The Second Book of Swords

by Fred Saberhagen

Cover image

Series: Swords #2
Publisher: Tor
Copyright: November 1983
Printing: February 1985
ISBN: 0-812-51934-5
Format: Mass market
Pages: 313

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This is, unsurprisingly, the second book in the Swords series. It's fairly readable without reading The First Book of Swords, but you miss some introduction and character background. This book picks up several years after the previous book, with the intervening years filled in through narrative and conversation.

Saberhagen starts to hit his stride with this book. It still has some problems, but it's a more coherent novel with a more compelling and better-paced story than the meandering first book in this series. It also has a plot, rather than just a collection of ideas, and a satisfying ending. Unusually for the middle book of a trilogy, it's stronger than the first book and does a great job of finishing the story while still opening the scope of the world for the next book.

Unfortunately, the plot is, well, a Dungeons and Dragons game. It starts with the discovery of a vast treasure. Then the protagonists form a party, scout out information about what they're getting into, and mount an expedition. They raid, literally, an underground dungeon full of magical traps and enemies in quest of the hoard of treasure. The characters even fit into some standard classes. It's not badly written and some of the characters are quite enjoyable (Baron Doon is one of my favorites of Saberhagen's characters), but there's something lacking about a novel that reads this much like a D&D adventure book.

Despite that drawback, Saberhagen starts going somewhere with his world background (finally). Towards the end of this book, the bigger picture of how the swords affect the relationship between men and gods gains significant new detail. We get more of a feel of the tradeoffs and capabilities of a sword by following Wayfinder for the entire story (Dragonslicer shows up as well, it's usual ineffective self, but the other three obligatory swords introduced in this book show up only at the end). It's quite nice to see a sword being used regularly and capably after all the flailing about with Dragonslicer in the first book.

Mark and Ben are the primary tight third-person protagonists, with occasional chapters from other perspectives following Saberhagen's usual practice of giving us some direct looks at the villains. Mark is still an everyman here, not particularly interesting, but Ben gains far more depth than he had in The First Book of Swords. I like his habit of looking like a harmless dumb brute until just the right moment. Even better, character-wise, we start seeing more of the Emperor and start seeing glimmers of his weird relationship with the powers that be. The Emperor is far and away my favorite character of this series; the more of him, the better.

It's the third book that makes this series worth reading, but The Second Book of Swords is an enjoyable sword and sorcery romp. It's a D&D adventure writ large, but as long as you know that and are willing to enjoy it for what it is, it's good fun and a quick read between deeper books. And here, Saberhagen finishes building the larger stage for the major battles and bigger payoffs yet to come.

Followed (you saw this coming) by The Third Book of Swords.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2007-06-11

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