Review of THE BEAR by R. A. Salvatore (see his website)
SAGA OF THE FIRST KING
Tor, August 2010
Beaten and disillusioned, Bransen Garibond, formerly the highwayman, makes his way home. He no longer believes that it's possible for war to make an improvement. Even if enlightened rulers win, their heirs will surely be worse and the cycle of death continues. The peasant always suffers. Meanwhile, the players at war change. King Yeslnik's armies are by far the largest in Honce. Against him stands only the aging and beaten Ethelbert...who in turn pays the assassins who stole Bransen's sword and the magical stones that gave him the highwayman powers. Even the church, which stands against Yeslnik, and an expeditionary force from far-off Vanguard, seem unlikely to alter the imbalance of power. Yeslnik is too strong--and Bransen can't bring himself to care.
Bransen links up with one of Yeslnik's lieutenants, Lord Bannagran, in hopes of regaining his sword. His assurance suffers a blow, though, when he learns that the church has come out against Yeslnik. Bransen's pregnant wife is inside the besieged chapel.
Ultimately, Bransen must come to terms with his loss of faith, look for the best even in those who are imperfect, and seek a lever that will change the political and military equation of Honce.
Author R. A. Salvatore (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of fantasy by Salvatore) continues a story begun with THE ANCIENT (see our review). The political scheming and use of magical communication to create a hit-and-run army that can survive despite being vastly outnumbered is interestin, as is Bransen's battle with the assassins who stole his sword and jewels. Bannagran is the most complex character in the story, but we don't really get to see much of him. The dwarves serve as tragi-comic figures and most of the other characters are sketched rather than fully developed.
To me, THE BEAR read a bit like an exceptional first draft. There's a lot to like here, and the plot certainly holds together. I wish Salvatore had spent a bit more time working on the characters, giving us a reason to care about Bransen, and made Yeslnik a bit more convincing as an antagonist. Overall, THE BEAR is enjoyable but not Salvatore's best.
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