ways in which Boundless is fundamentally a self-congratulatory work.
Before Timeless, each new Drizzt novel release reached a new level of self-congratulation and selling out. After a one book break with Timeless, Boundless hops right back on the proverbial horse and charges to new distances.
The Ineffable Companions of the Hall
As mentioned in the previous section, Drizzt’s awesomeness has increased yet again. It isn’t quite clear what specifically is going on with him and what specific abilities he’s using from his new multi-classing, but one thing is evident: Drizzt is way more than what he should be. I suppose this follows tradition, but it’s past the point of ridiculous. While something like Drizzt’s monk training helping him run more efficiently is plausible even at level one as long as it also isn’t making him run faster, which is an ability monks do not gain until level two, the feat that Drizzt performs at the end of the novel isn’t even a monk ability, at least not in the current D&D edition. Drizzt eludes a creature that wouldn’t stop chasing him so long as they both exist on the same plane, and having stripped himself down to his underclothes, Drizzt has only his own body with which to perform his feat. The feat he performs is more on the level of Grandmaster Kane, who transcended death long ago and doesn’t seem to even need his corporeal form anymore. Drizzt literally vanishes into nothing, and the creature chasing him returns to its home plane after its supernatural senses verify that Drizzt indeed no longer existed on the Prime anymore. So, several possibilities exist here, lets examine a few. First, Drizzt’s awesomeness somehow negated a fundamental aspect of a very powerful creature that he couldn’t defeat in combat. Second, Drizzt performed the astral projection portion of the level eighteen monk ability Empty Body. Third, Drizzt performed the twentieth level ability Psionic Body of the imbalanced and not yet official Mystic class from Unearthed Arcana. Fourth, Drizzt’s sheer amazingness allowed him to transcend the mortal world and spontaneously become a Jedi master. The first of these possibilities is the least trite, but is still inherently based on a cheap tactic. I am legitimately afraid of what Salvatore is going to tell us about what happened. The creature pursuing Drizzt is a Retriever, with a challenge rating of fourteen. Yet, in Boundless, they are presented to be much more than that, on par with the demon lords and feared by lesser demons. In D&D canon, even a normal marilith poses a greater danger than a Retriever, and Drizzt had managed to singlehandedly defeat the greatest of that class of demon, the Maritlith who gave its name to its type. A Retriever, in comparison, should be no problem at all for him, but Salvatore inflates the power level of an established creature in order to create drama and suspense rather than coming up with something more original, or doing more research and finding something of an appropriate power level to use. The second possibility shouldn’t be viable at all, the only reason aside from making his character and hence himself awesome through it is a story arc for the characters to recover or recreate Drizzt body and relocating his soul to put back into it. The third possibility I named is just really nothing short of Salvatore signing his name in an ugly sharpie across the tapestry of the Realms. Even though Grandmaster Kane was his creation too, apparently, Drizzt has to be the best, even among his own. The fourth option? Well, that one seems like it might be the most likely after all. I mean Salvatore does have an in with the Star Wars community… and wouldn’t we all want Drizzt to dual-wield light sabers?
The self-congratulation doesn’t stop with Drizzt. The Companions of the Hall, in addition to being great heroes, apparently also have to be extremely physically attractive. This has already been done to death with Drizzt and Catt-brie, and in Boundless we’re reminded a number of times of how hot Wulfgar is, but absent of this treatment thus far is Regis and Bruenor. I think Salvatore realizes that perhaps even his most fervent fans might raise an eyebrow if he pimped out Bruenor, or perhaps he doesn’t have the stomach to do so for a character who’s basically a very muscular, short and hirsute man. That said, it’s not like he hasn’t tried, for Bruenor has two wives instead of one after all. In Boundless, the circle is complete with Regis, who previously was a chubby (and hence unattractive) halfling. Now, he is described as a “quite striking figure” and “quite the dashing figure”, wearing fancy clothes and equipment whilst rakishly having his “vest undone just enough to hint at another weapon he carried beneath it”. Regis is so arresting that the disciplined and task-focused Dahlia “fancied she might comb her hair in her reflection” in the shiny silver buckles of his boots. Regis might’ve been a plump and greedy glutton with a heart of gold in his previous life, but no more. Now, he fits in with and stands beside the rest of his group in equal beauty, because apparently, it isn’t enough for heroes to heroically kick people when they are down. They have to be look good while doing so too, or at least, Salvatore’s heroes need to be best in all aspects.
As is routine with Drizzt’s journal entries, there is much sanctimonious preaching. In Boundless, Drizzt lectures about tradition and the perils of following problematic traditions. Yet, Drizzt doesn’t break from tradition himself, as though he, through being who he is, is absent from even that which he himself cautions about. In the opening to part three, Drizzt extols the dwarves for constantly searching for new tunnels to mine, Wulfgar for overcoming the sexist conditioning of his tribe, and the halflings of Bleeding Vines for the malleability of their society. Yet, he continues to hold fast to his intolerance of Zaknafein and his conviction of there being only one right path, namely, the one tread by him. This really makes him more akin to the unchanging Lolthite society of Menzoberranzan, the atrocious practices of the Prisoner’s Carnival, and the insular elves who turn away refugees from their shelter, all things which he condemns. Drizzt, of course, is a fictional character, and these entries are Salvatore’s words. The thing that is nearly unique about Drizzt in these novels is that he tends to present a more or less consistent stance and voice and this is still the case. Other characters are markedly less consistent, and I suspect this is driven by the fact that they are more purely whole cloth creations of Salvatores. This leads me to believe that Drizzt acts as Salatore’s perhaps unconscious spokesman, and that these ideas spouted by Drizzt are Salvatore’s own ideas. If so, he is attempting to give them more validity by having them spouted by a “hero”, and specifically one that he continues to build up to ridiculous levels.
Me, Myself, and I
Zaknafein, whom we’re told on numerous occasions is so expert that he is pure grace with no wasted moves, is remarkably showy. During the recreational cavern-jumping sequence of the past timeline as well as the fleeing of the demons of the present timeline, Zaknafein’s free-running style is more typical of a YouTube parkour performer. There are a lot of unnecessary flips, as though Salvatore in fact used a YouTube video for his writing guideline. Traceurs perform all the acrobatic feats that they do in their videos because it’s more entertaining than if they simply followed the most efficient strategies for navigating a route. There’s much of pointless flipping in those videos, such as running up a wall and back-flipping off of it only to climb that same wall again. Salvatore’s describes Zaknafein doing a lot of similar things, with back-flipping off of stalagmites when he could just jump across, or running up surfaces that he doesn’t need to run up in the first place to perform the subsequent moves. The specifics of Zaknafein’s blade work is harder to comment on, as it’s weighed down by Salvatore’s tedious need to walk through the moves as though he were making a grocery list, but the amount of leaping and turning serving nothing but to offer his opponents openings makes the fight scenes reminiscent of old Chinese martial arts movies, where the combatants spent most of their time somersaulting at each other than exchanging blows. I believe Salvatore fancies himself a master of writing combat, for much of Boundless showcases his combat and action scenes, this is an inconvenient truth for those that would like to agree with Mr. Salvatore about his mastery.
R. A. Salvatore might not be able to remember details of the greater world nor bother to spend the time to look them up, but he certainly will toot his own horn and reference his own work as though it’s the only thing written in the Realms. The Stone of Tymora trilogy, penned by him and his son, Geno Salvatore, is a loose spin-off from the Drizzt series, featuring protagonists with less relation to the dark elf books than the cast of The Cleric Quintet. Yet, we’re to believe that the, objectively speaking in the greater scope of the shared world, insignificant events have sent ripples that are still felt a hundred years later. The not-so-inconspicuously named ship, Joen’s Heirloom, just so happens to be the trusty vessel boarded by one of the exalted heroes of the Companions of the Hall as well as the co-leader of Bregan D'aerthe. Joen is the co-star of that trilogy and eventually rises to become a minor pirate queen. Maimun, the main protagonist, and Joen were last seen during the Transitions trilogy, mourning the passing of Deudermont. The demon controlling Brevindon Margaster, a key figure in the noble Waterdhavian house that is consorting with demons, is a cambion named Asbeel. Asbeel is the name of yet another character from the Stone of Tymora trilogy, specifically, the main antagonist of the series. The last we saw of that Asbeel was being stabbed through the heart after the magic that was keeping him immortal was broken. In addition, that Asbeel, although cursed to appear with the visage of a demon whenever he wasn’t in a shrine of Beshaba or Tymora, was fundamentally a moon elf. The Asbeel in Boundless is described as a cambion. Yet, this cambion possesses a “melodic and high-pitched” voice, specifically, “the voice of an elf, but twisted and grating”. It seems to be no coincidence, especially considering that the description of Asbeel’s sword in Stowaway, the first book of the Stone of Tymora series, is as follows: “Black iron, the blade was longer than Perrault was tall, and the whole length of it curved. The convex edge, the sharp side, was wickedly serrated, with bright red barbs lining its length. Even the hilt looked capable of killing. Its crosspiece of twisted metal spikes, a dozen perhaps, jutted at odd angles, and several more spikes stuck out beneath the demon’s red hand where a pommel should have been. More frightening still, the length of the blade blazed with red flame.” Meanwhile, the blade wielded by Brevindon Margaster, specifically stated by the text to be “Asbeel’s sword”, is described as, “a black blade” as well as, “a curving, viciously serrated bastard sword with a handle of jagged spikes that cut into his hands when he wielded it”. It seems pretty clear that these two weapons are the same, even if the one that appears in Boundless is “completed in the town of Port Llast after the sacking” that had occurred earlier in the novel. Perhaps Asbeel was “reforged” in some way too for the purpose of this Generations trilogy, but another thing becomes, I believe, very clear: that Salvatore took time to reference other material, which is something he most certainly hasn’t done recently to the works of others, and oftentimes not even to his own earlier books. Yet, what makes the Stone of Tymora series an exception? I suspect that his special treatment of it, as well as the name of the current trilogy, hints at the reason, which I’ll go into further in the speculations section. Either way, it’s yet another example of Salvatore exalting, or, at the very least, recognizing himself.