Lost to time — Vault of the Ages

Vault of the Ages

Author: Poul Anderson
Publisher: Berkley
Reprinted: 1978
Page Count: 160
Purchase on Amazon: Price Varies

In the ruins of a metropolis lies an underground bunker filled with the history and knowledge of an advanced civilization. The secrets entombed could tip the scales of power or bring about a new Armageddon. Generations of superstitious beliefs have kept this knowledge securely locked away. One man seeks to unlock its contents and chance the consequences of opening the vault of the ages.

The novel, Vault of the Ages, by Poul Anderson is set in the aftermath of a great war. The warring factions with their advanced weaponry annihilated each other; taking with them their technological knowledge. As a result, future generations were left to survive in a dark age of technology and superstition. Together, they banded in tribes and eked out a simple agrarian life. The Dales, the strongest of the tribes, is under the threat of invasion by the Lann of the barren north. Ralph, the stalwart leader of the Dales must now send his son Carl to a city off-limits to all to barter for weapons. A city of skeletal skyscrapers, remnants of the advanced society that once lived there. The city’s current inhabitants are the best weapon makers in the land and feared to be witches. The city is a forbidden zone and only the foolhardy dare enter. Carl must enter as his father once did long ago. Along the way, Carl meets two young boys who will guide him to the city. Together the trio evades the encroaching Lann forces and slips safely into the city.

Once in the city, the trio meets Ronway the keeper of the knowledge, and chief of the witches. Ronway unveils the witches’ magic, a vault that holds the knowledge of the past. Complex and fearful superstitions are connected to the vault and its vast knowledge. Knowledge of the past is strictly forbidden; for it was responsible for destroying the world long ago. Carl, unafraid of what lies within the musty tomb see its benefits. Unable to broker a deal for the much-needed weapons, Carl returns to the Dales. At home, he speaks of the wonders of the vault and its powers. He lobbies his father to take control of the city and its knowledge in front of Lenard, a prisoner, and son of the leader of the Lann. His request is turned down. Tribal law forbids anyone from possessing such knowledge even though the Lann is overtaking their land as they advance. Lenard manages to escapes and returns to his father with this vital information. It then becomes a race between Carl and Lenard to see who can take possession of the city and the vault of ages.

The story outlined above sounds like a great adventure, but it wasn’t. The story was too predictable, far-fetched, quite convoluted, and with little character development. I found it a struggle to get through most of the book and extremely challenging to actually finish. I typically enjoy sci-fi/fantasy books published during this time period, but more than once I had to force myself to continue. It was disappointing and devoid of any real gaming inspiration. Poul Anderson is an award-winning author best known for The Broken Sword‎ and ‎Tau Zero, but Vault of Ages was let down. In defense of Mr. Anderson, after reading the book, I did a little research and discovered Vault of the Ages was his first novel, written at the age of 26. I can only assume that the Vault of the Ages was a developmental building block that would later result in his award-winning titles.

Despite the interesting cover art, I would recommend that readers steer clear of this book. It doesn’t hold up to the artist’s imagery; although the artist’s cover art is interesting enough to be used as a writing prompt for a Sci-Fantasy roleplaying game scenario. Readers would do well to not compare this work to Poul Anderson’s later and far better-written novels. We can surely chalk this one up to his youth and inexperience. Thankfully his writings greatly improved over time. I would leave this book to the collectors and completists to own. Let my mistake be my own and your saving grace.

~Stephen Pennisi

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. I was nodding along at reading the synopsis, thinking how did I miss the book all these years? Sounds like great post-apoc. And that cover art!

    Then you pulled the rug out part way through. “The story outlined above sounds like a great adventure, but it wasn’t…”

    Great review Stephen. Thanks for saving me the trouble.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. modoc31 says:

      I’m glad we could help steer you in the right direction.

      ~ Modoc

      Liked by 1 person

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