The Reluctant Swordsman
This is not the sort of book I would have picked up of my own accord. But a friend loaned me the entire series, and I felt obligated to give it a go, since we usually have similar tastes.
This is a fairly standard portal fantasy. The main character is dying in our world and then wakes up in the body of a remarkable swordsman in another. Intriguingly, we get very little of Wallie’s life in the ‘real’ world. We know he’s an engineer, has no family, and… that’s about it. The focus is entirely on The World.
Of course, the swordsman/Wallie has a task to complete, and there are many and significant obstacles to that. This book is basically a getting-the-band-together story, as Wallie figures out what he has to do (which he doesn’t really know even by the end of the novel), and gets his people together – an appropriately motley group for an unlikely hero (well, an unlikely hero’s mind, anyway).
Wallie himself I am largely indifferent towards at this stage. He’s an excuse to explore different aspects of the world, and question some of its aspects (more on that later). He’s approachable enough, and hasn’t done anything quite as repellant as Thomas Covenant manages in his first fifteen minutes. Of the other characters, his sidekick has a phenomenal memory and developing sword skills; his slave girl will hopefully develop a personality; and the elderly priest is the one that I hold out most hope for, of being snarky and clever.
The novel suggests a world where gods exist and interact with people – sometimes – and although I guess a direct intervention from a god would have an impact, I found Wallie’s change from sceptic to fervent believer a bit fast. I am interested to see how this aspect develops. I’m also intrigued by the notion of unstable geography which strongly connects to the idea of the Goddess; I think this may be the most interesting facet of the world building so far. The rest of the world building… well. There’s slaves, and Wallie reacts strongly against this initially, but he does then go and buy one. Admittedly he does so for noble reasons, and he really likes her, honest!… still. That’s playing into the system, right? There could have been more conscience wrestling about that. And any moral objections raised are rather undercut by Duncan later in the novel when another character buys a slavewoman entirely based on her voluptuous appearance, and this is upheld as humorous in the first instance and then later as advantageous to the plot. This is a problem for me.
I may read the next one, just to see whether Duncan manages to do anything clever or original. I’m not really holding out much hope, to be honest. It would probably have been an enjoyable book when I was 15, but now I’m feeling a little bit too cynical and well-read.