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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Sunday, July 11, 2004

The Last Book of Swords: Shieldbreaker's Story by Fred Saberhagen. New York: Tor, 1994. ISBN: 0-312-85001-8

I don't read a lot of the fantasy that is published these days because quite honestly, it's boring. Much if not most of it is tiresomely formulaic in the tradition of The Lord of the Rings:

  • in a feudal medieval style setting where some form of magic works
  • a hero or heroine is sent on a quest
  • involving some sort of talisman which
  • holds the key to defeating the seemingly overwhelming forces of evil about to engulf the world and
  • often the hero[ine] acquires a ragtag band of companions to accompany him or her on the quest.
This worked great for Tolkien, but it quickly pales when author
after author rewrites the same basic storyline over and over again.
So I tend to react with a great deal of relief and yes, gratitude whenever I encounter a fantasy series that is based on a truly unique and fresh set of constraints. Such is the case with Fred Saberhagen's Swords series. Set in a universe which previously housed the justly reknowned Empire of the East trilogy (which I encountered in its more widely distributed omnibus edition), these stories revolve around a dozen magical swords each of which has its own unique power wielded by whoever holds it.

I must have first started reading the Swords series around 1988 or so, because once I finished those that were available at the time, I kind of lost track of when new ones came out, and was never sure just how many of them I had actually read. I know for a fact that I had never read this Last Book of Swords, so when I happened across it on the sci-fi/fantasy shelves in my local library the other day, I was happy to snatch it up. But I'm not positive if I've read the 6th or 7th volumes which precede it either. Something I definitely need to check on.

This final volume starts out as entertainingly as the rest, but ultimately suffers from a singularly major flaw: it has way too much emphasis on wrapping up the story and tying up all the loose ends, in a manner that becomes increasingly predictable and pat as the book winds down.

Less than half way through the book it becomes annoyingly obvious that Saberhagen is deliberately destroying most of the swords, one after another. The only real suspense is whether they will all be destroyed, or if any remain, which will it be?

Frankly, I would have preferred a more open-ended approach. Saberhagen has already opened the Swords universe to other writers with the 1995 collection An Armory of Swords, which I have yet to read, and am looking forward to. If he was tired of the series himself, why not just let other writers continue it? The Last Book of Swords becomes less entertaining the further you read, as the story trails off and the end game moves become more and more obvious. Recommended only if you've read the rest of the series, and obviously need to know how it comes out.


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