"The Ancient" follows three main sets of characters. First is Ancient Badden, the head of the Samahist order, which is a sort of religion that demands sacrifices. Living sacrifices. As you can imagine, this doesn't make the Samhaists well-loved. Rather the opposite, in fact. There are less than 50 Samhaists left. But those that remain are very powerful.
The most powerful of them all is Ancient Badden. In fact, he's also the leader of the Samhaists, and he has come up with an idea to make more people follow his religion. He will build a castle of ice on the roof of the world, where a crack runs deep into the earth, bringing power up with it. Here, he will gather an army of monsters, conquer the lands around, bring the humans living there to heel, gather more monsters, lather, rinse and repeat until the entire continent is under the sway of the Samhaists.
Opposing him are members of the other dominant religions, and the leader of the lands he is currently looking to conquer, Dame Gwydra. Ancient Badden had once hoped to sway her to the Samhaist religion, but when she became lovers with an Abellican priest, she came to follow his religion instead. Ancient Badden blames the Samhaist who is one of Dame Gwydre's closest advisors, for not cutting the relationship off before it happened, but now he will simply use his monster army to roll right over her lands.
The second character is the Abellican monk, Cormack. He is based on a small island in a lake fed by runoff from the Turghar glacier, called Mithranidoon. The island is called Chapel Isle. Now, Cormack has fallen in love with a beautiful shamaness named Milkeila, and they have become lovers. If his superior at the Chapel knew about it, he would be extremely angry with Cormack. But it's worse. Cormack has gifted Milkeila with a necklace of stones, stones that the Abellicans use in their magic, and is trying to teach her how to use them, Milkeila is not the only native shaman interested in learning from the Abellicans, for there are other young shamans who feel the same way.
When the island is attacked by dwarves called Powries, who are not unlike Redcaps, Cormack is caught in the attack and fights off both the Powries and the ice trolls who live in the lake. His bravery and fighting prowess impress the Powries, and they tell him to meet them again in the span of a moon to fight them once more. If he wins, he will be given a powrie beret. If he loses, his life and blood are forfeit to the Powries. He meets them and wins, and is given the Beret, but this annoys the leader of the Abellican monks.
When the monks discover a group of natives, including their head shaman, injured and unconscious on the lake after an ice troll attack, the monks help heal the men, but demand that the natives follow the Abellican ways as "payment" for their healing services. The men refuse, and refuse to eat after they are imprisoned until they change their minds. Cormack lets this slip to Milkeila, and she tells her tribesmen, starting a war between the Abellicans and the tribesmen. Cormack is sickened by the war and lets the men go and helps them escape, but is later found out, beaten nearly to death and set adrift in a boat to die by his fellow monks, who view his actions as a betrayal, but manages to survive both the trolls and his own wounds.
Last is the main character of the book, Bransen Garibond. Son of a Jhesta Tu woman (sort of a buddhist martial artist), and a man named Bran, he, his wife and his mother-in-law have come to find his father, who was headed this way after leaving Bransen's mother. Bransen was crippled, but contact with an Abellican soul-stone has the power to make his physical problems disappear. Without the stone, he reverts to "The Stork", hobbling and drooling and being nightmarishly clumsy. With the stone, he becomes his rebellious alter-ego, "The Highwayman", a daring and adept thief and swordsman. With the lords currently at war with one another, they must be careful as they travel.
Unbeknownst to him, Bransen has been recognized, and is being steered north to help Dame Gwydre, who sorely needs fighters to beat back Ancient Badden's monster attacks. When they arrive at Dame Gwydre's hold, they are told the man they are seeking died long ago, and if Bransen wants his wife and mother-in-law to be safe, he must help Dame Gwydre's men fight off the monsters. Bransen is furious, but sees little choice, and helps the hold fight off the monsters.
Seeing him fight, and his obvious prowess, Dame Gwydre decides she can cut the problem off at the source, and sends a party of her best fighters, along with Brother Jond, an Abellican priest, to fight Ancient Badden and kill him. If Bransen and the other fighters can return with Ancient Badden's head, Dame Gwydre will set his women free and give him free passage to anywhere he wants to go.
But can such a small party defeat the forces of Ancient Badden, much less the most powerful Samhaist priest himself?
This was an uncomfortable read for me. It seemed to take me forever to get into the story, and when I did, the stories of Cormack and Milkeila was more interesting to me than the story of the supposed main character, Bransen Garibond. Also, the story is set off by the personal musings of Bransen, and while I didn't mind these meditations on the experiences in the story, they were written in almost exactly the same voice as R.A. Salvatore's other big character, Drizzt Do'Urden, and truth be told, I'd rather be reading about him rather than Bransen.
I just wasn't interested in Bransen very much. When the secondary characters are more interesting than the main character in the story, you know the story needs a serious re-thinking. I'll look forward to more Drizzt Do'Urden books from R.A. Salvatore, but I don't think I'll be reading much of this series at all. I'm glad I didn't pay for this book, but took it out of the library. It would not have been worth my money.