01/10/2008. Contributed by RJ Barker
pub: TOR/Forge. 405 page paperback. Price: $ 4.99 (US), $ 5.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-5870-7).
check out website: www.tor-forge.com
Bransen Garibond is the crippled son of Bran Dynard, an Abellian monk, and Sen Wi, a Jhesta Tu Grand Mistress. When the monks of Abelle decide his father's belief that his own religion and the Jhesta Tu disciplines are mutually incompatible both father and mother are seen as heretics and outcast, leading to their deaths. Bransen is raised by the monks and finds out their magical stones allow him to gain control of his body and become 'The Highwayman', an amazingly proficient warrior. As the Highwayman he takes on the monks, the Laird of his home tow,n Prydea, and the evil Samhaists priests.
Some fantasy has depth and some is great fun to read, some are both. This is neither. Although it has a clash between a western culture and an Arabic/Oriental one the painting of the eastern culture doesn't have the depth you'll find in the work of someone like Chaz Brenchley's Arabian Nights influenced 'Outremer' books. 'The Highwayman' feels a lot more 'aware of' than 'influenced by'.
The first chapter contains an action sequence that's like Douglas Fairbanks using wirework. Dashing blades and gravity defying acrobatics that whets the appetite for more. Unfortunately, it's the highlight of the book and after that it's pretty much fantasy by numbers. Orphan boy who grows up to have special powers. The ninja twist isn't enough to distinguish this from the hoard of fantasy books on the shelves and the writing itself seems ill thought through in a lot of places. The love affair of the central character is painful to read. It's so na´ve and from the minute it happens you're just waiting for the bad guys to take the woman hostage (they do).
The main characters' ability to trip between cripple and perfectly fit by aligning his chi is explained well enough to work. The boy has memorised his mother's ancient book of Jhesta Tu philosophy which he constantly runs through his head, practising the mental techniques. These techniques eventually allow him to rise above his infirmities. That he should suddenly be an expert martial artist just by constantly reading about it stretches credulity too much. As does his sudden confidence and wit.
Another thing that bothered me was the writing. It's very simplistic and never immersive. It always seems to be struggling a little. At one point, the word 'butt' is used to refer to someone's backside, this struck me as an obvious intrusion of our world into the fantasy one. A lot of this book seems lazily written, Bransen will be facing overwhelming odds and then beat them because he's, y'know, really good. Which is the essence of drama but it needs more work than Salvatore gives it to be believable. It gives the book a rather 'cartoony' feel.
I wondered whether this was aimed at a younger audience but it touches on distinctly adult subjects in places. It's similar 'Heroic Fantasy' territory to that trod by David Gemmel but it's not nearly as involving. 'The Highwayman' has some interesting ideas but, for me, was an effort to read.
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