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The Demon Spirit
R.A. Salvatore
Del Rey Books, 466 pages

The Demon Spirit
R.A. Salvatore
R.A. Salvatore, a lifelong resident of Massachusetts, has some two dozen books to his credit. His first book was published in 1988. The Crystal Shard came from TSR, a Forgotten Realms title. Two years later, with his first novel and its sequel sold to Penguin, he quit his day job. When not writing, Salvatore spends time speaking to high schools and library groups, encouraging people, especially kids, to read.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Demon Awakens
Del Rey Books

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Regina Lynn Preciado

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I met R.A. ("Bob") Salvatore briefly at the San Diego Comic-Con in 1997. He and Terry Brooks gave an excellent talk about the business of fantasy writing; I stopped by for a minute and ended up staying for the entire hour. The first book in this series, The Demon Awakens, had just come out in paperback, and Del Rey was giving free copies to anyone who filled out a survey form.

I put off reading it for several months. Much as I had liked and admired Salvatore during his presentation -- he gave well-thought-out answers to people's questions, and did not make anyone feel stupid for being a newbie writer -- I had mixed feelings about the book. His previous dozen novels had all been shared-world books, and I'm not fond of those. But when I finally picked it up, it took me all of three pages to get hooked.

I'm glad I waited so long, because as soon as I finished reading it, the sequel came out -- The Demon Spirit.

The series begins when the evil demon awakens after centuries of dormancy, sending its millions of minions -- goblins, giants, dwarf-like powries -- to destroy the human race. Elbryan and Jilseponie are the only survivors when their village is attacked; the first book follows them through their separate transformations from innocent adolescents to formidable warriors, culminating in an earth-shattering (literally) battle with the demon itself.

The Demon Spirit is the middle book or bridge -- the Empire Strikes Back segment -- of the saga. Here, Elbryan and Jilseponie and their companions find that mopping up the demonic armies is the least of their problems. Unbeknownst to them, but beknownst to us, the demon's spirit is now influencing more than its armies -- it's infiltrating the Abellican Church at the highest levels.

The combination of the evil spirit with the martially and magically powerful monks is potent indeed. And our heroes' associations with a certain "renegade" monk, and their possession of some of that monk's magical stones, make them the prime target for the corrupt church leader.

Story grows out of character and Salvatore's characters make this series rise above the plethora of similarly plotted fantasy trilogies. He said at the Comic-Con that he spent six months just building his world, getting to know his characters, and it shows.

Each person feels like an individual -- the monks are not carbon copies of one another, nor are the bad guys just bad and the good guys just good. Each person has motives for his or her behaviour, for good or ill. Each person wrestles with his or her decisions, wonders "what if?" and makes mistakes now and then. Only the goblins seem interchangeable, but that can be excused on the grounds that goblins are, well, goblins.

The main characters also have their own personal demons to overcome. Jilseponie suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome (although of course it's not called that). I don't want to tell you why because that would spoil the entire first book for you. But Salvatore's portrayal of the strength of her reactions are not exaggerated; anyone who's experienced a similar trauma will relate to her struggles.

A few details did interrupt the flow. These are little things, and certainly nothing to stop you from reading the book. Still, they bounced me out of the story every time I came across them, and made me question other fine points that I might not otherwise have noticed.

One was that Bradwarden the centaur is described, repeatedly, as huge. He's also described as weighing 800 pounds. Only 800 pounds? Yes, a horse's skull is heavy so a centaur of the same size will weigh less than a horse, but not that much less. Bradwarden sounds more like a Clydesdale than any other breed; Clydesdales, famous for their Budweiser commercials, weigh closer to 1800 pounds than 800. I wanted to picture this huge warrior stallion galloping to battle, and instead I kept seeing a Welsh pony.

I won't even go into the stallion issue, although Salvatore commits this one as well. So many fantasy writers make this mistake that it's almost like there's a special breed of horse -- the Fantasy Horse -- known for its un-stallion-like behaviour. They're stallions that don't fight each other and that don't try to mount or steal mares and that don't snort or dance on tip-toe when a menstruating woman walks by. (Perhaps the Fantasy breed descends from the Peruvian Paso...)

Another annoyance: at one point, Jilseponie and Elbryan realize the importance of not getting pregnant until after the war, so they decide to abstain from lovemaking altogether. They both suffer from this decision, sneaking in a kiss now and then but otherwise finding personal intimacy only through their morning sword-dance (think Tai Chi with an elven twist). Because breaking this vow of abstinence could have serious consequences in the next book, it comes up often; thus, it's disappointing to see the all-or-nothing attitude surface in such an otherwise wise book. Salvatore, a married man, should know better than to assume that penetration is the only "real" sex, and that the couple has no alternative but frustration.

Maybe this was a deliberate choice based on the youth of much of his audience; maybe it's simple male cluelessness. But why teach youngsters that sex is an all-or-nothing proposition?

And that, by the way, is something wonderful about this series. It does teach. The characters struggle with questions about justice, wisdom, violence and killing, love, religion and other subjects pertaining to real-life dilemmas. Without ever seeming preachy or moralistic, Salvatore sneaks some values into the narrative.

The only reason I would caution you not to read this book today is that you will want to read the next one immediately. If you can't bear the agony of this frustrated desire, wait 'til next year and read the whole trilogy all at once. Otherwise, stop whatever you're doing and pick up your very own copy. It will restore your faith in the epic fantasy.

Copyright © 1998 by Regina Lynn Preciado

Regina Lynn Preciado writes and edits for a living. Her short-lived film career began with a role as an extra in The Empire Strikes Back: Special Edition and ended with another in The Return of the Jedi: Special Edition. She wants to be an astronaut when she grows up. Or maybe a train engineer. Want to know more?


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