David Weber’s new Epic Fantasy novel, Sword of the South, is up on Baen’s websubscriptions and I picked it up last week for some ‘light’ reading. I thought that I’d do a review of it, to give my impressions. I’ll preface this by saying that I read an eARC of this book. It’s not the complete version and it still has some editing to be done. Therefore I’m not going to nitpick grammar and such.
I’ve been a long time fan of David Weber’s fantasy series, starting with Oath of Swords and then leading into The War God’s Own, Windrider’s Oath, and culminating in War Maid’s Choice. If you haven’t read the series, you should. It’s excellent. The stories are, much like most of Weber’s, rich and interesting with detail, well orchestrated, and while the good guys don’t always get a happy ending, the bad guys generally come to bad ends.
The Sword of the South is, as far as I am aware, the start of his main epic. The other four books were designed to be the opening act, as it were, much like Tolkien’s The Hobbit was to Lord of the Rings. The clash between the powers of Light and Darkness is begun. From the very first pages, you get the feeling that the stakes are higher and that the costs may be far higher than the previous books. Since the previous books saw the deaths of beloved characters, this generally means that no one is safe. The Sword of the South is also written so that a new reader, someone unfamiliar with the series, can start here without issue, while still rewarding long-time readers with inside jokes and references to events in humorous fashion.
The premise of the book is simple enough, retrieve a powerful weapon from an evil sorceress and defeat her minions along the way. In execution, there are a number of complications, with master assassins, arch-wizards, demons, and dragons all getting involved. This book gives a much broader picture of the world in some ways, filling out some of the details that the reader might have been interested in from the other books. In some ways, though, this book feels… incomplete. Almost as if this were a sideshow in the larger overall events that David Weber has scripted to come later. The mission is, without a doubt, essential, in more ways than one. Indeed, in many ways the journey seems as important as the mission, but while I came away eager to read the next installment, I also came away at the end with a feeling that a little too much remained unresolved.
Characterization is excellent. Several characters from the other books are here, to lesser or greater extent. Some time has passed (I won’t say how much, because that’s part of the plot, actually), and it is good to see how characters have grown or matured from their experiences. As a reader, I found it wonderful to see the payoff of how characters had progressed and grown (and also to see some guesses confirmed). The new characters held their weight, none of them overshadowed by the stories and personalities of the others. David Weber did an excellent job of making even some of the villain’s motives and motivations understandable… even while showing that they had gone too far.
Later on in the book, however, I did have a few issues with changes of perspective. At times the perspective in a scene will change from one character to another from one paragraph to the next and then back. This left me with a sense of whiplash, trying to figure out who was thinking what. This might be something they’ll edit before the final release, but in one particular case it was not only hard to follow, but left me feeling as if I had missed something. Very slight spoiler: In some scenes there is a character who is under another guise. The other characters knew this character by a different name, but in the changes of perspective it would go from the disguised character’s actual name and thoughts, to another character who didn’t know the character’s true identity, and back, sometimes multiple times in a scene.
In all, I enjoyed the book and I’m eager to read the next. It was excellent to get to see some of the promises made in the earlier books finally fulfilled and I can’t wait to see how the further books in the series progress. If you haven’t read any of David Weber’s fantasy series, you should get started!
Here’s the publisher summary:
A#1 in a NEW EPIC FANTASY SERIES by 28-times New York Times and international best seller David Weber, set within his Bahzell Bahnakson/War God universe. A swordsman who has been robbed of his past must confront an evil wizard with a world at stake.
Know thyself. Its always good to know who you are, but sometimes thats a little difficult.
Kenhodan has no last name, because he has no past . . . or not one he remembers, anyway. What he does have are a lot of scars and a lot of skills some exhilarating and some terrifying and a purpose. Now if he only knew where he’d gotten them and what that purpose was . . . .
Wencit of Rūm, the most powerful wizard in the world, knows the answers to Kenhodan’s questions, but he can’t or won’t share them with him. Except to inform him that he’s a critical part of Wencit’s millennium-long battle to protect Norfressa from conquest by dark sorcery.
Bahzell Bahnakson, champion of Tomank, doesn’t know those answers and the War God isn’t sharing them with him. Except to inform Bahzell that the final confrontation with the Dark Lords of fallen Kontovar is about to begin, and that somehow Kenhodan is one of the keys to its final outcome.
Wulfra of Torfo doesn’t know those answers, either, but she does know Wencit of Rūm is her implacable foe and that somehow Kenhodan is one of the weapons he intends to use against her . . . assuming she can’t kill both of them first.
But in the far northern port city of Belhadan, an eleven-year-old girl with a heart of harp music knows the answers to all of Kenhodan’s questions. . . and dares not share them with anyone, even the ancient wild wizard who loves her more dearly than life itself.
It’s not easy to face the future when you can’t even remember your own past, but if saving an entire world from evil sorcerers, demons, devils, and dark gods was easy, anyone could do it.
For those of you wanting to find the other books in the series or the book itself I’ve listed them in order with links: