Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Up for review is Glen Cook’s, The Swordbearer. This is a stand-alone work recently re-released by Night Shade Books with some terrific cover art by Raymond Swanland. This is a classic coming of age story with some of the usual suspects as story elements. Yet, Cook gets better mileage out of it than most.
The story’s protagonist, Gathrid, is the youngest son of a minor noble. Stuck by polio in his youth, Gathrid has a limp and general numbness on the left side of his body. As a result, he is set aside and “protected.” When an armed conflict arrives on his front door, he sent away into the woods with the women. He never quite makes it, but hides amid the ruins of his family’s estate. Later, escaping one of the twelve Toal (i.e. the love children of Ringwraiths and Sith lords), Gathrid takes shelter in a cave wherein he finds a large coffin guarded by an ancient sleeping dwarf. Glancing into the coffin, Gathrid lays eyes on the ancient sword Daubendiek. Unable to resist, Gathrid grabs the sword and, upon so doing, the ancient dwarf awakens saying, “Suchara has chosen.” Is this a bad thing? Perhaps, but any further on and you’re in for some spoilers.
Suchara is an ancient god-like being who is actually sleeping. So are her husband and two children. The four of them, in dream states, rip at the lives of people in the world of The Swordbearer without any real awareness of the damage being done. The sword, Daubendiek, is a sword that operates on something of a vampiric mechanism. The sword consumes the soul of the individual it kills, transferring the knowledge and awareness of the individual into the Swordbearer. However, the bloodthirsty weapon has something of a mind of it’s own. On occasion, it will co-opt the use of its wielder’s body and strike out at anything on two legs within arm’s reach. Daubendiek is actually a tool used by Suchara to possess and control a Swordbearer. Yet, Suchara always has her servant, Theis Rogala, nearby. It is rumored that, at an appointed time, the ancient dwarf ends the lives of each Swordbearer with a dagger of his own.
Needless to say, the title of Swordbearer is something that isn’t as great as it sounds to most boys/young men. Gathrid, unlike previous Swordbearers, travels a slightly different path, as he strives to be free of Daubendiek, Suchara and Theis Rogala.
The Bad: The convolutions towards the end of the tale. The story attempts to get too clever, or too surprising. The tale attempts to maneuver the reader into a position of suspicion vis-à-vis each of the characters motives towards the protagonist. It seemed to be a lot of unnecessary motion, flailing, and floundering heat loss. That having been said, it was the only element of the book that I didn’t favor.
The Good: Everything else. Seriously, if you have read Glen Cook before, this is more of that. Cook’s dialogue, prose and/or narrative is always ‘no-frills.’ This trade paperback, in fairly large font print, was approximately 250 pages. I am certain that, with any other author, it would have been between 450 and 550 pages. If you enjoy classic elements of heroic fantasy fiction, or the good old hack ‘n slash, then this is for you. It’s a brief and fulfilling ride through some familiar territory.
Rated: 8.25/10 (which means “for fans of the genre,” or at least this is how the ubiquitously absent roll – know what I’m sayin’?)
Afterword: Peter William Dowd is the owner of "Ubiquitous Absence", a blog, which chronicles his reads in fantasy.