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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Ardneh's Sword by Fred Saberhagen

Ardneh's Sword by Fred Saberhagen. New York: Tor, 2006. ISBN: 0-765-31210-7

Many readers of modern fantasy are undoubtedly familiar with the “Swords” series by Fred Saberhagen (see my summary entry on The Last Book of Swords, written a couple of years ago). What the casual reader may not realize is that the various "Books of Swords" fit into a larger imagined universe created by Saberhagen, which is technically both science fiction AND fantasy, a combination which is truly difficult to pull off.

Saberhagen's future history setting for these tales was originally chronicled in The Empire of the East, an omnibus volume first published in 1979, I believe, combining the three novels

  • Broken Lands, 1968
  • Black Mountains. 1971
  • Changeling Earth (also known as Ardneh's World), 1973

This is a post-apocalyptic world, in which our current civilization was destroyed by a nuclear war. During the nuclear storm, laws of nature were changed, such that certain limited kinds of magic became functional. Demons were created, and these malevolent creatures may have actually been formed, in some bizarre fashion, by nuclear explosions.

In The Empire of the East, an evil magician king is attempting to enslave all mankind. He is opposed by the followers of ARDNEH, revered as a god by those humans still living in the centuries following the collapse of civilization. ARDNEH is actually an acronym for Automatic Restoration Director National Executive Headquarters, an extremely sophisticated and intelligent computer system!

It's been years since I originally read and thoroughly enjoyed The Empire of the East, so I may be misremembering some of the precise details, but that's basically how it went, as I recall. I really should reread that collection, as I still regard it as a masterpiece of its genre, the post-apocalyptic tale.

Now, all these many years later, we finally get a new novel set in this milieu, which actually provides the missing link between The Empire and the Swords. This is according to Saberhagen's own web site, which contains the following description of Ardneh's Sword:

A fantasy connecting the world of EMPIRE OF THE EAST to the world of the SWORDS.

After all that hype, I'm sorry to have to admit that Ardneh's Sword is only moderately successful standing on its own. It doesn't have quite the same effect as did The Empire or the Swords books, at least for me. Those books captured the imagination immediately, with their unique story lines and in The Empire, its mysterious melding of magic, ancient technology, and albeit clichéd, yet nevertheless compelling struggle between good and evil.

Ardneh's Sword is not Saberhagen at his best, seeming to have been written on autopilot. A decent, basic sort of fantasy story, but not particularly compelling. Nevertheless, it is essential reading for fans of the previous books, especially those loyal readers who've been wanting more Empire of the East stories, and especially for anyone who has wondered about the origins of the “gods” who themselves, created the Swords. For the rest of you, marginally recommended.

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