SFX book review – “The Ancient”

by Dean on January 12, 2009

the ancient 2 SFX book review   The Ancient

This review of R.A Salvatore’s novel ‘The Ancient’ appeared in science fiction magazine SFX, issue 179.

“Compared to new-wave Noir novels like Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself, The Ancient wears the breeches and wide-brimmed felt hat of purist high-fantasy.

And for the most part you get what you expect – feisty dwarves and warrior monks, save-the-day magic and fight sequences that spill over several pages.

Having plucked the hero from his previous Corona novel, The Highwayman, Salvatore’s rag-tag band of characters take two-thirds of the book to reach a climactic battle with Ancient Badden (“Hi, I’ll be your villainous priest for today) and his army of glacial trolls.

If anything retains your attention, it’s the ‘Highwayman’ himself. Bransen Garibond is a fascinatingly flawed lead, tricked into fighting a war he couldn’t give two hoots about. While he’s clumsy and crippled, he’s also capable of Errol Flynn derring-do whenever he straps a magical gemstone to his forehead. It’s the perfect dual identity. Give the man a pair of tights.

Unfortunately there’s less of the Highwayman’s effortless heroism than you might like. This is the first novel in a new ‘Saga of the First King’ series, so it’s slow going as Salvatore manoeuvres his super-swordsman, a disaffected monk, barbarian priestess and indestructible dwarf into position for the finale.

But come the third act, the author lights a rocket under the plot and lets you ride it to a satisfying (if wholly expected) conclusion.

With faint echoes of 1930s action flicks like The Scarlet Pimpernel and The Adventures of Robin Hood, the Highwayman’s heroics underpin a story that also clutches forbidden love and religious nutters to its fantasy bosom. You don’t even have to have read The Highwayman or any of Salvatore’s Drizzt novels to find The Ancient curiously likeable.

And yes, that surprised me too.”

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