So, for the uninitiated, The Crystal Shard is the 1st published book in the Legend of Drizzt series but the 4th chronologically. One of the key characters in this book, Wulfgar, was originally intended to be the main character of this trilogy. But Drizzt being skilled, dark, and mysterious made him the more popular character, so the series focused on him later. I can’t help but think grimdark stories becoming more popular in the late 80s/early 90s played a role there. Not that Drizzt himself is really grimdark, but the drow being…well, drow, make his stories swing more that way.
Anyway, I read The Crystal Shard chronologically, after already picking up Drizzt’s prequel trilogy. So, the whole “dark, mysterious elf” thing was a bit lost on me since I knew his backstory already. That being said, I think it actually helped to read the books that way because Drizzt doesn’t get much characterization. But then, he has about the same amount of character development as the rest of the cast. If you’ve ever played D&D or just like fantasy, picture a stereotypical barbarian, dwarf, etc. and you have the characters.
Now, as far as plot goes The Crystal Shard isn’t bad. It isn’t great either, but it’s a fairly standard fantasy adventure for its era. Think about 80s fantasy stories like Beastmaster or He-Man and you’ll have a general picture here. An aspiring evil overlord comes conquering and a group of unexpected heroes must band together to stop him. And while the party does finish the quest, enough plot threads are left loose to keep things open for the next book.
The only thing that bugged me about The Crystal Shard, as someone who runs D&D games, is how randomly the monsters were used. Granted, this story was written way back in the day when the rules of D&D were very different from the version of the game I learned to play just a few years back. But monsters seem to be as weak or strong as the plot requires at any given time. Characters might struggle against weaker monsters in one scene, then solo something that should require the whole group to take down in the next. Also granted, it’s not like characters in a novel have levels because this isn’t a game setting. And some of their magic items are pretty kickass anyway, so that helps justify it.
Anyway, it would be a stretch to call this great literature. If anything, it is very much a product of its time. But if you like fantasy, and especially if you like D&D, you could do a lot worse. And if the quality of Drizzt’s backstory is any indication (since that trilogy was written later), Salvatore’s books do get better as time goes on.