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Glacier's Edge: A Detailed Analysis

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Negatives (Technical Writing)

While not valued by some, correct technical writing, such as spelling, punctuation and grammar, go a long way towards a book’s fundamental readability. Although I consider Salvatore’s errors in the technical department minor compared to the crimes he commits against, for instance, characterization, I will point out the errors in Glacier’s Edge both for the sake of being thorough, but also because it’s pretty embarrassing for an author that touts his status as a multi-time New York TImes Bestseller to have so many issues occur in his technical writing. Some of these instances appear to be typos that were also overlooked by his editor, but some appear to be, appallingly, conscious choices that Salvatore made.

 

Punctuation Problems

The first example of bad technical writing occurs in the very first sentence of the prologue:

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This is one of those shockingly bad conscious choices. “And the cold.” is not a proper sentence, as it lacks both a subject and a predicate. I believe Salvatore was trying to achieve a sense of isolation, with emphasis on the dark, quiet and the cold, but this is a really clumsy and not at all evocative way of going about it. While it’s true that brevity is the soul of wit, it does not mean that one should abandon basic writing rules, especially when doing so doesn’t gain anything at all to convey one’s point. The above construction would work better if it, for instance, told us more about either of the three qualities of dark, quiet, and cold, and then drew a comparison of the other two qualities to the one that’s being specified. As it is, with just those two sentences, dark can be anything from sunset to the lightless areas of the Underdark, quiet could be anything from a classroom during an exam to a soundproofed room, and both a Floridian in New York during November and a Swede in the second month that the sun hasn’t risen would both be cold. Adjectives just flung out there do leave more space for the imagination, but that lack of specificity also fails to convey the qualities of the setting.

The next error is a basic one:

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The absence of the comma feels strangely like seeing a car painted a really ugly shade like baby shart green. It’s not a big deal if it’s some old, run down vehicle from an age long past, no one’s going to look at it twice anyway and if they do, the paintjob isn’t what they’d worry about. However, in this case with Mr. Mutli-NYT Bestseller, who believes that his work is more akin to a Ferrari, looking at that painfully basic error is like looking at a freaking Ferrari painted baby shart green complete with textured details in shades of brown and yellow.

The baby shart green car phenomenon reappears with:

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I’ll leave it off here rather than coming up with another overly detailed and gross analogy for this technical and very basic error.

Another example of a technical and very basic mistake is the following:

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Everyone makes typos, but not everyone throws their weight around boasting about how they’re multi-time NYT Bestsellers and how they “created the drow of the Forgotten Realms” (by the way, he didn’t. Dude didn't even create Lolth or her cult, let alone other drow deities, faiths, cultures, and cities). This kind of thing is just embarrassing for someone with decades of writing experience and access to the editors of one of the world’s top publishing companies.

 

Shameful Similes and Maladroit Metaphors

While Salvatore has pulled off some successful similes in Glacier’s Edge, the following is not an example of one:

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The sad thing about this fail is that it seems that Salvatore had the right idea, but instead of actually describing a delicious, flavor-filled scent from a far-off land, he just leaves it feeling like notes to an editor or ghostwriter to do the actual work. It is understandable that specificity might prove to be a turn-off to some readers, as people’s tastes vary vastly. However, it’s still better to use something specific and evocative, and there are a lot of things that are pretty much safe bets across countless cultures, for instance the smell of bread freshly out of the oven.

Salvatore demonstrates in Glacier’s Edge that he understands how to use similes, even understands how to use them well, but then passages like the following call that knowledge into question:

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This is frustrating for two reasons: first, based on how we see that window of ice function, it is literally a trap by D&D standards. If we move away from D&D though, and consider this from the perspective of someone who’s never heard of D&D before, the comparison doesn’t really elucidate anything. This simile, if it can even be called that, is just confounding all around. The sad thing is, this sentence has an immensely easy and straightforward fix: remove everything after the comma and replace the comma with a period. If he’s really married to mentioning the trap comparison, simply remove the “like”, and bam, it’s better.

A successful simile not only employs an evocative image, the comparison should also possess the appropriate mood. The following is a decent comparison, however conveys entirely the wrong mood:

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A frantic crab evokes chaos, incoordination, and most of all, retreat, as the only time that most people witness frantic crabs is when they’re trying to eat them and the crab is attempting to flee for its life. It doesn’t even evoke speed, as even a crab in full retreat is not the speediest of creatures. While this could be somewhat mitigated if one were to substitute “demonic” for “frantic” that still doesn't make it truly appropriate. After all, the Hunter, the name given to Drizzt’s primal battle alter ego that puts him in a higher state of instincts and enhances his combat prowess, is supposed to be more akin to an apex predator. Silent, precise and deadly as a great horned owl diving for its prey is more the vibe of the Hunter, not some unintelligent crustacean that’s pretty far down multiple food chains.

Another misuse of simile can be found in the following:

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All it takes to fix this one is to change the simile to an explanation. As a simile, the passage fails like the earlier one about a trap reset. Rewritten as, for instance, “a hand reaching up from the floor as though some gigantic creature dwelled below the icy surface”, fewer words are employed, and becomes more evocative.

A good simile loses its effectiveness if used repeatedly. This is the case with the following:

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The instance of likening Minolin Fey to a displacer beast is effective, but removing the tentacles and a pair of legs from the feline does not a new simile make. Much like how the first instance of something is unique but the second is a copycat and a poser, this low budget simile falls flat. That isn’t to say repeated and similar similes can’t be effective, for instance if the author wants to convey that a certain character has feline qualities, repeating variations of the comparison can solidify the impression. However, these are two totally different characters. By comparing them to similar things, it only serves to muddle the distinctiveness of their respective personalities.

I’ll take this opportunity to refresh what constitutes a simile: a simile is a figure of speech involving the comparison of one thing with another thing of a different kind, used to make a description more emphatic or vivid. Similes, alongside metaphors, all fall under the analogies category. Although it wouldn’t be totally inaccurate to describe the above passage as an analogy, in general analogies are more extensive and elaborate than a simile. Furthermore, analogies are a type of argument where there is a clear comparison and a relation between two different concepts or objects and similes are a literary device that makes a direct comparison between two different things. For this reason, the comparison being made in an analogy can be used to make an explanatory point, whereas a simile cannot be used in the same fashion.

An example of a bad simile is the one found at the end of this passage:

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While the imagery of a terrified washerwoman stomping rats isn’t a bad one insofar as being evocative, the mood in the comparison is totally wrong. As a dragon, Tazmikella is among the apex predators of her world, which is true even considering that copper dragons are not the most powerful among dragons. The opponents that she is treading underfoot are certainly to her as at most rats are to a human woman, far less than rats if one is being honest, as the average rat wouldn't likely be eliminated due a a generic stomping, even if the stomper was terrified. Further, the mood of the situation Tazmikella is in compared to the washerwoman is severely off. The passage leading up to the last part projects confidence, ferociousness, and the coordination of a majestic creature dominating her enemies. A terrified washerwoman in contrast likely stomps more floor than rat, and while there might be an argument made for ferociousness, she is anything but coordinated, majestic, or confident in her endeavors. I suppose bonus points should be given to Salvatore for attempting to make an in universe comparison (in the sense that the Realms, as a fantasy world loosely based on medieval times has washerwomen like all such fantasy worlds do), however in this case that is not sufficient to save it from failing. The sad thing is, this simile could be greatly improved by a simple modification: the removal of the word “terrified”, or perhaps replacing it with something to the effect of “frenzied”. With either change, the lack of confidence and coordination can be effectively removed by the reader’s interpretation. The no longer specifically terrified washerwoman becomes one who is accustomed to dealing with rats as one of the aspects of city life, and is going about her routine of chasing them away from her work space. In such a scenario, both confidence and coordination comes from her familiarity with the situation. Better similes can be found for the situation, but the existing one is salvageable.

The final simile fail, which really takes the cake, is the following: 

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What the serious heck is this analogy even supposed to mean? Taking it apart doesn’t help in making any more sense of it, starting with how the children sent to war part is supposed to be a positive, but even in Lolthite drow culture that is definitely not a positive practice. What exactly is Gromph feeling here? One would presume pride or perhaps determination, given the impressive scope of his attack and the formidability of his opponent. I think Salvatore might be trying for that Gromph is putting out meteors in a great quantity like some large birthing monster puts out offspring, but even taken in that context, it’s difficult to make sense of this comparison. Is Salvatore saying that Gromph has sent many of his children to war? That Gromph enjoys seeing his children burn? It’s honestly difficult to tell. This is most likely one of those things that he wrote thinking that it sounds cool, and of course those among his fans who believe that the most redeeming quality of women are their looks will be all like, “omg that’s so cool” without actually stopping and considering that it means less than nothing.

 

Other Imagery Issues

One of the most prominent and obnoxious Salvatorisms has been the “back on his/her/their heels” phrase. In the past, Salvatore used this phrase so much that someone was being forced back on their heels in almost every tense encounter, combat or otherwise. He has gotten better from abusing it so much, hopefully from the realization that people do not actually go back onto their heels when surprised, especially not expert masters of combat. In Glacier’s Edge, this usage appears only four times. One of those times actually has me wondering if Salvatore has indeed progressed enough beyond this old and awful trope to poke fun at himself for it:

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As commendable as it would be if he were intentionally making fun of himself, unfortunately this passage is unsuccessful overall. While it is a decent example of using context to define the uncommon word “hallux”, unfortunately the understanding of the word is incomplete. The hallux is indeed on the back side of a bird’s foot, but it’s one of the digits of the foot rather than the actual heel. The hallux of a bird is more like our thumb or big toe, and a creature with bird feet would not want to go back on its hallux anymore than we’d want to put weight on our fingers or toes in the opposite direction that they naturally bend. What would more realistically happen, in the unrealistic scenario of going back on one’s heels, is that the vrock would go back to the part of its feet that’s most similar to our thenars, which are the rounded fleshy parts of the hand at the base of the thumb, or in other words, the “heel” of our palms. Please note that I’m not saying that the above passage would be improved with the incorporation of accurate technical terms. It would not be, and the best way to fix it is to drop this Salvatorism altogether.

Astonishingly, sometimes Salvatore seems to actually forget what a simile is, and/or how to use one:

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The above is an utter failure of a writing device masquerading as a simile. The context of the situation is that Galathae and Allefaero are being pursued by polar worms as they desperately try to make their way to the ropes leading out of the worms’ lair. The entity whose side is blackened and smoking is one of the polar worms, who had been struck by one of Allefaero’s lightning attacks. The polar worm had literally been seared by lighting. There is no “as if” about it. The way that this is written is the same type of fail as, “the lamp sat there like an inanimate light-emitting object”, “the ice was as cold as frozen water”, “the fire was hot like burning”, you get the idea. Even if the argument were made that this passage is written the way it is because it’s being told from Galathae’s perspective and that she was really in the zone, that she didn’t know what Allefaero had been up to, it would make even less sense. Galathae and Allefaero had gone down as a two man rescue team, in a highly dangerous situation one doesn’t need to be a seasoned combatant to know to prioritize having each other’s backs. Furthermore, Galathae had seen Allefaero use devastating lightning attacks against the polar worms, and her witnessing his prowess had caused a conscious shift of her perspective of him. Finally, in that same scene, we’re told how sacred Galathae considered her duty of trying to save Allefaero and how she owed it to her god to do so. Given all of these, Galathae would either have to be not very bright at all or have less of a memory than a goldfish to see the polar worm’s injury and think, “Oh gee, that looks like lightning damage, I wonder where it came from?” rather than immediately making the connection between it and Allefaero. It would be easily fixed by dropping the “as if”, or just removing everything after the comma altogether.

Repetition is definitely not the soul of wit, but Salvatore sure enjoys engaging in it. Spamming the words, “magnificent” and “fine”, has long been one of the Salvatorisms, but thankfully with the recent books he seems to have been weaned off of the habit of using those two words. In my analyses of previous books, I noted that unfortunately he has replaced those two favorites with new words to spam. In Glacier’s Edge, he adds “strange creature” to his arsenal:

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While in general, three times can hardly be called spamming, Salvatore only uses “strange creature” four times in the book, and three of those refer to Yvonnel 2.0. Moreover, each of those three instances of referring to Yvonnel 2.0 are done by different characters: the first by Sos’Umptu Baenre, the second by Kyrnill Melarn, and the third by Mez’Barris Armgo. Less of imparting to the reader that the Lolthites view Yvonnel 2.0 in a dehumanizing (de-drow-izing?) manner, the repetition of “strange creature” feels more like a memo had been passed around among the Lolthites denoting that this is how Yvonnel 2.0 should be described. Its almost as if Menzoberranzan's Facebook had Yvonnel change her status to “Strange Creature”. It would’ve been more effective for each of the matron mother listed above to have her own way of describing Yvonnel 2.0, but all to the same effect. However, Salvatore does not do this, perhaps out of laziness, or perhaps it was too difficult for him to come up with two variations of the concept of “strange creature”. Here are some alternatives that could’ve worked: bizarre entity, aberration, odd beast, incomprehensible personage. I didn’t use a thesaurus for those, but perhaps Salvatore could benefit from using one. However, a thesaurus is just a tool, and like any tool, its effectiveness depends on the abilities of its wielder. Knowing Salvatore, sadly, the most likely outcome of the employment of a thesaurus would be phrases that range from weird to cringey in nature. 

One of the ways to distinguish between a good author and a bad one is through gauging the amount of showing versus telling that they employ in their writing. Showing is using descriptions that appeal to the reader’s senses to convey an idea, concept, image and/or conclusion to them, whereas telling is directly informing the reader of the aforementioned things. Writing via showing is superior to writing via telling not only because it’s more poignant, but also it’s more difficult to pull off effectively. Salvatore’s writing unfortunately consists of a great deal of telling rather than showing, and just like there are varying degrees of success when it comes to showing, there are varying degrees of failure when it comes to telling. The following passage in Glacier’s Edge is an example of telling instead of showing, and a particularly incompetent case of it as well:

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The failure that I’m specifically referring to is “distinctive-looking”, an adjective that conveys nothing at all in terms of characterization. Distinctive can mean being different from others, or having an uncommon quality. If we take the first meaning, it’s really a ‘well, duh” moment, because everyone looks different from everyone else. The second meaning doesn’t make the descriptor any more effective, for the traits that Salvatore elaborates upon, namely her thick copper hair and bigger than average blue eyes, are not qualities that are all that out of the ordinary. It would be far more effective to take out the waste of the two words and replace them with descriptions of other aspects of her features. For instance, how high and pronounced are her cheekbones? Do her ears have a slight point to them because of her true nature? What is the size of her nose, the height of its bridge, the flare of the nostrils, the shape of its tip? Since this is Ilnezhara, mayhaps she’d incorporate some subtle draconic features in her human appearance, for instance, do her pupils have a slight vertical elongation that only the most observant might note? Are her teeth just slightly too sharp for a human’s, only visible when she grins fiercely? Is her hair straight, curly, or any number of textures, and does it shine with a metallic gleam under sunlight? All of these are just some of the many many examples of how we could be shown about Ilnezhara, instead of being told she’s “distinctive-looking”. As it is however, Salvatore might as well be describing the protagonist of the live action Alita: Battle Angel movie, a film most remember by the realistic anime-proportioned character:

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Change the hair and eye color, and we’d have the “distinctive-looking” woman described above. That’s truly a face that’ll stick in your mind because it’s so much unlike anything else you’ve seen before, hence distinctive. Sorry, not sorry.

Salvatore’s fight scenes might as well be treatises on telling instead of showing. In the more recent books, the fight scenes have gotten better, mainly through their decreases in length. The shorter sequences have reduced the likelihood of there being more words than clarity about what is actually happening. Often the earlier descriptions have played out like Hollywood C-list stop-action fight sequences, as this reader’s experience demonstrates:

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However, this isn’t to say that the telling has gotten any better or is even reduced. Case in point:

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Much like the earlier example with “distinctive-looking”, this passage serves us up a bunch of words with very little meaning. It also feels totally devoid of heart. In previous novels, Salvatore would liken Drizzt’s combat maneuvers to a deadly dance, now, these descriptors fall so flat that they don’t even possess the concept that they could leap off the page and lift our imaginations. Like all of Salvatore’s combat scenes, there is so much lost potential. Instead of making a grocery list of occurrences, the scenes would be much more evocative if they, like with all effective writing, appealed to all of our senses. Action scenes have the additional potential of throwing the reader into the midst of them by offering us glimpses of the participants’ thoughts and reactions, as well as what they see, hear, feel, smell, and taste, but of course, Salvatore doesn’t do that either. I suppose the one upside to the example cited above is that at least he didn’t actually cite a specific number of strikes and conceivable angles, which, given his track record, would’ve been laughably ridiculous in nature.

It is difficult to say why the examples covered in this section exist, as many of them are easy fixes, or have corresponding successful instances as discussed in the Positives section. As that section showed, Salvatore can do better, but it’s anyone’s guess why he doesn’t. Of course, while it does happen with some books, it would be unreasonable to expect every book to excel throughout. However, this reader can’t help but feel that a little extra effort can go a long way into improving the quality of Drizzt novels, at least in the technical department.

It is difficult to say why the examples covered in this section exist, as many of them are easy fixes, or have corresponding successful instances as discussed in the Positives section. As that section showed, Salvatore can do better, but it’s anyone’s guess why he doesn’t. Of course, while it does happen with some books, it would be unreasonable to expect every book to excel throughout. However, this reader can’t help but feel that a little extra effort can go a long way into improving the quality of Drizzt novels, at least in the technical department.