The Fifth Ring
Mitchell Graham
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Buy *The Fifth Ring* online The Fifth Ring
Mitchell Graham
528 pages
January 2003
rated 2 of 5 possible stars

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Much that once was, is lost, for none now live who remember it. It began with the forging of the great rings…for within these rings was bound the will and the strength to govern each race. But another ring was made; the Dark Lord forged, in secret, a master ring – one Ring to rule them all. One by one, the free lands fell to the power of the Ring; for the hearts of men are easily corrupted, and the Ring of Power has a will of its own. And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend, legend became myth, and for two-and-a-half-thousand years, the Ring passed out of all knowledge. Until, when chance came, it ensnared a new bearer…
Sound familiar? It’s from the opening scene of The Fellowship of the Ring. But it might as well be the prologue to the so-derivative-as-to-verge-on-plagiarism The Fifth Ring, the debut effort from attorney-turned-author Mitchell Graham. You’d think a lawyer would be more sensitive to the dangers of copyright infringement, wouldn’t you? Well, let’s explore the many similarities between the Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Fifth Ring, first in a forthcoming series. Sit back -– this could take a while.

The story takes place thousands of years in the future, on an Earth destroyed by a mysterious apocalypse. Judging by the map provided, we’re in a modified Europe, with everything west of Germany fallen into the ocean. Frodo -– er, I mean, Matthew Lewin -- is a humble country youth from the rural village of Devondale, situated somewhere in present-day Poland. A strapping lad of sixteen, Matthew belongs to Devondale’s fencing team with his best friend Collin and his sweetheart Lara; the friendly Father Thomas coaches the team. Everyone’s been practicing for the Spring Week tournament with the neighboring villages; one of the prizes is a very unusual ring made of a curious rose gold. The ring is strangely heavy, cold to the touch, and has an indecipherable script carved into the inside of the band. Ahem.

Curled Up With a Good BookBut wait -- an evil race of creatures known as Orlocks (not to be confused with Orcs) also seeks the ring. Vaguely humanoid, but terrifyingly ugly, with a foul stench and poisonous bite, the Orlocks were thought to have been eradicated long ago, and yet they’re back. The Orlocks serve the evil lord Karas Duren, king of Alor Satar, who seeks to learn the secret powers of the Ancients to take over the world. You see, thousands of years ago, the Ancients (that’s us) used their arcane knowledge to fashion rings of power for every man, woman, and child to use. Eventually the rings were outlawed, and eight great rings were forged, this time made for one specific user. Despite the rings, or perhaps because of them, a terrible catastrophe befell the Ancients, destroying their civilization utterly; three thousand years later, a large chunk of the world is still an uninhabitable wasteland. This doesn’t faze Karas Duren; he believes that he can control the rings and wield the power of the Ancients to become the ruler of all. Karas Duren stumbles upon four rings, one of which he can wield; but this leaves four more yet to be captured. And one of them is in Devondale.

The Orlocks descend upon the sleepy village, and in the ensuing bloodbath, the ring falls into Matthew’s hands. He notices an unpleasant tingling sensation when he wears the ring, but thinks no more of it, even when he acquires strange new powers, like night vision and telekinesis. Afraid of the magic ring, Matthew puts it on a cord around his neck, though he’s often tempted to put it on and use it. When a crime of passion forces Matthew into flight, he’s accompanied by his own little Fellowship of the Ring –- Collin, Lara, token tech-nerd Daniel (who nonchalantly invents a telescope one afternoon, then gives it the lame name “farsighter”), and the avuncular Father Thomas. Funny thing about Father Gandalf -– oops, Father Thomas: everywhere they go, people seem to know him, and the more he talks, the more dark secrets, former careers, and hidden talents he reveals. But this is no time for chatting about the past -– they’ve got to muster their coalition forces and stop Karas Duren and his evil cronies from doing really bad stuff! What that might be, exactly, we’re not sure. But it would be really bad. So it’s got to be stopped.

All the usual problems that plague mediocre fantasy novels are present in force. Some relics of the Ancients’ civilization still stand; quite improbably, rubber and glass survive whole and unscathed. So does our language – all the characters speak idiomatic twentieth-century American English, musing anachronistically about stress reactions and low-sodium diets (except for Karas Duren, who adopts the moustache-twirling Fakespearean syntax of all fantasy villains, and, no doubt, has a posh English accent to go with it). Every woman is glowingly described as “pretty” or “beautiful,” with flowing silken tresses, warm brown eyes, and jewel-toned dresses that show off their “trim figures” to advantage. The male characters spew forth a nonstop patter of rueful jokes about bossy women, and the narrator follows suit; given that they’re battling the forces of evil for control of the world, the protagonists seem oddly jaunty, with a never-ending supply of lame quips better suited to family sitcoms than high fantasy. Diluted by the cheesy humor, the romance between Matthew and Lara is flat and uninteresting, consisting mainly of teenage posturing and light petting as it does; as for the thing with the rings, well, I’m guessing that will develop in a manner uncannily similar to the plot of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. They say that imitation is the best form of flattery, but I’m guessing Tolkien wouldn’t feel too flattered by this limp and unimaginative knock-off.

© 2003 by Stephanie Perry for Curled Up With a Good Book

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