The story of the famed Drizzt Do’Urdens continues in Relentless, the third and final installment of The Generations Trilogy. (But not necessarily the “last Drizzt book” from author R.A. Salvatore.)
I left off my review of the second book, Boundless, with this statement:
Who knows? Maybe the third installment will shake up the status quo of the setting! It certainly feels like the story we’ve seen thus far could be that big – what, with all of Menzoberranzan mobilized, Gauntylgrym threatened, and at least one god making big plays.
Turns out I was right. And it was not only me, as the reader, who was surprised by the turns of events in Relentless, but many of the characters, as well. Menzoberranzan, the home of the drow, will never be the same.
Upsetting the Long-Established World of the Drow
Matron Zhindia has by all appearances been blessed and chosen by Lloth, the spider goddess of the drow. She commands an army of demons, scores of driders, and was even gifted with two retrievers: some of Lloth’s rarest and greatest bestowments. These constructs were sent to drag the newly resurrected Zaknafein Do’Urden and his pesky and equally heretical son, Drizzt, into the abyss.
The drow matrons of Menzoberranzan have a difficult choice before them:
- Accept that Zhindia is Lloth’s most beloved, upsetting the centuries old order of Matron Mother Quenthel Baenre’s reign as the first seat on the ruling council (and thus the Queen of Spiders’ chosen one).
- Risk open heresy to stand against Zhindia and her forces as they threaten the halls of Gauntlgrym and the shores of the Sword Coast.
Turnover on the council is no new occurrence, and Lloth’s blessing and will is believed to determine the order of such things in Menzoberranzan. But a question begins to get whispered among the ranks of the drow: Is Lloth really behind all of this? What kind of order can be expected from a goddess of chaos, anyway?
The psionicist, Kimmuriel, takes a couple of Lloth priestesses on a tour of the long lost and forgotten past of Menzoberranzan by way of the illithid hivemind. What they discover in those memories will upend drow society as it stands today by redefining the history of drow culture. As Salvatore describes it:
Their world had just turned upside down and was about to be shaken by the ankles until everything they thought they knew fell to the ground below them.
Religion in Relentless
In a world where the existence of gods is not in question, how do you cast doubts upon them? That’s a question far more difficult to ask in the fictional setting of the Forgotten Realms than it is in the real world, and Salvatore does a bang up job of answering it compellingly. And he does so by pulling in so many threads from the series’ history that it’ll simultaneously make your head spin and make total, reasonable sense. That’s a neat trick!
He also toys with the concept of perceived blessing from the gods. Does blessing always indicate favor? Real world religions are split on this concept, but the devotees of Lloth fall out hard on the “yes” side of things. That very idea has shaped drow culture for as long as anyone can remember. Blessing = favor = power. If you have the first item on the list, you’ll invariably have the following two. But what if you can have power without the blessing?
Religion is a worldview or a lens through which you perceive and interpret everything whether in the fictional world or the real one. You start fiddling with that, and you can easily end up with the ankle-shaking Salvatore described above!
And I love that this large of a chunk of the established setting that is the Forgotten Realms is not off limits. To meddle with the long-assumed is a great way to keep things feeling dynamic and surprising. And Relentless really is just the shake up. We’ve yet to discover what will fall out from all of this, and there are more stories to tell as we do.
There is also some interesting discussion around morality with the pages of Relentless. The definition of what is right and what is wrong is kicked about, with special attention, I think, given to how those definitions came to be what they presumably currently are. Evil increases by small degrees until something that used to be an unthinkable act is now well within the norm.
This is a process evident in our world, but here as within Menzoberranzan the question is, does the status quo need defending or dismantling? This question leaves many almost speechless near the book’s end as they try to process new information and its impact on all that they know – or knew.
Decades in the Making
Relentless is more of the same from R.A. Salvatore, who I’ve come to regard as one of the most consistent writers of our time. The quality of his work is never in question when you pick up a book with his name on it. You’re just tuning in to see the newest evolution of a narrative that’s grown and developed for three decades.
Relentless is still very much a Zaknafein story, but not to the exclusion of it being a Drizzt story. In a neat reversal of the normal order of things, the legacy of the son makes an indelible impression upon the father. Drizzt, I would argue, serves as the long-standing embodiment of what the drow may now become in light of certain revelations made within the text. The paradigm shift in Relentless may cast Drizzt more as a potential exemplar of his species rather than as a heretical outlier.
And a move like that can only be done by and through literal decades of narrative. The Generations Trilogy feels like a payoff for all that preceded it. But, at the same time, it does not claim to be the conclusion. Or, in the very least, there is nothing so explicit in the ending that requires it to be.
My suspicion is that for as long as R.A. Salvatore cares to expand upon the Legend of Drizzt, he’ll have an eager and satisfied audience.
Relentless is due out on July 28.
[Disclosure: Nerds on Earth was provided an a review copy of Relentless by Harper Collins Publishers.]