Thursday, March 31, 2011

Graphic Novel Review - Astonishing X-Men Vol. 1: Gifted, by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday

Oh, yes. Yes, this is definitely what I’ve been looking for. This is… yeah. This is X-Men like I remember from back in the days when I was running around my backyard pretending to be Iceman.

The X-books were my comic of choice for many years, so I’ve been itching to get back to them ever since I rediscovered the joy of graphic novels. Trouble is, the mutant books are particularly intimidating for newcomers, or for anyone who hasn’t been paying attention for the past decade or two. Soap operas have nothing on X-Men. Huge crossovers. Complicated backstories, rife with retconning. Hordes of new characters, and plenty of old characters that died somewhere along the way. Tangled plots that involve asteroids, giant robots, genocide, aliens, love triangles, mutant viruses… it’s all quite a lot. Not to mention the mangled version from the movies that has also taken its place in pop culture. I was afraid that I would be hopelessly lost when I stepped back in.

I should have put my trust in Whedon. This first story arc, Gifted, is a slick and straightforward story that does away with all the franchise weirdness, and gives just enough backstory to make sure that we are up to speed. Professor Xavier is away from his school; the X-Men are led by an uncharacteristically hesitant Scott Summers, who is leaning heavily on his new paramour, Emma Frost. The ever-lovable Beast continues to teach at the school despite his seemingly worsening mutation, and two familiar faces are called back to the grounds: Wolverine and Shadowcat (with, of course, the dragon Lockheed in tow). Amidst an ever-worsening climate of anti-mutant fear and loathing, Cyclops plans to bring the X-Men back into the public consciousness as the heroes and protectors they have always been. Their mission to astonish the world comes at an unfortunate time, however, as a company named Benetech announces the development of a mutant “cure,” sparking tension between those who see the mutant gene as something that should be cured and those that don’t. Meanwhile, a hulking figure calling himself Ord of the Breakworld suddenly appears, and his connection to both the X-Men and Benetech leads to surprising consequences and a warning of imminent danger.

I jumped back into X-Men with this volume because I saw Whedon’s name on it. I was hoping he would bring his talent for dialogue to bear, and I wasn’t disappointed. These versions of the X-Men are simply fantastic. The banter is hilarious (so much that I kept reading snatches of it aloud to my patient and somewhat annoyed wife), with Whedon’s trademark wit firmly in place. Even so, no character felt untrue. I’ve been familiar with the exploits of Wolverine, Cyclops, Shadowcat, Beast, and the White Queen for some time now, and even with a new sense of sarcasm and irony infused into the proceedings, these are all very much the characters they have always been. Whedon’s style does not detract from the history of these characters. Rather, it makes them much more sympathetic, and a joy to read.

The story itself is fantastic, too. My only quibble with it comes from the fact that this is a collection of individual comics, rather than a graphic novel in its own right, meaning that the action moves so fast that there are missed opportunities for deeper story development. However, considering the medium, the story is actually very well done, and tense enough to keep readers turning pages. The various twists are also nice in this arc, as well; the sudden return of a character that I loved when I was still reading X-Men and died some time ago made me, a 30-year-old man, bounce with glee. And Cassaday’s art is lovely. I left comic books around the time that Rob Liefeld’s bullshit heyday was peaking in titles like X-Force, so Cassaday’s intense, realistic artwork was a fantastic complement to the story. Every panel was flawless, and every character as nuanced and individual as if I were looking at photographs.

I really can’t say enough good things about this book. I hear the second story arc isn’t quite as polished, but I’m in, at least for the Whedon/Cassaday volumes. This graphic novel has me excited about X-Men again, and that’s saying a lot.

Verdict: 5 / 5

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Book Review - The Dead-Tossed Waves, by Carrie Ryan

I remember coming away from this series’ previous volume, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, with a strong conviction that it should be sitting where the Twilight books are, in terms of paranormal romance for teens and young adults. I stand by that conviction after finishing this second volume, though I stand by it for good and for ill. Ryan does a great job of melding horror with teen romance and existential doom and gloom, and does it with no undercover moralizing, using characters that are actually sympathetic and believable. But the moping. For God’s sake, the moping. The second book confirms that Ryan is writing the most emo zombie story ever. Despite the fact that I’m not really getting into it, though, I can recognize this book’s strong points.

This is technically a sequel, but it actually takes place years after the end of the first book. Gabrielle lives in the walled-off village of Vista, a seaside bastion of humanity on the sea. Trapped between the nearby ruins of the larger city, the dreaded Forest of Hands and Teeth, and an ocean that regurgitates the undead (known in Vista as the Mudo) at every high tide, Gabry has only known the highly regulated safety of Vista, and the relative tranquility of living in Vista’s lighthouse with her odd, outsider mother. However, a playful expedition outside the wall changes everything; on the heels of her first kiss, Gabry and her friends are attacked by the Mudo, and she is the only one to escape being captured and detained by Vista’s militia for breaking the village’s strict rules. A second trip into the wild in order to discover the whereabouts of Gabry’s true love reveals the presence of Elias, a mysterious boy living alone in the ruins that may or may not be part of a strange and misunderstood cult. Fate conspires to push Gabry out of her secure shell in Vista, away from the sea and into the place where her mother came from years ago: The Forest of Hands and Teeth.

What follows is an orgy of sulking, scowling, pouting, crying, overly dramatic hand gestures, and sudden swings between elation and nihilism. Or at least, it seemed that way. The major conflicts in The Dead-Tossed Waves are surprisingly internal: Gabry’s reconciliation of her past, her relationship with her best friend, her relationship with her mother, her choice between the boy she knows and the boy she doesn’t. This is all meaty stuff, especially set against the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse, but it lends itself well to the woe-is-me approach, especially considering that relationship trouble really could coincide with the end of the world, in this case. So, yeah. Mope, mope, mope.

Meanwhile, as with the first book, the zombies are part of the setting rather than an imminent threat. They are always waiting in the wings, but a balance has been achieved that offers a modicum of safety. So, instead of being the stalking threat they usually are, the undead is a stemmed tide behind a dam that must always be vigilantly maintained. In fact, this plays into one of this book’s major themes: the choice between clinging to what you know as it crumbles around you, and being brave enough to risk creating something new. In this, Ryan succeeds beautifully, as nearly every facet of the story plays into this theme.

However, I was a little disappointed at the fact that, for such a character-driven story, there isn’t a lot character-wise in this book that we didn’t see in the last book. Before, we had a rebellious and free-spirited young girl, whose rash actions bring about catastrophe, forcing her into both a love triangle and a flight away from safety. This time, our hero is a shy, insecure, and scared young girl. So, it’s a little galling that her story is exactly the same, down to the hand-wringing love triangle. I suppose there’s an argument for there being an interesting parallel between the two books, considering who the main characters are in each. But again, I found myself wading through too much shoe-gazing ennui to really appreciate that fact.

But I didn’t hate this book. Really, I didn’t. The zombie attacks are actually quite frequent, for all the romance, and are genuinely scary. The mythology that Ryan builds is fascinating, actually; the structure of the post-apocalyptic world is made all the more interesting by the paucity of details. We get into some even more unexplained stuff, this time… Dark City? Immunity to the infection? Zombie hordes? Considering how nicely this book tied up some of the loose ends from the last book and explained some of the concepts that were hinted at, though, I’d expect that the third book would do the same. And the ending nearly made up for the tedium that comes before, capped off by a harrowing escape sequence that is both exciting and thematically brilliant.

So, my biggest problem is that the interesting mythology is only given enough page time to leave me wanting more, in between the long stretches of Gabry wandering around listlessly and feeling sorry for herself. I’d actually hesitate to recommend this as a zombie book, because it’s first and foremost a teen romance, armies of undead notwithstanding. I don’t think I’m quite the target reader for this one, but it is perfect for those that have a taste for horror and are fond of good old-fashioned teen angst.

Verdict: 2 / 5

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Book Review - Murder on the Orient Express, by Agatha Christie

I think I’ve resisted reading this book for so long because I’ve known for years about the twist ending. It didn’t seem particularly smart to be indignant about spoiler alerts for a 77-year-old book, so I just let it go. After finally rousing myself to read this classic, though, I feel better for the effort.

There isn’t too much plot to synopsize, between the singular focus on the murder mystery itself and what most readers already know about it. Hercule Poirot’s train ride was supposed to be an uneventful trip between two other cases, but the discovery of a murdered man complicates matters. After the train gets stuck in a snowdrift, Poirot can’t help but bend his considerable mind to the task.

The first few chapters drag a little bit, but that’s only because they exist solely to set up the famous parlor-room-on-rails. The rest of the book is entirely devoted to Poirot’s interviews of the other passengers, his examination of the evidence, and his eventual deductions. When this became clear to me, I began to take umbrage; no character arcs? No twisting subplots? What is this, some kind of stereotypical locked-room mystery, where I just look at the evidence and try to figure out who the killer is before the hero does?

Then I came to my senses. Yes, Justin, that’s exactly what it is. This is Agatha Christie. All of the other people writing this way are copying her. I had that same cognitive interrupt while I was reading Lord of the Rings, where it took me a little while to realize that things only look clichéd because I was reading the benchmark that spawned the clichés.

Knowing that, I can see why this book is a classic. It really is tightly woven, and unfolds with just the right amount of suspense. There were a few other small issues I had with it, such as the occasional convenient addition to the evidence at the eleventh hour, and the tendency for the American characters to sound like British people dressing up as cowboys (“Quite right, this is plumb crazy!”). But things never got boring, once I got past the setup. And even knowing how the murder played out ahead of time, I was still eager to get to the end and figure out the details of how everything went down. Maybe it was a little easier for me to puzzle it out, since I had a heads-up on what to look for, but it was still fun to read. The ending is as sparse as the rest of the book in terms of detail, but the story ends on such a genuinely satisfying note that I didn’t really want or need anything more.

In short, this is the perfect introduction to the mystery genre, and a slick and exciting read for fiction readers in general. Of course, I kind of feel like I can never read another locked-room mystery again, but the read was worth it.

Verdict: 4 / 5

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Book Review: Bruiser, by Neal Shusterman

More YA! Seriously, I’m way behind on reading new teen titles, so I’ve entered a period of picking up and reading as many as I can. The blurb on this one caught my eye, and even though I don’t normally read books like this, I gave it a shot. I’m glad I did, because it engrossed me enough to start casting my net a little wider. While I had a few small issues with it, I found Bruiser to be profoundly interesting, and a very good read.

Brewster Rawlins is the creepy kid that we all knew about but didn’t actually know all that well. Hulking and reclusive, Brewster is known by most as “the Bruiser,” and was not-so-secretly voted by the general student body as Most Likely to Receive the Death Penalty. Tennyson Sternberger knows all this, but between his busy lacrosse schedule, his odd relationship with his girlfriend, and the slowly devolving situation between his parents, he doesn’t really give Bruiser a second thought. That is, until he discovers that his twin sister Brontë is dating the Bruiser. Tennyson, generally known as a bit of a snob and a bully, intends to confront the large boy and protect his sister, but instead discovers that Bruiser has a strange and unexplained ability: he can take pain away. This miracle is not without a price, though, and as Tennyson and Brontë get closer to Bruiser, they begin to see how high the cost is. Brewster, a secretly sensitive soul, has a chance to finally come out of his shell and seek the kinds of happiness that he has always denied himself, but only if Tennyson and Brontë can learn their own lessons about the nature of pain.

This book was all kinds of unexpected. While mostly an interpersonal “issues” story, it also has a definite twist of the supernatural. The reader is thrown into a multi-perspective narration; the story is told in turns by four main characters, some of which have drastically different voices (Brewster’s sections are in verse, for instance, while his kid brother is as naïve and childish as the Sternberger twins are snarky and over-educated), but despite the clashing voices, the story fits together perfectly and the pace is just right. The first half of the book is particularly good; I was hooked in the first few pages. The setup is brilliant, and the “discovery phase” of who Bruiser is and what he can do is pitch-perfect for all characters involved.

The second half of the book drags a little, but not through any major fault of the writing. I think it might be because there are aspects of Bruiser’s gift that are very clear to the reader early on, but that the other characters don’t really seem to catch on to until the very end. Also, this book has a bad case of Parents Are So Dumb, like many other YA books. I don’t actually have a problem with this in and of itself; good teen books should have strong teen characters, which by default relegates adult characters to the background for the most part. But because Tennyson and Brontë are so articulate and witty for their age, and because their parents are so childish for theirs, the main characters all have a level of control and moral authority that edges just over the line of believable. Not that the situation that unfolds at the Sternberger household isn’t completely realistic, because it is. It also adds the perfect amount of tension and drama at just the right part of the story. I think it’s just a characterization issue for me; Tennyson and Brontë’s parents sound too much like less mature versions of Tennyson and Brontë, which is a common stylistic choice for this kind of book, but still bothers me a little. If you must, blame Stephenie Meyer for my intolerance when it comes to this, because as far as I’m concerned, she ruined it for everyone. It didn’t help when Dad misspelled “Vaya con Dios” during a decidedly juvenile outburst, but considering that Tennyson mixes up “silicon” and “silicone” later, I’m willing to chalk that up to simple author error.

Small annoyances aside, though, this is a tightly written and genuinely gripping book. It has wide appeal, considering how well it blends realistic teen lit and romance with a pinch of the paranormal. This is the first book by Neal Shusterman that I’ve read, but it definitely won’t be the last.

Verdict: 4 / 5

Teen Booklist: They Love Me, They Love Me Not

Being a teen librarian, I try to keep an interesting display up in my teen area all the time, and refresh it on a regular basis. The themes of those displays are often tied to whatever holiday or special event is going on that month, but often times I just decide to feature a specific genre, format, or type of book. Though I read a lot, I feel like I’ve never read enough for putting these thematic displays up, and often scour places like YALSA-BK and librarian blogs for booklist and display ideas. Because I’ve found them so helpful, I figure I’d share my own booklists, in case someone else stumbles upon them and finds them helpful, as well. It’s important to note, though, that my booklists are not meant to be definitive; they are composed of whatever books I had on my shelf at the time the display was running. Thus, they often omit the popular books that are always checked out, but might include more obscure stuff that someone might not initially think of.

They Love Me…
For February, I ran a two shelf display on love and romance. The first shelf was a list of romance as we traditionally think of it, geared towards teen readers: tumultuous tales of passion, meet-cutes, getting the girl, and other stories that end with some kind of warm fuzzy, tingly thrill, or maybe even some cathartic weepiness.
…They Love Me Not
The second shelf was the Anti-Valentine shelf, which is quickly becoming a tradition, it seems. These books are about relationships gone wrong, from light-hearted mix-ups and sober parables about growing up and finding oneself to sad tales of self-destruction and fearful, sinister examinations of where bad love can lead. Unsurprisingly, these books moved as quickly as the happy endings did. This is a list to pay attention to, though, because hyping them as "love gone wrong" books can be kind of spoiler-y for some of them, depending on how sensitive you want to be to that sort of thing.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Graphic Novel Review - Serenity: The Shepherd's Tale, by Joss and Zack Whedon

I've been jonesing to rewatch my Firefly box set, and I decided to whet my appetite by buying and reading this graphic novel, a long-awaited backstory for the mysterious Shepherd Book. I was so excited that I even let it mellow on my shelf for a while, building a nice head of anticipation. I think that might have been a mistake, because I finished this ultra-short story with a distinct sense of feeling underwhelmed.

The approach is actually quite interesting. The story begins with Book's final moments as we remember them: going down fighting on the planet Haven. After an introductory internal monologue, the tale uses key phrases to jump back in time, visiting crucial moments in Book's life that explain who he is, where he came from, and how he came to be the man he is.

And there's the rub; we learn just about everything there is to know about him. Alliance connection? Check. Decidedly un-Christian fighting skill? Check. We even get a few tantalizing glimpses at deeper mysteries we didn't know about, only to have them summarily explained, as well. This seems to be an odd thing to complain about, but at under 60 pages, Shepherd's Tale is a lightning quick read. To have that much about Firefly's most enigmatic character explained so rapidly... well, the whole thing feels a bit hurried and impersonal. Like, hey, remember all those questions we had about Book? Here are the answers. The end!

There's still a lot to like about it, especially for Firefly fans. I get the feeling that this graphic novel is much too perfunctory for the non-Browncoat crowd, though. There's a lot of meat, but it's definitely information overload if you aren't already familiar with the Firefly setting, and the gist of the story is fairly standard: redemption of a man circling the drain. I liked this book, but I think it's more of a supplementary volume than an actual standalone story.

Verdict: 3 / 5

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Book Review: Magyk (Septimus Heap #1), by Angie Sage

I see the Septimus Heap books often mentioned in lists of must-read YA series, and considering what a hit the Harry Potter series was with me, I figured I couldn’t go wrong with another boy wizard. Magyk is strong in some respects, and fails in others; most notably, it doesn’t really have the kind of crossover appeal that adult readers are coming to expect from books that are ostensibly for “young adults.” However, that’s not at all a bad thing, and not even that surprising, considering that the book is definitely aimed at children rather than at teens. Magyk’s lighthearted charm makes it a fun read, and a perfect book for young readers.

Magyk is the first book in the Septimus Heap series, but Septimus himself doesn’t really play much of a role. Well, he does, but the reader doesn’t find out how until the last few pages. Instead, the book focuses on the travails of the Heap family, a large and somewhat goofy clan of wizards that live in the cozy warrens of a sprawling castle complex. A violent upheaval in the ExtraOrdinary Wizard’s tower reveals the true heritage of the Heaps’ adopted daughter, Jenna, and they are forced to flee to the nearby marshes, pursued by the necromancer DomDaniel. Accompanied by the usurped ExtraOrdinary Wizard Marcia Overstrand, along with a hapless hostage from DomDaniel’s Young Army, the Heaps hide out on a pastoral marsh island while considering their next move. But as Marcia fights to return to the tower, Jenna and the boy from the Young Army discover the beginnings of their own destinies hidden beneath the marsh.

The story is straightforward and unpretentious. This is an irreverent adventure tale that revels in its own sense of humor, and while it builds a framework for the future books’ larger mythology, it doesn’t have much in the way of grand story arcs or tangled plot threads. Magyk is more about humor and wonder than anything else, and in this respect, it succeeds wonderfully.

However, this is unmistakably a children’s book. The twists and reveals are not difficult to puzzle out, and the moments of conflict (internal and external) are rudimentary and predictable. Oddly enough, this stands in stark contrast to a number of moments in the book that are genuinely grim and intense. The jarring shifts in tone struck me as odd, but would definitely make for a scary read for children, and maybe even younger teens. My biggest complaint is with the characters; none of them are particularly true to themselves. Magyk has a lot of characters to deal with, including a host of talking animals and magical objects, and we don’t get to spend a lot of time learning about and sympathizing with any of them. Thus, most of them are relegated to their appointed stereotypes, where they pause from the role much too often for the occasional cheap laugh. There is a lot of slapstick in this book, even from the important and powerful characters, and most of it occurs for no good reason. Again, it was irritating to me, but probably would be delightful to most young readers. Jenna and Boy 412 are exceptions, but even they don’t seem quite fleshed out enough.

Oh, yes, and the random capitalization and creative spelling of every other word. That got annoying very quickly. Yes, they’re doing magic. I mean, uh, Magyk. With their Wandes or their Poshyns or whatever. We understand, Angie. Thanks.

With all of that being said, there really are flashes of brilliance in Magyk. The whimsical surface of the story Sage builds sits atop a very interesting mythology that begs to be explored further. The plot, while simplistic, is tightly written and paced beautifully. The occasional moments of tension and actual violence imply that the dog-slobber jokes could unexpectedly go away and that shit could get real at any moment, which was actually somewhat refreshing. And even the characters, who I didn’t care all that much for, occasionally transcend their shallow presentation and show the promise of interesting development as the books go on.

All of my annoyances with the book have everything to do with my unrealistic expectations. This is clearly a book meant particularly for young readers, and in that respect, it’s a fantastic book. I liked this one enough to check out the next few, in any event. So, even though I found Magyk uneven from a technical standpoint, I’d definitely recommend it to those looking for a good adventure story for children, or just for a quaint, funny fantasy read.

Verdict: 3 / 5

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Book Review: The Dark Elf Trilogy, by R. A. Salvatore

This is another volume that I’ve owned for more than a decade, but never cracked open until now. I bought it back when I was hip-deep in the fantasy genre, after hearing more than once that Drizzt Do’Urden is super badass sweet and I needed to read about him right away. I probably would have been a convert if I read it back then, too, and joined the swollen ranks of greasy teenagers who played EverQuest with dual-wielding dark elves that were, like, really tormented, but still totally radical. Reading this collection as a slightly more cynical adult left an impression that wasn’t quite as glowing. However, the combination of stock fantasy melodrama, powerful world-building, and that comforting musty smell of an aging book created a pleasantly nostalgic and fun read all the same.

This book actually encompasses a trilogy of novels, which tell the origin story of the drow ranger Drizzt Do’Urden. The first book, Homeland, chronicles Drizzt’s birth and upbringing in the chaotic drow city Menzoberranzan, a citadel of intrigue and violence within the vast caverns of the Underdark. Born a noble of a drow house that is quickly rising in power and influence, Drizzt is groomed for a life as a proper drow warrior, with hatred and base cunning being drilled into him at every opportunity. However, Drizzt’s odd lavender eyes (don't ask why- they're just purple. Roll with it.) betray the fact that he was born different than most drow; Drizzt is compassionate and just, and cannot reconcile his internal principles with the evil ways of his people. He has only the shared philosophies of his tutor, famed swordmaster Zaknafein Do’Urden, to help him navigate the twisted wishes of his family and the sinister demands of his society.

The second book, Exile, follows Drizzt as he leaves Menzoberranzan, hunted by his kin and desperate to find a purpose beyond the manipulative and violent wishes of the spider goddess Lolth. His principles have led him away from the drow city, but the savage wilderness of the Underdark threatens to do what Menzoberranzan could not: obliterate any semblance of compassion within Drizzt. Fighting for survival and dogged by a horrific servant of his deranged mother, Drizzt must seek the mercy of those his people have wronged in order to escape the vast Underdark.

The trilogy is capped off by Sojourn, which sees Drizzt taking his first hesitant steps as a resident of the surface world. Underneath the open sky, he faces an entirely different danger: the fearsome reputation that the drow carry among the other races of the Forgotten Realms. Despite his shy demeanor and noble intentions, a series of unfortunate coincidences and violent misunderstandings ensures he is just as reviled and hunted above the ground as he was below. Despairing of ever finding a place to rest and call home, Drizzt suddenly finds kindred spirits in the most unlikely of places.

The Dark Elf trilogy is billed as an origin story, and that’s exactly what it is: lore for a popular character. The story is rich and interesting, but not particular deep, and not connected across the three books by any significant plot arc other than Drizzt’s ongoing quest for inner peace and acceptance. Accordingly, the trilogy reads less like a trilogy, and more like an extended series of encounters. Kind of like an extended D&D campaign, fittingly enough. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that the books actually read like someone’s writeup of a tabletop campaign. This shows itself in a number of ways. The frequent mention of characters' innate racial (and, yes, class) powers add little to the narrative, but offer a way for all of those imaginative magical attacks that a player would use in a game to be mentioned. Each book is marked by at least two major battles, each of which has all the hallmarks of turn-based strategy. With the clanking of this familiar machinery in the background, some of the narrative follows a well-trodden and somewhat tired course. For instance, the first book is rife with the trope of people monologuing to empty rooms. Zaknafein in particular is bad about this; at one point, he delivers an entire philosophical soliloquy in an empty garden, and then I think he goes home and continues his musings to his bedroom chair. That business flies all right when I'm reading Shakespeare, but come on. Even elves don't talk that way, I'm sure. The latter two books are a little better about this, but there is plenty of ham-handed exposition delivery there, too. Between that and the occasional poor handling of shifts between different characters' viewpoints, the writing can seem a little inept from time to time.

In short, the books have everything you’d expect from a pulp fantasy with a cool-guy elf protagonist. If I were to read these books separately, I might have been irked by this, but reading them all as a unified story helped a lot. In particular, it showcased Salvatore’s biggest strength: world-building. The Forgotten Realms is a rich enough mine for setting lore, but Salvatore really goes the extra mile; the familiar-yet-alien Menzoberranzan itself is by far the best part of the first book, and everywhere Drizzt wanders afterward is seething with detail and sensory input. I think this is what saves the trilogy, for me, because I can forgive fantasy stereotypes if I can still get lost in the world they inhabit.

If taken strictly as a lore piece, the Dark Elf Trilogy delivers nicely. I suppose I’d be more excited about all this had I read the Icewind Dale trilogy, but I like Drizzt a lot even with a cold introduction. Some discerning readers might not care for the cheetos-and-soda D&D feel that the whole endeavor leaves you with, but the Dark Elf Trilogy is a decent character study if you can forgive the melodrama of it all, and a superb example of an epic, fleshed-out fantasy world. I wasn't completely blown away, but I liked it enough that I think I'll be seeking out other Drizzt books.

Verdict: 3 / 5