This review was originally published a few days ago. We had some serious website issues since then and lost a week’s worth of stuff. The author had responded to some of my criticisms in the comments but those too were lost in the hosting fiasco. Sorry to all involved.
Ten copper is equal to one silver, ten silver is equal to one gold. After a battle the victors go around the field and harvest a glowing ball of energy from each of the dead; collect enough of it and a person can level up one rank. Die and a person can be revived, but will lose a level of rank. More rank means better magical abilities; higher ranked men can shrug off sword blows with ease and heal even the deepest wounds in seconds. After a duel the victor gets all the lootz from the loser; usually keeping any magically enchanted items and selling off the mundane stuff.
The latest online roleplaying game from Blizzard? No, unfortunately this is the world in which protagonist of Sword of the Bright Lady finds himself transported to in this thoroughly mediocre portal fantasy offering. Now I have accused books of feeling like a video game before but I can’t think of a book that was this blatantly a video game in written form. The harvesting of tael and the ability to lose it upon death is the collection of XP, plain as day. I have collected glowing stuff from my kills in too many video games to mention. There is a color coded system to check people’s affiliation so a person can always check the manual if they get lost. And at one point Christopher, our poor lost soul of destiny, looks through his recently acquired spells through a visual menu like apparition in front of him; complete with a silent guide to act as a tutorial.
I wanted A Connecticut Yankee tale here, and in a way I got one. But instead of King Arthur’s Court we ended up in Azeroth; and did so without a trace of irony to be found. There was a decent story to be found here; Christopher using his mechanical knowledge to change society around him. But it walked a predictable line and was surrounded by so much silliness that it was hard to take seriously. Of course the protagonist shows gunpowder to a disproving audience, changes the course of warfare, and becomes a man of destiny within a world he barely understands. There was quite literally no other way this story could have gon. It was what I expected, it was what I got. Enjoyment can be found in these stories and I got a bit of satisfaction when everything he did was inevitably proven to be right. I admit that for all the predictability I saw through the story I was caught off guard by the ending; in retrospect it was obvious but the author managed to fool me and kudos to him for that.
Unfortunately the detractions to the book outweigh the strong ending and various comeuppances that the baddies of the tale get. Beyond the silly set up and incredible ease in which Christopher bends the world around his will. It is actually surprising to see a book fail the Betchell test these days but this one does it rather miserably. The closest it comes to passing is when one woman addresses a table that has a second woman at it; it may be the only time in the book two women are in one scene — surprising because this is a land of endless war missing a large percentage of its male population. Of the six women of note in the book three offer themselves to Christopher in some fashion. And despite a large portion of the male population dying in the war women are still left with the prospect of a good marriage being their best (only?) hope in life (with a bit of an inconsistency arising from a high ranking church official).
For those who look for well-paced plotting first and foremost in their fantasy novels this book will probably work well. But it is pretty easy to overload on portal fantasy; they all too often deal with one super character changing the world and need something unique to break form the back. Granted, this one had a unique feel, but it wasn’t one that worked for me.
Copy for review provided by publisher.