To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons, Audible.com have done something very special. They’ve brought together an all-star cast of 12 celebrities of ranging merits to narrate 12 individual short stories written by R.A. Salvatore. These shorts were published in Forgotten Realms anthologies, and Dragon Magazine, but were subsequently collected in 2011 in one anthology. Now Audible is offering this masterful collection for FREE. Go and download your free copy now, as the offer will only last until mid-September.
The First Notch: 7.3
The First Notch was the first short story R. A. Salvatore had ever written, and although it’s no flawless diamond, it’s definitely a gem in the rough. The story follows a team of dwarves (which include their leader Bruenor Battlehammer) out in search of an ettin, a giant-like creature with two heads so as to kill it and claim the dungeon. We also encounter a group of goblins on a similar mission. Through their meeting, interaction, and quarrels, we learn the two races have it out for each other, with a deep-seeded hatred. But to defeat their common foe, they find they must work together. Through the journey Bruenor reclaims Mithril Hall from the ettin. It was a nice little audio story read by Felicia Day, who gave excellent and eccentric voices to the different players, and was a joy to listen to on the way to work in the morning. Whether it be the squeaky/snuffy voices of the goblins, the raspy/tough speech of the dwarves, or the powerful/booming voice of the ettin’s heads, Felicia Day nailed it, and brought the short to life. I will say that the fast paced story didn’t give much time to get into the dwarves characters. And nobody introduced was named Drizzt. But hey, eleven more stories to go.
Dark Mirror: 8.6
The Dark Mirror is an introverts take on an epic quest line. The moral dilemmas, the dualities within oneself all serve as the true antagonist to this tale, despite the fact that there are real, tangible, physical foes abreast throughout. We finally get to meet Drizzt Do’Urden the dark elf, or ‘drow’. We also learn why the first short was bereft of his presence. He is a close friend to the King of the Mithril Hall, Bruenor Battlehammer, whom we met in the first short. This story follows a young Drizzt on his own adventure, but he gets derailed in the pursuit of a band of orcs and giants who enslaved a group of humans. More issues pop up along the way, naturally. Dan Harmon’s performance began slow and mellow, but I soon realized that was less the tone of his reading and more the bite of the story. It being an introspective look into Drizzt’s day to day, it was more than a bit morose. I soon found to love Harmon’s cadence and was upset when the story eventually ended. I was a little off-put by the casual nonchalance of the endless barrage of fantastical descriptions and ideas as the story began, but I was very much into it after some time. I think the most poignant shot this tale takes within the short is that it does touch on the very harsh reality of racism, slavery, and cruelty in the world they live in, but it’s importance shadows our own. Can we look into ourselves, notice through a dark mirror the things we can change in our life, before it’s too late? Well, if I were to criticize this story at all, I’d have to say it just ended poorly. Perhaps remove a few paragraphs of dialogue to the point where Drizzt returns to find the goblin – that’s all I’ll say on that. Would’ve been a more dramatic way to close. Less explanation is sometimes more conclusive.
The Third Level: 6.0
I actively disliked this short, and not because it was written poorly. On the contrary, I actually found that the writing was a tad better than in Dark Mirror. But the tone. The characters. The events. Nothing became of the story worthy of my true, undivided enjoyment. It begins with young Artemis Entreri staking out his “street.” He is a thief, proud of it, and willing to kill to protect what he assumes is his alone. And he does kill. More than once within the story, a fact that, by the stories end, he’s fully proud of himself for. And I can’t get behind the idea of violence and murder being the redeeming point to self betterment. The story then ends with him seeing other young kids playing, laughing and happy. He’s momentarily disconcerted, but then revels in his recent achievements. As a reader I found Greg Grunberg’s performance definitely brought the subject matter to life. He reads with the strength and ease that you’d expect a veteran narrator to uphold. I will admit, though, that I didn’t like his portrayal of the main character, Artemis – odd as that is. He made him sound like a ferengi from Star Trek, slimy and unsure. Drizzt does not show up in this tale.
I had a very hard time getting Draco Malfoy out of my head throughout the short adventure. I’m not sure if that’s just me typecasting Tom Felton for his breakout role or not, but I don’t mean it negatively. He has a great grasp of emotion in his reading, and pauses at all the right moments. I just couldn’t get that platinum blonde hair out of my head, so to compensate, that’s how I pictured the main character, Josidiah Starym, an elf. He is what is known as a bladesinger. He visits a friend, a human ranger/mage named Anders Beltgarden, whom he finds is in the midst of a powerful spell, to bind the giant black panther he calls “Whiskers” into an enchanted statuette. Josidiah, upon looking into the eyes of the magnificent cat, realizes the intelligence “Whiskers” possesses and entreaties Anders to let the beast go. Eventually, after Josidiah leaves, Anders understands the significance and beauty of the panther,mans lets him go. He follows the cat, and finds that it was heading toward Josidiah, who was being attacked by a group of orcs and giants. Between the three of them, they defeat the band. In the battle the cat gets mortally injured, and the only way to save it would be to finish the enchantment and bind the cat to the statuette. Josidiah realizes it’s true name, the elvish word for shadow – Guenhwyvar. This story doesn’t feature Drizzt, but was still fantastic. It explains how Drizzt’s panther companion, Guenhwyvar, came to be in her personal state.
That Curious Sword: 7.2
Although Drizzt is expressly referenced in this story, he doesn’t show up. Instead we are reintroduced to Artemis Entreri, the thief/assassin from The Third Level, whom we learn is the arch-enemy of Drizzt. The story finds him accompanied with a drow named Jarlaxle in a new city, Heliogabalus. Where I find this story falls short? When it explains that they have ventured to this city to find new means of “fame and fortune.” Who says that? Sure, that may very well be a legitimate reason to commission quests from individuals, but to just ask a bartender for the opportunity to accrue fame and fortune is ridiculous. Anyway, the two take on a quest to steal back a statue. Upon retrieving the artifact, they realize it was a trap and become attacked by a “shade” and several dogs. Interestingly, the sword that Entreri wore at the belt is attracted to the individual he is facing, making the lackluster fight particularly difficult, as it fought against Entreri. Danny Pudi’s reading was a bit too fast-paced, but worked when narrating for Jarlaxle. I think I enjoyed this if only for the chance to give Artemis Entreri another shot.
Wickless in the Nether: 8.8
Although this story may not have the raw passion Dark Mirror possesses, Wickless in the Nether is just fun. We again find ourselves tied down to an Artemis Entreri and Jarlaxle tale, this time sending them on a mission to retrieve a highly valuable flute. The woman who asked them to steal it is a collector of fine things, in competition with another – the other being the one who owns the flute. She reasons that she hides away the flute, never letting its beauty fully manifest in song, so it must be removed from her possession. Little do Entreri and Jarlaxle know, the woman they are thieving from is actually a dragon. Lots of yelling and arguing ensues, and overall this short is both thrilling and great fun. Sean Astin narrates and he truly has such a great voice. You drift on, word after word, occasionally grinning at the thought that Samwise Gamgee is reading a D&D short to you. He does an excellent job, and although it’s a little bit longer than most of the shorts, it seems to end too short. Time flies when you’re having fun.
The Dowery: 7.1
Finally another Drizzt Do’Urden story. This tale finds him entangled with a group of assailants he believes to be pirates – pirates he wishes to bring down so as to find passage aboard the Sea Sprite, a ship. Also along for the ride is the beautiful Catti-brie, a human who disquises herself as a serving wench in order to aid Drizzt in his quest. Aside from the stupid plot, it was very enjoyable, if not more than a little forgettable. The purpose of this short story was more to bridge between stories or chapters, and I couldn’t help feeling like that was the case. Nothing really drew my attention as to being particularly great. Just a lot of good, enjoyable back and forth. Melissa Rauch’s reading was interesting. It seemed more like she was reading a bedtime story than a D&D adventure though. The only thing I actively disliked is her voice for Catti-brie. Although she is human, she’s the only one who gets to sound like a small, squeaky, Keebler elf with a mixed UK accent. It was just odd.
Comrades At Odds: 8.5
The story follows Drizzt and a female elf Innovindil, as they recover the body of Ellifain, whom Drizzt has mistakenly killed. As they travel, they find that despite the fact that the Orc leader had been killed recently, his spirit lives on in his camps, as they watch orcs begin building a kingdom. Meanwhile the story goes back and forth between another drow elf named Tos’un who wields a sentient blade that feeds on death named Khazid’hea. The ending was particularly weak, but I loved the inner turmoil of Drizzt realizing that he can’t just write off a race that has the potential for positive growth. I feel the best part about this story was the narration. Against all conceivable odds, Ice-T just nailed this one. He’s spoken out previously that he had trouble with the names, the he’d never been involved with D&D before, and that this wasn’t his usual cup of (iced) tea. But I think, so far, his reading was the best paced, best read, and his grasp of the characters voices and emotions spoke volumes. Coco Austin would be proud…probably.
If They Ever Happened Upon My Lair: 9.5
Dark, foreboding, and oh-so cool. This is the best short story yet – as it is a proper short, not just some discarded chapter. Again, no Drizzt, but who needs the guy after this story. I want to hear more about the Lich, the many dragons, and what will become of Urshula. The story proceeds that the Witch-King Zhengyi, or the Lich, is at war with the people of Damara and is on the hunt to recruit dragons to aid him. When he happens upon the lair of Urshula, a black dragon, it refuses him. But the Lich is not so easily turned aside it seems, and has other plans for the beast. I loved the way the story began, completely separated from the eventual plot – just to give you a sense of the destruction Urshula is capable of. Wil Wheaton narrates this tale, and wow, he really knows how to voice a dragon properly. He isn’t afraid to yell, snarl and growl as the story intends it be read accordingly. It was almost hard to tell it was Wheaton giving voice to the story actually, as all his characters had such deep voices. This was a fantastic piece of short fiction, one I won’t quickly forget. Oh, and did I mention dragons?
Bones and Stones: 8.0
“Weird” Al Yankovic read this short story, entitled Bones and Stones, and odd enough – it wasn’t weird at all. I wouldn’t have even realized it were him if I hadn’t been told. He did an excellent job, reading the names (difficult ones too) with ease and determination. The story illustrates the brutality of warfare, the lasting damage it causes on either side – and for what? What is there to gain, truly from so much loss. The story hit home with me. “Bones and Stones” was a common source of imagery played differently throughout the short: in description, in poem, etc. and it did well to get you really thinking about the aftermath and the casualties involved. The loss. The tragedy. The devastation. At times this short is quite sad. It follows two perspectives, one of an Orc and the other a Dwarve on opposite sides of the battle. A lot of the story was fighting, and punching, and stabbing, and dodging, and parrying, and jumping and… Yeah it was all the same, and it got boring after a while. Never make your fights too elaborate or it’ll begin to blind your reader.
This is the first short that delivers on terror, not from any physical foe, but from magic. Often toted as awe inspiring and breathtaking, you rarely see writers traverse the terrors of magic in their rawest state. Iruladoon does well at presenting it. Each character involved being scared or caused to hallucinate in one form or another. I like where this story went. Scaring, but not entirely haunting – deadly but reserved. We meet many new characters. Roundabout was bit too cliché a “ranger” for me. And Addadearber was too fool of himself. But the story accomplishes what it sets out to, and I can’t fault it for that. Michael Chiklis does a fine job of making each character his own. This is a story I’d liked to have been a bit longer.
To Legend He Goes: 9.2
David Duchovny narrates the last and shortest of the short stories, To Legend He Goes. At just over 24 minutes, you don’t expect much going into the story, but it delivers better than most. Although I felt Duchovny’s reading a bit weak, not possessing the necessary emotion, it was pretty much the perfect book end to this anthology. The story recounts the last moments of Wulfgar’s life, an old companion of Drizzt Do’Urden. It’s a passionate story of a legend himself trying to grasp what his legacy really meant, and how fulfilling a life he’s led. He’s the father to a nation, and a hero to many. A hero to the last, really. So much so that, on his deathbed, he actually finds the strength in him to defend the borders of his tribe from yetis one last time. It’s truly epic, of someone fighting death, not because he doesn’t wish to die, but because he can still aid others.
Overall I much enjoyed listening to the many short stories compiled in this awesome collection, and as it was free, it was over 10 hours of entertainment I’ll always be able to fall back on. And although not many actually featured Drizzt, they were all connected in one way or another to his legend. But as I mentioned above, it’s a limited offer. Grab your copy of The Legend of Drizzt: The Collected Stories free now, from Audible before the limited offer runs out, and listen to it on the go.