Prior to the latest release of R.A. Salvatore’s novel The Companions: The Sundering, Part 1, the author of the famous Forgotten Realms series featuring its paradoxical hero, a dark elf with a good heart, didn’t hit it off well. The prior release, The Ghost King, was received with muted applause by many fans and was considered a weak performance by an author who has produced far better novels, at least according to many Drizzt Do’Urden fans. The other criticism was that Salvatore’s later work after the success of the early dark elf novels of the same character just didn’t have the same pizzazz that captured so many readers in the first place.
Setting the Stage
So along comes The Sundering. What better way to shake things up then to have a novel universe-wide cataclysm occur threatening the fabric of existence that every character in Salvatore’s books are aware of to date? Dubbed an “Era of Upheaval,” the Sundering becomes a catalyst for throwing all the old parameters and rules out the window when it comes to Salvatore’s stories to date. Fans and readers can’t apply the same assumptions because, well, the world is turning upside down. Rules don’t apply well when chaos reigns. Of course, the Sundering is supposed to be the last in a series of big shakeups to both the deities and mortal beings of the Forgotten Realms, so it really matters this time to everyone involved, god and peon.
In this particular novel, however, R.A. Salvatore doesn’t get to write the whole story; he only gets to write one book of six different parts written by six different authors. The intent is obvious, bring in different voices and writing to give readers a full sense of the expanse of the Sundering over the entire Forgotten Realms, not just one part of it. Combined with the works of Paul Kemp with Godborn, Erin Evans with The Adversary, Richard Byers with The Reaver, Troy Denning and The Sentinel, and Ed Greenwood’s work on the The Herald, the Sundering storyline along with R.A. Salvatore’s The Companions is then made complete.
An Interesting Spin
Despite not having the entire story to work with, R.A. Salvatore does amaze his readers with the one piece he does get to play with. Being the first book of The Sundering, Salvatore gets to set the stage for the bigger umbrella theme, and he does so with his main hero, Drizzt. Ironically, it’s Drizzt’s old friends that make up much of the reading.
For those who have read Salvatore’s early books in the Forgotten Realm, The Companions audiobook will seem like a throwback to one of the earliest novels when Drizzt was first introduced to readers. Drizzt’s original partners Regis, Catti-Brie, Bruenor and Wulfgar come back together again on the Prime Material Plane. This is a bit of challenge since Salvatore can’t just say all the characters were reincarnated with a big explosion and sparkle; that sounds and reads cheap. Fortunately, the author’s skill really comes out again, creating comparisons to his early books that attracted readers in the first place.
A key factor in the book involves the companion characters being faced with penultimate challenge: what will you sacrifice for a friend? As the book starts off, the companions reach a point when their souls come together, and it’s due to deities getting involved and needing mortal help. For the Sundering the gods each have to choose a champion to represent them during the turmoil. The Forest Queen, Mielikki, has chosen the dark elf, Drizzt, as her champion. That said, she knows Drizzt needs help and lots of it. Ergo, why the companions’ souls are brought together via reincarnation and reunification as a team; they are needed to help Drizzt when his path becomes the most challenged and dark.
Mielikki literally catches the companions’ souls and gives them a choice. They can be reincarnated and live again in the physical world versus an eternal rest. However, the price is that they have to help Drizzt reach his champion goals at his time of need. It means giving up paradise and an afterlife at the time and going back into the world again. But they get to retain their prior memories, and their skills in their new personas.
The story would end there if the companions weren’t bonded as soul-mate friends to their dark elf friend. They choose to help the elf despite losing the ability to go to paradise and their relatives in the afterlife. The book then travels with each companion aging again to adulthood and literally getting a second chance to relive a life, with all the choices but with new players along the way. The stories weave separately but move directly to meet with each other at the age of 21 in Icewind Dale (the placement of the second Drizzt Do’Urden series by Salvatore – The Icewind Dale Trilogy). Of course, this reunion with the dark elf has a bit of a twist buried in it. Reincarnation doesn’t automatically mean an exact replay of a life lived before.
For fans of Salvatore’s older books, The Companions audiobook is simply a must and is an entertaining return to the author’s earlier style. If you are new to the Forgotten Realms and these characters, it may be best to start with one of the earlier books, such as the The Crystal Shard, though The Companions is still a splendid audiobook that can stand on its own. That said, the ending does leave the reader with a few questions, understandably so, seeing as this is the first volume of a much larger series.
Audiobook fans will be pleased to know that Victor Bevine is back once again for the audiobook narration. A welcome return after his excellent reading of Salvatore’s Icewind Dale and Dark Elf Trilogies. Bevine perfectly captures the voice of these characters and the audiobooks just wouldn’t be the same without him.