‘The Ancient’ is the 2nd book in R.A. Salvatore’s ‘Saga of the First King’ series. I recently read and reviewed the first book in the series, ‘The Highwayman’. It was a five-star effort.
‘The Ancient’ is not.
Having bought in completely to the plight of Bransen Garibond, the Highwayman, I was fully prepared to follow him on his next exciting adventure.
However, for something to truly be an adventure, you have to believe the characters motivation for undertaking the mission is authentic. I didn’t believe in his mission nor did I embrace Bransen’s insistence on letting his handicap slow his travels as he refused to use the gemstone for long periods of time in hopes of better controlling his ‘chi’ on his own.
Bransen, as we learned in the Highwayman, was born with a serious handicap. He could hardly walk and barely talk. People called him the ‘Stork.’ When he used a gemstone, however, securing it to a headband especially, he was more than normal, superior to other men and monsters, able to run, leap and fight with deadly skill.
So, instead of taking on the disguise of anything else, he refuses to use the gemstone and travels slowly with his wife, Cadayle, and her mother, Callen, not suspecting that word went out before them to be wary of this one they call the Stork. And despite the extra training without the gemstone, he doesn’t get any better.
So what are Bransen’s options?
My first thought was, with all this stealing he does as the Highwayman, he needs to gather to himself more gemstones. What happens if he loses the one he’s got? You need a bag of backups. He could also experiment. Do different gems have different effects?
Secondly, he could travel directly to Behr, the place where his mother came from, and learn the ways of the Jhesta Tu mystics, perhaps discover a real solution to his ailments.
But no. Bransen decides he wants to find out what happened to his father whom he never met and was an Abellican monk, a religion he frowns upon and wants nothing to do with. (Not giving anything away because the truth of this is in the first book – his Dad is long dead)
Naively, Bransen accepts information from Abellicans and boards a ship captained by Dawson McKeege to pursue his missing father with his womenfolk in tow. Dumb move. Out in the middle of nowhere, north of everything, the women’s safety now in the hands of the captain and the crew, Bransen is pressed into the service of Dame Gwydre and a war for the northern land called Vanguard. They are fighting a powerful Samhaist priest named Ancient Badden.
Bransen reluctantly accepts his fate and goes to war. Cadayle and Callen disappear from the rest of the story, left to wait for his return, their safety secured as long as he fights and the war continues. Once the war is over, they promise he can take them and leave. This all seemed a bit far-fetched, but it is fantasy, so whatever.
Bransen is heroic in the war, of course, but the war doesn’t seem to be anywhere near an end.
Hoping for a quick strike and ending, Bransen agrees to be part of a small party of warriors that will sneak behind enemy lines, locate Ancient Badden, and kill him.
Ancient Badden is nothing special. He’s just an old magician capable of drawing energy from the earth, controlling a host of giants and trolls, erecting some magical crystalline castle in the middle of nowhere, drilling into the frozen ice, awakening and feeding with sacrifices a monstrous white worm.
The author introduces a host of other characters in other parts of this small world that fill up much of the book. I never came to care much for them. We basically endure their stories although the monk Cormack was mildly interesting, as was a violent rogue woman warrior called Vaughna. The others, Milkeila, Mcwigik, Toniquay, Bikelbrin, Giavno and Olconna were merely generic characters. I really had no interest in seeing the dwarves (powries) presented as merciful and honorable since the first book made them horrible dwarves deserving only contempt throughout.
The action in the book is first rate – right up to Salvatore’s standards. The story was weak, as were the new characters. The lack of development for Bransen’s character was disappointing. I’m hesitant to read the third book now. I’ll probably put in on my reading queue but not anytime soon.
I’m hoping Bransen wises up, gets more gems, stops trying to control the Stork, and gets his butt to the Walk in Clouds. Three stars.
Allen M Werner is the author of the Epic Fantasy Series, The Crystal Crux