I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
Akar Kessel, weak-willed apprentice mage, starts events that find a magical device, the crystal shard. Dwarf Bruenor rescues barbarian Wulfgar from the ruins of Ten-Towns, for 5 years of service - and friendship. With help from renegade dark elf Drizzt, Wulfgar becomes a warrior with brawn and brains. Can the trio stave off the crystal shard forces?
I can see where this would have been an extremely popular book in its time. It does, however, very much show its status as first published book by this author and as a high fantasy published in the 1980s. It reminded me strongly of the Shannara series by Terry Brooks, which started off very dependent on The Lord of the Rings for races, imagery, and even some plot points, but which eventually moved off in its own direction. I think nowadays we could refer to works like these as LOTR fan fiction. LOTR was immensely influential and writers were trying to recreate the experience for eager readers, who were tired of re-reading Tolkien’s epic to get their fix.
To give credit to Salvatore, he moves things off in his own direction quite quickly. He may have halflings with furry feet (thankfully, he doesn’t call them hobbits), elves, dwarves, goblins and orcs, but they march to his drum and he doesn’t just copy Tolkien’s plot lines. The good people may have slight shadings of grey to their goodness, but the villains are definitely mustache-twirling, evil-laughing baddies, very typical of the time period. There is some battle detail, but certainly nothing resembling the nitty-gritty of the grim-dark fantasy that is currently popular. The reader can be quite confident that all the main characters will survive to have another adventure and that good will conquer in the end.
Salvatore adds some imaginative elements—for example, Drizzt, our Dark Elf main character, has a magical panther companion. Instead of a pastoral setting, all of his characters live on or right beside the tundra. The barbarian tribes make interesting enemies and eventually allies (frenemies perhaps?) for the settled humans. I was particularly amused by the knucklehead trout, the skulls of which were ideal for carving, rather like ivory in our world.
Also typical of the 1980s, female characters are scarce and barely have names, let alone roles to play in the action. But this is merely the first book, so there is room for development. The ending leads me to believe that the second book will be the more familiar quest tale.
Book number 229 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.