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Bruce H (Toronto, Ontario, Canada)

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Sojourn: The Dark Elf Trilogy, Book Three
Sojourn: The Dark Elf Trilogy, Book Three
by R.A. Salvatore
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
52 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars The conclusion of the Dark Elf trilogy, Oct. 28 2002
This novel concludes the Dark Elf trilogy. The series was quite good, not amazing but not terrible either. The most interesting part of the series was the first book (Homeland) where Salvatore laid out the entire world that Drizzt lived in.
The second book shows how Drizzit rejected his society and struck out on his own. However, his race is so widely hated that finding acceptance was quite difficult. Indeed, this theme continues to be of importance in this novel and in "The Crystal Shard" (book 1 of the Icewind Dale Trilogy).
The reason I liked this novel was for the final change in scenery; Drizzit finally emerges from the Underdark to see the daylight. He finally finds some measure of acceptance in this world; but it is hard won and not without misunderstandings. Indeed, this novel brings back the inner turmoil that is a feature of many of Salvatore's protagonists. Dealing with violence continues to be a problem for Drizzit. When should he use his swords? Why does he still feel guilty if he kills someone in the name of self-defence?
As I mentioned in my review of "Exile," there are typical fantasy elements in this novel in addition to Drizzit's problems and struggles. There are battles, fantastic monsters and other such staples of the fantasy genre. While reading these novels is enjoyable, I've been looking for something that it is in the same epic vein as, "The Lord of the Rings." I remain open to recommendations.
The series was reasonably interesting. This is my eighth Salvatore novel that I've read in recent months. I've started the Icewind Dale Trilogy, but I don't know how much of it I will read. I may switch to reading a different genre for a while for variety.

The Sirens of Titan: A Novel
The Sirens of Titan: A Novel
by Kurt Vonnegut
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.72
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4.0 out of 5 stars Thoughts on the meaning of life, Sept. 5 2002
This is the first Vonnegut novel I've read. It was interesting but odd. In some small ways, it reminded me of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The plot left something to be desired, but the message of the novel was quite interesting. As other reviewers have pointed out, the book is about the meaning of life and fate. Indeed, there is even a new religion created to foster and advance these new ideas.
The book's message about the meaning of life can be interpreted differently. The most obvious interpretation of the novel is that mankind's purpose was to be the tool of aliens to serve a trivial end (producing a spare part for a space ship). This would mean that man's existence is ultimately pointless. The other more interesting way to look at it is that Vonnegut is trying to say that the meaning of life is a mystery, that when revealed will surprise everyone. This is the main idea in the book, but it is unwrapped very slowly.
The religion that Vonnegut creates is called the Church of God the Utterly Indifferent, and "Take Care of the People and God Will Take Care of Himself," is the Church's motto. The founder of the religion then proceeds to predict that his religion will end all of the world's problems... This sketches incredulity just past the breaking point. Vonnegut's rehashing of deism is left with the weighty philosophical and emotional problem of evil to contend with and no solution is in sight.
I don't know if I'll read more Vonnegut or not. The book was somewhat enticing and there were some interesting ideas presented here. While Vonnegut is classified as a science fiction writer, I don't know if this particular novel could be classed as such. While it is true that some space travel and technology is involved, it is not hard SF in the sense that the story is not centred on science and technology.

Exile: The Dark Elf Trilogy, Book Two
Exile: The Dark Elf Trilogy, Book Two
by R.A. Salvatore
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
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3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable but not "great" fantasy, Aug. 29 2002
... Don't get me wrong, I enjoy fantasy and Salvatore's work has been agreeable. But, do keep this work in perspective. This is the seventh novel I've read by him, so I think I have some idea what his style is like by now.
The novel does have some interesting parts though the interesting setting of Drizzt's (the protagonist) home city is no longer featured. Drizzt struggles to maintain his identity and this theme is also seen in the character of Clacker. Clacker, I admit, is a fairly shallow character. Yet, he does serve a useful function in battle and helps the reader explore identity. The setting of this novel is predominantly in the "wilds" of the Underdark, outside of the cities. This isolation from one's family, even an evil family like Drizzt's, and one's society are different ways to look at the theme of identity in this novel. Indeed, Drizzy almost loses his identity. He regains it, but I wouldn't want to spoil the story for you by revealing how.
For those readers who may think that I am reading too much in this novel, you may have a point. Yet, much contemporary fantasy is at least loosely based on or inspired by ancient European mythology (most notably German, English and Scandinavian) which tell us interesting things about humanity. Tales of power, evil, temptations are but some of the themes that fantasy touches upon. The first "contemporary" fantasy novel, "The Lord of the Rings," is a great example of this. The book "Tolkien's Ring" looks at some of the inspiration behind the Tolkien's most famous work.
Finally, for those readers who must know, this novel still has all the trademark elements of a Salvatore novel. There are plenty of monsters, spells, battles and sword play. Unlike the Cleric Quintet by Salvatore, there is little in the way of epic battles. Mostly, battles involve small groups or even single duels. While I do find such battles of some interest, it is the internal struggles of the characters that makes these novels interesting to me.
...

Homeland
Homeland
by Inc. TSR
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The beginning of Salvatore's most famous work, Aug. 21 2002
This review is from: Homeland (Mass Market Paperback)
After asking some of my friends to recommend fantasy authors, several mentioned Salvatore and, in particular, the Dark Elf Trilogy. I have read (and reviewed) the Cleric Quintet, and now, having finished my sixth Salvatore novel, I think I understand his style.
Salvatore sets most of his novels in the the world of the Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game. Of course, there is a considerable difference between playing D&D and reading a novel. I find myself forced to agree with some of the other reviewers here that I could anticipate much of the plot development in advance. The characters lack of depth is clearly seen; they are evil and that is all there is to it. Ambiguity in this sense is almost always important to such story telling.
The idea of the one lone character struggling against a whole society or organization that has corrupted or is corrupt is also one of the premises in the Cleric Quintet series. There is some difference between the two, but it was mildly disappointing to see the same idea reused.
What I found most intriguing about this novel is the same thing I find intriguing in many different science fiction and fantasy novels. It is the world that the author paints as the background. Drizzt, the main character, is a male dark elf who lives in a fiercely matriarchal society. This is quite unusual in a genre that is frequently dominated by male heroes. There is also the idea that the entire society lives underground in the "Underdark" of the world. There were a few other things that were of interest in the novel, such as the trials and tribulations that Drizzt undergoes growing up in a drow (dark elf) society.
I think I enjoyed this novel more than much of the Cleric Quintet series ("Nightmasks" was something of an exception), because the Cleric Quintet seemed to have too many battles (part of that was that nature of the story, but reading about battle after battle can be a little numbing).

Night Masks: The Cleric Quintet, Book Three
Night Masks: The Cleric Quintet, Book Three
by R.A. Salvatore
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
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3.0 out of 5 stars The priest continues to develop, Aug. 14 2002
This book is the third in the "Cleric Quintet" series by R.A. Salvatore. I liked this book more than the previous one in the series. Cadderly, the protagonist, starts to develop more than before. After fleeing from a battle in the previous novel, he moves to a nearby city instead of going back to the place where he has lived most of his life; the Edificant Library. It is here that Cadderly's religious struggles start to manifest themselves. Cadderly's continued struggle with violence (and a consequent trepidation with battle) slowly starts to resolve itself.
Cadderly starts to have mystical experiences with his a holy book and eventually learns how to control it. The introduction of the "Night Masks" a feared group of assassins is somewhat interesting. It is certainly a change from the constant battles against goblins, giants and the like that filled the second novel in this series. In particular, the villain of this work is original and indeed truly evil. My only criticism with the villains of this series is that they often seem to be a little flat; they are simply evil. There is little ambiguity to make the reader think.
The most original aspect to this series, which mentioned in my review of "Canticle" (the first novel of the series), is in putting a priest on center stage instead of the more traditional fighters. The inclusion of a monk and two dwarves mean that the novel still retains a traditional amount of firepower. One might even say that the heroes of the novel defeat their villains a little to easily, but that is too be expected.
In response to some of the other reviewers here, I think some are to quick to praise the series, frequently giving it a 5 star rating. I think that is too generous, while at the same time, I think it is unfair to label this work as trash. It is a reasonably good series, but I don't know if it is worth buying. If you want to read the classic fantasy novel, there is no question. The novel you want is, "The Lord of the Rings." It launched the modern fantasy genre and, for many people, remains the standard against which all other fantasy novels are too be measured.

The Killing of History: How Literary Critics and Social Theorists Are Murdering Our Past
The Killing of History: How Literary Critics and Social Theorists Are Murdering Our Past
by Keith Windschuttle
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 15.29
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5.0 out of 5 stars Where relativism came from and why it doesn't make sense, Aug. 11 2002
Don't let the title of the book fool you. While the title may seem to be something of an exaggeration, I think Windschuttle makes his case. He argues that relativism (the idea that there is no absolute, universal truth or knowledge) is making history, a discipline that seeks to discover the truth about the past, impossible.
He starts the book by showing where relativism came from. Primarily, relativism was thought up by a number of French intellectuals in the 1960's. These philosophers and theorists (e.g. Derrida, Foucault, etc) also drew some of their ideas from 19th century philosophers such as Nietzsche (who is frequently quoted as saying, "There are no facts but only interpretations.") and Heidegger. The theories that these thinkers came up with have several different names (e.g. structuralism, post-structuralism, post-modernism etc...) but they all have a common commitment to relativism. The fact that relativism is an incoherent, self-contradictory philosophy should be obvious to all after some reflection on the topic. I would recommend, "Relativism: Feet planted firmly in mid-air," by Francis Beckwith and Gregory Koukl (which I have reviewed) for a book length treatment of why relativism is false. Windschuttle focuses on the cultural relativism (i.e. the idea that all cultures are equal and that there are no ideas or truths which transcend culture) whereas Beckwith and Koukl focus on moral relativism (i.e. the idea that there is no universal morality).
Windschuttle makes his case by examining a number of theorists and their writings about specific historical events. For example, Windschuttle discusses the death of James Cook in Hawaii, early Australian history, the Spanish conquest of Mexico, Columbus' discovery of America and the like. Windschuttle demonstrates that all these "historians" (who are often trained as literary critics or some other discipline) take their theory or ideology and force it upon the evidence to the point of fudging important details, ignoring the research of other historians and even in a few cases to the out-right fabrication of information.
Although parts of the book can be difficult to follow, Windschuttle endeavors to make his work understandable to most intelligent readers in contrast to many of the intellectuals now in favor who deliberately engage in obscurantist writing. The author also makes several interesting observations regarding the motives of many academics. For example, one of the reasons that cultural relativism is so popular is due to the fact that academics wish to seen on the side of oppressed native peoples and other disfavored people (Michael Focault's books are good example of this). Also, these academics could be accused of taking these positions simply because they wish to be seen to be fully politically correct.
At one point, Windschuttle says that writing history in this new politically motivated, theory-laden fashion is easier than traditional research. He says, "[t]ackling the main issues of human experience no longer requires the hard work of steeping yourself in the writings of all those practitioners of your discipline who have gone before you, and then putting the even harder slog of doing your own research. Instead all you need to do is take a small selection of of the more prominent and familiar authors, label in terms used by the currently fashionable theoretical guru, add some linguistic speculation about the textuality of everything, and then wait for the self-same guru or his acolytes to recognize your genius and lavish you with hyperbole." (page 118)
The last chapter of the book entitled, "The Return of Tribalism: Cultural relativism, structuralism, and the death of Cook," is one of the most interesting chapters of the book. In addition to showing in a final flourish that relativism is self-contradictory, the author shows further, that the Western tradition of the scientific method and Western historical discipline are the best way for indigenous people to understand their past. Further, the adoption of relativism resurrects tribalism (the idea that every society is completely different from all others) that has wrecked so much havoc in Rwanda, Bosnia and other parts of the world.

The Chaos Curse: The Cleric Quntet, Book Five
The Chaos Curse: The Cleric Quntet, Book Five
by R.A. Salvatore
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
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3.0 out of 5 stars Okay conclusion to interesting series, Aug. 11 2002
... there are some interesting elements here. As hinted at in some of the previous novels of the series, Cadderly has something a reformer attitude. He believes his order has strayed away from its tenets and that it is too consumed with ritual and dusty tomes rather than helping people etc... Cadderly's religious order is headed up by Dean Thobiscus who, in Cadderly's view, personifies the ritualistic and power politics that have corrupted the order. This conflict had potential to be developed more, but this did not happen.
There was one improvement over the previous book in the series. Cadderly finally faces a foe that he finds difficult to combat. Obviously, I don't want to reveal who this last villain is but it was reasonably done. There is also some genuine risk involved here as Cadderly's lover, Danica, is captured. Where is the setting for this confrontation? The Edificant Library which has been overcome by the forces of darkness. Also, he faces an important choice near the end; to follow the calling of his God completely or continue his relationship with Danica.
...

The Fallen Fortress: The Cleric Quintet, Book Four
The Fallen Fortress: The Cleric Quintet, Book Four
by R.A. Salvatore
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 10.99
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3.0 out of 5 stars Cadderly is overpowered: worst in the series, Aug. 10 2002
This, the fourth book, in Salvatore's "Cleric's Quintet," is probably the worst novel in the five book series. There were a few promising ideas that could have been developed more but alas, no such luck. This book is meant to be the climax of the story, which resolves around the plans of Castle Trinity to conquer part of the Realms.
Cadderly, the lead character, becomes more and more powerful with each passing page. His development seems to have been arrested and I found him less interesting than in the previous books. In "Canticle" (which I've reviewed), Cadderly was inexperienced and he depended on his friends to help him. He also had several internal struggles that gave him some depth. However, here, Cadderly seems to be able to overcome any obstacle with little trouble.
The story development leaves something to be desired as well. Salvatore brings back one of the interesting villains from a previous book ("Nightmasks") and then dispatches him without so much as the villain facing off against Cadderly. Other reviewers have mentioned this and I have to find myself agreeing with them. Cadderly's incredible and frequent use of magic becomes something of deus ex machina. There are supposed to be limits on what magic (i.e. power) can accomplish and it seems something of the balance was lost here. It is a pitfall that every fantasy author must always attempt to steer clear off.
There is one development in this book that hints at what will happen to the Edificant Library (a bastion of priests and good gods) in the following novel. I don't want to say anymore on that note for fear of spoiling the plot.
Please refer to my review of all the other novels in this series.

In Sylvan Shadows: The Cleric Quintet, Book Two
In Sylvan Shadows: The Cleric Quintet, Book Two
by R.A. Salvatore
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
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3.0 out of 5 stars A battle in book form; some character development, July 30 2002
In comparing this novel with the previous one in the series, "Canticle," this strikes me as a book-length battle with little else. Though I recognize that this was necessary for the story that Salvatore is trying to tell, it was not my preference.
The interesting parts of the novel are Cadderly's (the main character) struggle with violence; he struggles with every battle compared to his more worldly friends (Cadderly has lived his whole life in the monastery-like Edificant Library). In addition, the relationship among the villains (the operate as a triumvirate; priests, wizards and fighters) is more thoroughly fleshed out. The novel takes place in an Elven forest that has been invaded by goblins, ogres, giants etc.. The elves of the forest had many parallels to Tolkien's elves. For example, Tolkien's and Salvatore's elves are in the decline and they have few warriors to combat the increasing threats of the world. There is also the antagonism between dwarves and elves, which seems lifted from Tolkien's work. Also, readers of Tolkien will recognize the concept of the ents in this novel.
Salvatore's writing of battle is quite appropriate to a fantasy setting; there is some use of magic, but most of the battles are won on the basis of cunning and technique rather than wizardry. Some of the other characters developed in this novel caught my interest. There is a developing love interest between Cadderly and Danica (a monk whose discipline has allowed hear to become a formidable warrior), which is something different from the traditional prince and princess concept. There are also the two Dwarves (Ivan and Pikel) who provide a measure of comic relief. The brothers were the cooks of the Edificant Library but once summoned back to adventuring, they prove a considerable asset.
This novel was something of a mild disappointment after the interesting, fresh story that the first novel began with. The third novel in the series "Night Masks" appears more promising but I wonder how the series will play out.

Canticle: The Cleric Quintet, Book One
Canticle: The Cleric Quintet, Book One
by R.A. Salvatore
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
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4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting fantasy with an original setting, July 30 2002
When I think of a fantasy setting, whether it be in the tradition of Tolkien's, "Lord of the Rings," (see my reviews of this excellent novel), Arthurian legend or a Dungeon's & Dragons (D&D) game, I think of underground catacombs, caves and other such places. The unexpected setting for this novel is a library, with a priest (cleric) as its protagonist.
I have played D&D for some time and I enjoy the interactive story-telling aspect of it. I was unsure how this element of the game would translate into a novel. While there was one or two plot devices in this novel that I didn't particularly like, I enjoyed it overall. This novel forms the first part of a five-part series. The main character, Cadderly, is a cleric of Deneir (god of knowledge and beauty) was abandoned as an orphan to live in the Edificant Library. He subsequently develops into an accomplished scholar (Salvatore never lets you forget it; he constantly refers to Cadderly as "the young scholar") at the Library.
While I recognized some of the plot right away, it was nonetheless an interesting. I'm reading this novel as part of the 1000 page "Cleric Quintet, Collector's Edition." The author's foreword is interesting; he discusses the meetings he had prior to writing to the book and of one interesting letter he received from a reader. The reader is a born-again Christian who congratulated Salvatore on his portrayal of Cadderly; the reader says that Cadderly's stuggle with religious duty and with doubt paralleled that of his one life.
As I continue to read through the series, the inner turmoil that affects Cadderly slowly becomes more apparent. He begins his life as a scholar who rarely ventured beyond the walls of the Library and slowly changes into an adventurer.
Before I read this novel, I asked some of more well read what sort of fantasy novels or authors they could recommend (while I have some familiarity with science fiction, history, religion and philosophy, the fantasy genre remains new to me), they mentioned Salvatore. This author is most famous for his "Dark Elf" trilogy, but I decided to read this somewhat lesser known work first.

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