Is Salvatore’s “The Orc King” Social Commentary or Just Fantasy?


Deep inside, it is my hope that I will find the chance to slay King Obould Many-Arrows.

Deeper inside, it is my prayer that King Obould Many-Arrows sees the dwarves standing higher on the ladder in pursuit of true civilization, that he sees Mithral Hall as a shining city on the hill, and that he will have the strength to tame the orcs long enough for them to scale the rounds of that same ladder.

—Drizzt Do’Urden

In this quote lies the crux of The Orc King, a Forgotten Realms book. Who knew that a book about orcs, dwarves and elves could be such a powerful commentary on societal oppression and liberation?

The Orc King took me by surprise. I have been a fan of R. A. Salvatore for some years, having read a handful of his books by now. The first I read was a Star Wars book and I enjoyed the style of writing so much that I picked up The Highwayman, book 1 of the Corona series, and then The Ancient, book 2 of the same series. While I was waiting for book 3, I came across The Orc King, book one in the “Transitions” series so I picked it up. It’s taken me a while to get to it, but with illness running rampant through my house over the past two weeks, I decided to pick it up—a little fantasy to sooth the soul.

For a long time I have avoided the Forgotten Realms books just because they didn’t seem my style. Kind of tired of the whole dwarf, orc, elf scene. But I found The Orc King in the library bookstore (what a fun place that is!). After all, it is written by after Salvatore, so I picked it up.

Not feeling well, I figured it was probably a good time to pick up a lightweight Tolkien-esque tale, but I was a little surprised by what I found. Yes, it was a dwarf, elf (light and dark), orc tale that leans heavily on the Tolkien scenario. It did seem to take a while for me to become engrossed in the book. I honestly don’t know if that’s because I wasn’t feeling well or if it was because the story didn’t match my preconceived ideas of what it would be.

What I did find was a story that focused heavily on social commentary, exploring the concept of change, the controversy that could occur if an orc king united all the various tribes under him into a solidified culture and then attempted to bring change to his subjects, form treaties with non-orc cultures, to build, to trade—to leave behind warmongering. To what lengths would his war-minded chieftains back him or would they rebel? Would the other cultures—those with people who had lost friends and family in the war—even be willing to consider forming a treaty with enemies occupying land they had conquered?

The book opens with Drizzt, a dark elf, considering all of these questions. He had lost friends in the war but felt obligated, even though torn, to consider the possibility that further war might be avoidable. Maybe, he thought, it was time to consider making peace with hated enemies so that no more friends and family would die.

In these times of worldwide unrest, I believe we are called, that we have an obligation to  at least consider the same—not to lay our lives down or make doormats of ourselves and our families—but to consider the possibilities of “what if.” What if our enemies had a change of heart? What would we do then?

I don’t know how The Orc King would compare to the other Forgotten Realms books, but now I understand why this book is book 1 in a series entitled “Transitions.” It makes me wonder what book 2, The Pirate King, would have to say.

On the whole, Salvatore didn’t disappoint me in The Orc King. Although I found this book different from his other books I’ve read, he still is undoubtedly (in my mind at least) the king of describing battles scenes down to every little detail without being overly gory or tedious. That didn’t change.

I usually don’t rate the books I review, but I’ll make an exception in this case. On a scale of 1-5, I give The Orc King 4.25. If a fantasy fiction fan wanted my opinion, I’d say that it has all the elements of Tolkien characters and worlds, but is written in a different style—more thought-provoking than many other fantasies I’ve read. Be prepared for that going in and you won’t be disappointed. Otherwise, you might find the story at bit heavy-handed.

The Orc King
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Mass Market Paperback
ISBN-13: 978-0786950461
List Price: $7.99

Author’s Web Site: http://www.rasalvatore.com/
Here’s an Amazon link:
The Orc King
, by R.A. Salvatore

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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