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The Bear (Saga of the First King) by R. A. Salvatore
Review by Harriet Klausner
Tor Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765317919
Date: 17 August 2010 List Price $27.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Off the Mirianic Ocean in the land of Honce the Bear, the war goes on and on; caught in the middle of the hostilities are the peasants who are killed, maimed, or enslaved. The Lairds seem indifferent to the corpses clogging the paths to combat. All know that as long as the reigning monarch remains King Yeslnik the Fool who anointed himself ruler, peace is impossible as their Highness thrives on blood and guts of unmerciful war.

Yeslnik's most powerful enemy is Laird Ethelbert, who may be as evil but less bloody than the king. He remains vigilant in his aim to rip the throne from the usurper, but has many less troops in his command. Also opposing Yeslnik is Dame Gwydre of Vanguard, who is trapped inside the Church of St. Mere Abelle with the mystic monks. Protected by the magic jewels and the experienced men who yield their sword in their defense, munitions are unable to penetrate the edifice. She and Father Artolivan consider uniting with Ethelbert, but hesitate as his assassins killed Jameston Sequin. and tried to also murder Bransen Garibond the Highwayman.

Bransen Garibond wears his stone on his forehead and wants to take his pregnant wife and walk away from the unending combat, betrayal, and viciousness of both sides. However, he reconsiders his position of vanishing upon meeting the caring Gwydre who tries to help the beleaguered people. He escorts her to meet the king's general Bannagran, the Bear of Honce to see if perhaps she can persuade his archenemy that the land needs peace and he can be the key bringer of such. However, all the players underestimate the importance of Garibond.

R.A. Salvatore is brilliant (sounds like an oxymoron) as he brings to a close the Saga of the First King (see The Highwayman, The Ancient, and The Dame) with a thundering final epic. Both magic and medieval type warfare play significant roles in the action-packed story line. However, as typical in a Salvatore epic military-political fantasy, it is the cast who brings the story to life in this case the world of Honce. Politically this is a place where strange bedfellows seems like a bit under exaggerated as today's enemies are tomorrow best friends forever; with forever being defined as until the next alliance.

The characters make the plot feel genuine. Gwydre is a sort of Joan of Arc as she tries to bring peace in her time. Some call her the fool, but ironically the key person, Bransen, believes she is the only one with wisdom. The Bear knows no other way of life, but slaughtering and massacring foes and the innocent; yet she and Bransen believe they can convince him to change, and beat of his sword into a plowshare and his spear into a pruning hook. Her piety, nurturing and wisdom sold Garibond not to give up and to give peace a chance, learning how she did this requires reading the book. Finally there is the Fool on the hill who knows only one way to rule which is a bloody iron fist yet because of his egomania fails to believe anyone would dare betray him. Still he has a point as it will take a courageous person of power to overthrow the current king.

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