Second in The Chronicles of Illúmaril series, author Gary Caplan's The Return of the Ancient Ones is a distinct tale that illustrates how one's fiercest enemy can become one's most aggressive ally.
Winner 2012 NABE Pinnacle Book Award in Fantasy and
WINNER 2011 Indie Excellence Award in Fantasy Category and
Finalist 2011 International Book Awards in Fantasy Sci-Fi category
As dramatic as it is playful and sublime, Caplan has a knack at weaving the enchanted world of fantasy into the tension of a good old-fashioned cloak and dagger thriller. His incredible instinct for action rests on a spellbinding prose, yet what distinguishes his work in this genre is his ability to consider an otherworld culture as it reaches its pinnacle, rather than upon its downfall. In thirty-one chapters with titles like "Tyl University and the Academy of Spellweaving Arts," "Back to the Order of the Platinum Griffon and Duty," and "End Game," readers are reintroduced to Illúmaril, a land that patiently awaits its heir apparent. Once hidden on Earth, Gideon Finelen, as a birthright, holds the legacy that he and his ancestors are the only ones who can use the Sword of Order. Gideon's advisors, Tauri Ragan and Lord Talmor, hold great hope in Gideon and his Companions of the Sword of Order, but it is their enemy's enemy that first instigates a bold move. And while the Darkspawn have no intention of giving up their power, the return of Thatos and his twelve evil sorceror generals from their ancient, watery graves disperses the Darkspawn's allegiance to temporarily help the armies of the Free Peoples against Thatos, his mercenaries, and other chaos warriors. For Gideon, the quixotic irony in all of this is that Darkspawn leadership is just as fixed on revenge as it is with maintaining its stronghold over Illúmaril. As he pits foe against foe to claim Illúmaril, the Sword of Order has a chance to triumph over Chaos.
Gideon glanced over his journal after he finished writing another entry. He had been thinking about many things, about his heritage, his mixed lineage, and why he had been hidden on another world, even made to blend into that society. Ragan, one of his mentors, had called the world Kara, but which he called Earth. Gideon was working in one of several of the Order of the Platinum Griffon citadels in Calendor Province, where he shared an office with another squadron wing officer. The units here were completing joint training with the Order of the Horn, Order of the Owl, Order of the Blue Elax, and the Order of the Shield. Over the year, such joint training with different orders or militant groups was part of the normal training for the more regular members of most orders.
For just a moment, Gideon shuddered, recalling relatively recent events when he and some of his companions had confronted an extremely powerful dark entity called Nossus-Thoth, during the battle in the Greenway region. It had been several weeks since the Lord of Chaos and Entropy Nossus-Thoth had been summoned by the Darkspawn leaders and had succeeded in breaching on to Illúmaril. During the battle, great releases of energy had then been sent in a wave across the land to stir anew the Unlife. Gideon learned that, originally, the negative energy force, referred to as the Unlife, had seeped across during the second age, which had started the presence of the undead. Earlier, the leaders of the dark lord’s forces that had arranged for the arrival of Lord Nossus-Thoth had succeeded in gaining new land and territory by using the ruse of attacking uprisings of undead and other forms of the Unlife that at first appeared to be enemies of all the peoples of Illúmaril.
Using a mirror behind the office door, Gideon looked at himself, wearing the blue-grey and silver colored uniform of the Order of the Platinum Griffon. Earlier he had finished a strenuous training session and showered in the officers’ quarters. He had allowed his blond hair to grow neck length and had used a cord to bind it back while it fully dried. His blue eyes looked down over his clothes at the developing wrinkles. Gideon was tall and muscular; he was lean and fit, every inch an officer. He had earlier taken off his imbued chain-mail shirt and now wore one of the shirts he had purchased in the city of Mindon more than a year and a half ago.
Gideon had developed strong muscles and other enhanced traits after his plunge into the Pool of Tetherin and later the nexus or source water of that pool. Even before that, however, he was strong and healthy; he had practiced martial arts and had been working on a doctoral degree in archaeology before he returned to Illúmaril. He noticed after his bath in the mystical pool’s waters that he had been augmented in many ways. The nexus of the Pool of Tetherin even triggered hidden memories and a transformation of sorts. He had developed some Alor traits, or what he liked to call his Elven side. His ears seemed to retain more of a human quality outwardly, but his face, nose, and eyes had been altered. The waters of the pool had caused a transformation internally as well. His many-times-removed noble aunt, the Herendal Faiella, whom he had met in the city of Andrim, did the final alteration. She removed a spellweave that she used many years ago to allow him to blend in when he was originally placed on Earth and hidden for his safety.
Gideon had recently returned from a trip to the seacoast. He had needed to relax after the battles he had found himself involved in. So he went to a beach that had been recommended and swam and even wave-surfed using a board he had built by an Alor shipwright in the city of Andrim. Gideon thought back and recalled when he was joined by two of his Elven friends or, as they called themselves, Alor. One of his closer friends, actually more of a girlfriend, Laurelin Leaflock, had earlier given him an Alor-style name; she called him Finelen and he eventually adopted it and added it to his own name. Alor customs were different and courting relationships moved very slowly. Gideon was still learning the norms involved with the virtually immortal society.
He recalled a few short visits during his relaxation time on the seacoast of Lindorien from, among others, some of his mentors, including Ragan the Red, one of the senior Tauri, and Lord Talmor, one of the greater Guardians. They wanted to make sure he was safe and feeling in better spirits. Others came to visit cautiously and inform him that it appeared that the Valharri now knew there was a living scion of the ancient high king or aharonthal, Lith-Gilad, but few of the enemy had evidently gotten more than a glimpse of him, as his armor and helm obscured his features easily enough for a partial view at best.
If any enemy forces were after him, it seemed he was a lower priority than they originally believed. Few of the enemy still alive saw him, and reports indicated that the Urshkaar soldiers who might have seen him had not long afterward died fighting undead, which had turned on them. Probably no one other than the Darkspawn Valharri, Lady Vasha, and Nossus-Thoth, the Lord of Chaos, even had an idea what he looked like or even what his mystical aura might be. And Vasha had not gotten up from the battle, and Nossus-Thoth had been banished by the Sword of Order Gideon had wielded during the battle. Once Gideon got to the Order of the Platinum Griffon’s Citadel in northern Silmir Province near the border with Calendor Province, he was presented with encouraging private messages from those individuals and other powerful people who wanted to help guide him to a recovery of his heritage. The Alor, the most ancient and wisest people of Illúmaril of course would cautiously approach Gideon, being who he was, a direct descendant (albeit a distant one) of the ancient high king Arel Lith-Gilad.
In the office with him was Kol-sphenate Lorien. Lorien was a senior captain and leader of one of the Griffon regiments. Lorien was an Alor with platinum-blond hair and blue eyes. He was not wearing his armor. Since they were in garrison, he wore the Order's uniform, a shirt, and trousers. Gideon was presently in command of a squadron wing under Lorien in the Order of the Platinum Griffon. Gideon heard he was up for a promotion and would be the same rank as his friend Lorien soon enough.
Lorien walked into the office as Gideon was finishing reading some reports and reading equipment and supply requisitions. “Have you heard?” Lorien asked. “A Quellien crystal fragment containing useful energies was found by the White Council; it now appears that the Valharri and their allies somehow obtained a piece of the Quellien source crystal as well.”
“From what I have learned from Tauri Ragan and others, that’s not good,” Gideon replied. “Although from what I heard and from rumors, I am not sure, but Mordru may have split his crystal and given a piece to one of the Valharri or one of the other Darkspawn leaders.”
“I’ve been wondering myself and have heard similar things,” Lorien said. “Some wonder if one of the Valharri retrieved a portion of the Quellien crystal that the wizard Mordru was using, and they also wonder how many or what size crystal he had access to. But that’s enough speculation. Let’s leave that up to the White Council, or the Lords Assembly, or the Leaders of the Orders.”
Gideon nodded. He was still worried, at least to a degree, that someone or something may have located him. “What do you think the odds are of someone coming after me, since I’m a scion of Lith-Gilad?”
“From the eyewitness reports I’ve read and those with whom I’ve talked,” Lorien replied, “few if any actually got a good look at you. After all, your face was partially covered by your armor and it was not traditional Order of the Platinum Griffon-style armor. If others are looking for you, they have taken their time and have probably not traced you here, or some attack against you would have transpired by now.”
“You’re probably right,” Gideon said. “Ragan eventually told me he and the other Tauri took care to disperse my aura and anything else they could think of to limit my exposure. For the most part, even the Chaos beasts that saw me ended up dead by the end of the battle.”
“Yes, if the Valharri planned your death, you would have been directly attacked by now. That means they have poor or limited information about you,” Lorien replied.
Gideon had a faraway look on his face as if he was remembering. “Only the Valharri Vasha recognized me in the end, and she is still in a state between life and death, according to Lord Nimmeral,” Gideon said. “The few Urshkaar warriors or wizards with her who did see me to a degree probably did not recognize the significance of the Sword of Order and probably thought me just some Elven lord, as Vasha had just been battling Ragan the Red.” Gideon recalled his friend and mentor fondly. He was a Tauri, tall and strong, an archmaster, and a senior council member of the Red Lodge. As an honorarium for being one of the senior council members of one of the Great Lodges, he was called “the Red.”
“You know we have just finished strategy meetings for the Order,” Lorien said. “I think it’s about time for the evening meal. Let’s go. Your time here will be cut short, as you will be heading back to Tyl University to continue your studies.”
“Go ahead, Lorien. I’ll join you in a few minutes,” Gideon replied. “I just want to finish this report.” Lorien got his evening cloak and headed out toward the closest of the citadel’s two officer’s mess halls. As Gideon finished his report, he continued to ponder things and wondered what he had really gotten himself into. He even felt for a moment as if someone might be watching him.
Almaren, Cordlyer, Glade, and Kaye were finishing their search, having narrowed the location down with scrying and eliminating magical residues from the chambers they searched. They turned as Draeborn and the others materialized. Gil, Bernord, Tain, Gideon, and Draeborn translocated from the prison area staying only long enough to see that the Mystic Knight was able to deal with the Darkspawn guards.
“You’re all fine,” Almaren said, looking at the others then moving over to briefly hug her older sibling briefly. She smiled at Gideon.
“Yes, we are for the most part. It was more difficult than I thought. Thatos is gaining more power as his allies arrive,” Draeborn said.
“The Sword of Order did not work on him like other beings of pure Chaos, as he was soulless; his chaotic spirit was probably protected by his soul crystal in some way,” Gideon said.
“Let’s finish the search,” Bernord said, as he checked to make sure his magical devices were working.
“His soul crystal must be in one of the three chambers that we have left to search,” Glade said. “We have eliminated any other hiding spots.” They all prepared themselves and headed down the corridor. As they walked they sensed powerful energies in the distance and a tremor of the ground.
“That was an immense surge of spiritual, mystical and other energy,” Cordlyer said.
“Yes, I think we all sensed that. I believe it’s from a confrontation of Thatos and one of the greater Guardians,” Draeborn said.
* * *
The battle outside the fortress was becoming fierce, and the summoning room was shaking as nearby areas were being bombarded. Auroboras became agitated and decided to leave the summoning, now that his brother had accepted and the Erradan’s ancient barriers holding Curuboras were essentially breached. Soon, a third great Lord of Chaos would emerge. Auroboras stretched its vast bulk and drew spiritual energy and other forces to empower itself, then rose from the ruins as a true Lord of Chaos and Entropy. Its huge body began to twirl and move upward, its great wings and deadly aura destroying stone walls it brushed across.
* * *
As they entered the last series of rooms, they saw large statues, or rather, upon further observations, saw that they were not statues but magical constructs. There were two and each was similar to the Eldren constructs they had battled before. One resembled a Chaos beast; the other was more like the Eldren constructs Gideon and Gil had battled before and appeared to resemble an Eldren.
At this point, most of the search group had used a series of spellweaves, and even Tain was using a detection crystal to locate Thatos’ soul crystal. “There is the right type of energy coming from those constructs…no, from within them,” Cordlyer stated.
“I agree. Some type of spiritual energy is coming from inside these constructs,” Almaren said. She had been using various spellweaves to scry for the soul crystal.
“Yes, it appears to be split between both. The constructs are connected in a way,” Draeborn said.
“So how do we get it out?” Gideon asked.
“Thatos is devious. We have to destroy two constructs that are most probably immune to most spellweaves to get at his soul crystals,” Glade added.
Kaye said, “Now that’s not going to be easy to do.”
Tain had just stepped into the large chamber with the constructs to get a closer look when their eyes began to glow and they regarded him in return. “Damn, I may have activated them,” Tain said.
Draeborn said, “It’s possible that Thatos has activated them, because he senses us, and he is occupied with one of the Guardians or perhaps they have activated because we are here.”
“Then let’s crack them open,” Gil Gallow said, as he moved to strike one of the constructs.
“That may take some time,” Almaren said, after looking at the constructs more carefully.
“Gideon drew the Sword of Order and said, “I’m ready,” and moved to strike. As the Sword hit, it cut a deep gash into the metal, which appeared to be a zetheric and branil alloy. He then made a quick dodge and was hit a glancing blow by the quick Chaos beast construct.
Professional Reviews Four Star **** Forward Book Rewiew for The Return of the Ancient Ones
"The Return of the Ancient Ones is the tale about Gideon Finelen, the scion of Lith-Gilad, who returns from Earth to Illúmaril to claim his territorial birthright. At the Academy of Spellweaving Arts, Gideon completes his education in order to “defend the Key Worlds from being taken by the Lords of Entropy and Chaos.” Gideon prepares to regain his ancestral lands from the Darkspawn and Lords of Chaos. The hero learns to use his Sword of Order, a weapon bestowed with great powers. Meanwhile, the forces of Chaos are gathering their troops, including the Undead, to return rule over Illúmaril to the Ancient Ones.
Gideon’s advisor, Tauri Ragan, grandmaster sorcerer and mentor of spellweaving, holds great hope in Gideon and his Companions of the Sword of Order, but it is Thatos, the enemy of the Darkspawn who instigates a deadly move. And while the Darkspawn have no intention of giving up their power, the return of Thatos and his twelve evil sorcerers from their ancient, watery graves distracts Darkspawn’s allegiances enough to help the Armies of the Free Peoples mobilize their forces against Thatos and other Chaos warriors. While the confrontation builds, Gideon races to find the Amulet of Noros, which holds the power to defeat the Undead.
Uninitiated readers of fantasy tales will find this book complicated and overly intricate, tending to get bogged down in details of Illúmaril’s denizens—all at the expense of a grander struggle at hand. Also daunting are the plotting devices employed to weave military strategies by the Order of Chaos as they prepare for war. Perhaps a “primer” at the beginning of the book would have dispelled confusion for the neophyte fantasy reader. Notwithstanding, with a little patience, the persevering reader will be rewarded.
With ingenuity and sophistication, Caplan has conceived a fantastic world filled with
marvelous, otherworldly creatures: man-lions, dragon-elves, tentacled Undead, hippogryphs (part bird, part horse), tree-people, and other animal-like demons, giants, and elves. Likewise, inventive mystical powers and weaponry abound—spellweaving energies from “Quellien crystals,” stones for translocation, frost-enchanted arrows, amulets imbued with protection, “pure essence flux waves,” and telepathic swords.
Intriguing are the Tauri, Jedi-like masters who teach Gideon and his Companions of the Sword the skills of spellweaving. At the academy, Gideon is mentored by Ragan, a grandmaster sorcerer. Just as it is inevitable that any fantasy tale succumbs to one trope or another, then so does The Return of the Ancient Ones, reminding readers of comparisons to Harry Potter and the martial arts training at Hogwarts. Dungeons & Dragons videogame fanatics will find striking similarities in the story’s portrayal of the duel.
The story falls short in its lack of deep relationships and paucity of character development. Regardless of the flaws, the story is well paced, complex, and descriptive, as is borne out by Caplan’s inventive language and fantastic creations: telepathic swords, crystals with “mentallic” defensive powers, and the “Talaxis” energy field. Lovers of fantasy combat will find this tale a compulsive read and richly satisfying."
February 17, 2011
Reviews for "The Return of the Ancient Ones"