I never doubted R.A. Salvatore’s talent; despite my love of Drizzt, I’d not have made it through twenty-four books (so far!) chronicling his legend if Salvatore had no skill with words. If he could not tell a story, the story, in the way it needed to be told, deftly and surely, his words always underlying and uplifting the most important elements: his characters.
In delving into a whole new world of his own imagining, I had to wonder if Salvatore’s magic existed only in the Realms. Having just finished ‘The Highwayman’, the first of two books collected in ‘DemonWars: First Heroes’, I can assure you it does not.
‘The Highwayman’ chronicles the emergence of a new hero, a character like none I have read before. An accident of birth left Bransen Garibond crippled. Walking is an effort, talking almost beyond him. Still, his adoptive father loves and cares for him. His existence is softly tragic, an orphan who still has a place and the care of a good man. Where his body fails him, his mind does not. Bransen all but teaches himself to read and devours the only book in the house, the very book that turned the lives of his parents upside down.
Through the teachings of the Jhesta Tu, Bransen struggles for control of his body. Then a miracle occurs. Contact with an Abellican soul stone helps him make the proper connections and for the first time he is able to stand up straight. So begins an alternate life, one Bransen cannot fully embrace right away. His infirmity makes him a target of the Samhaists and bullies, but also provides a convenient disguise.
Bransen’s problems pale in comparison to those plaguing Corona, however. The stirrings of a civil war, bands of powrie dwarves and the conflict between the Samhaists and the Church of the Blessed Abelle take precedence. Bransen cannot join the fight and his alter ego, the Highwayman, is not invested in either conflict, but his experiments with agility put him squarely in the middle of both.
The second book included in this volume, ‘The Ancient’ picks up the story pretty much where it was left. Along with his wife and mother-in-law, Bransen has been banished from Pryd Town. He would journey south to look for more enlightenment among his mother’s people, the Jhesta Tu, but the civil conflict has spread, making travel difficult. Indeed, he must often spend the day in the guise of The Stork, the bumbling, stumbling cripple no laird would be interested in drafting into service.
Unfortunately, the Highwayman is highly sought after and his identity isn’t the secret Bransen thought it might be. Enticed by word his father might still live, Bransen is tricked into heading north and drafted into service against trolls, goblins barbarians and powrie dwarves in a quest to settle the north. There, the conflict between the Samhaists and Abellican church also continues, which introduces a cataclysmic ripple into the plot.
‘The Ancient’ reads more like a novel of the ‘Forgotten Realms’, if one will forgive the comparison. Bransen is one of a cast of characters, as he was in ‘The Highwayman’. In the first volume, he is the title and the subject, though. That is his story. ‘The Ancient’ is more the story of his purpose or the destiny that finds him through the putting together of a band of adventurers and the eventual defeat of the big evil. I enjoyed the journey and if there had been a third book tucked into this volume, I would have turned the page and kept reading.
The first volume of ‘The ‘DemonWars Saga was published in 1996. That’s nearly twenty years ago. Salvatore’s signature world doesn’t carry the same number of books as his more popular legend of Drizzt, but I found the story and the world to be as compelling. His style and many of his character types were recognisable, but that did not lull me into believing I’d drifted between Realms. Always, I was aware of being in a new place, one just as carefully thought out and inhabited by a wide array of races, monsters and magic.
Chronologically, the ‘Saga Of The First King’ slots in before ‘The DemonWars’, but as with all of Salvatore’s series, can be read before or after. Each of his novels is always a complete adventure, which is one of the reasons I’ve been faithfully reading his books for years and years and years. Another reason would be his heroes. They’re humble and full of faults. They stumble and make mistakes. They question their actions and motivations. They’re very human, regardless of race and that makes them very easy to identify with. Bransen Garibond is just such a hero and I look forward to journeying forward with him.
(pub: TOR-UK). 608 page enlarged paperback. Price: £14.99 (UK), $15.35 (US) ISBN: 978-0-76537-616-9)