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Last Updated, Aug 2010


Selina Rosen

    Sword Masters
    by Selina Rosen

    Dragon Moon Press

    The Sword Masters chronicles the adventures of young Tarius, from admission to the Sword Master's academy, through being knighted for saving the King's life, to becoming warlord of all of Jethrik's armies. If you enjoy stories of the young hero's rise through the ranks, with lots of epic battles, then this book is for you. There is enough swordplay to satisfy the most demanding fan of swashbuckling adventure.

    If you prefer your swordplay set against a magical backdrop, then this is definitely the book for you. The berserker werewolves, and the occasional invocation of magic, clearly qualifies this novel as sword & sorcery.

    If your tastes run more to romantic fantasies, where the young couple has to endure long separations while the hero rides off to battle, leaving the heroine vulnerable to the machinations of the villainous rival, then this book is a must have. There are enough dastardly deeds, lovers' misunderstandings, and outright betrayals, followed by emotional reconciliations (not to mention make-up sex) to satisfy the most jaded fan of romantic tear-jerkers.

If, on the other hand, you prefer character development to mere action, then this book is...still a pretty good bet. Tarius may be the perfect warrior, but comes with a Shakespearian-style tragic flaw &emdash; the one blind spot that inevitably leads to the character's downfall. I was, admittedly, a little worried there that the last half of the novel was going to get bogged down in maudlin Greek Tragedy, as Tarius insists on going down a doomed path against the advice of all his friends. Tarius' actions at this point are so spectacularly wrong-headed that it is almost annoying, but the fall is relatively short-lived, and the story quickly gets back on track with the slaughter of yet more enemies.

Of course, some of you might be bored with the yet another "young-hero-makes-good-by- slaughtering-everyone-in-sight" novel, even when it is reasonably well written. In which case — you guessed it — this book might still be the book for you. Rosen has taken the standard S&S tropes and turned them inside out, producing a rather subversive fantasy. Although others have tried similar twists before, Rosen pulls it all off within a fast-paced narrative that keeps readers glued to the page.

I did have a few minor quibbles with the book: First, don't read the backcover blurb. I understand and appreciate why the publisher had to include so many spoilers in the write up in order to be fair to buyers, but you will enjoy the book more if you don't know anything about the story going in. (I've gone to some length to avoid any spoilers in this review.) If you like the S&S genre at all, just trust me on this and buy the book

Second, I questioned some of the details of the various battle scenes: crossbows have greater range than long bows? Heads get cut off shoulders that easily? Tarius is a military genius but puts the royal family and the entire command staff on a single vulnerable ship? What happens if that ship goes down? But it's mostly minor stuff.

There were a couple things that I was going to complain about, but changed my mind as the novel progressed. I found the comic relief that seeps into this otherwise very dark novel whenever the magician or the witches show up, initially somewhat off-putting. But upon reflection, I realized that Rosen was playing off the long tradition of the trickster figure, and in the end I came to quite enjoy Tarius' bewilderment at their silly byplay. Similarly, I initially disliked the cover art, but it has grown on me somewhat as I have come to realize that artist John Kaufman's depiction is precisely accurate in meticulous detail. What you see is indeed what you get.

Which only leaves one substantive issue with the book: I reject the right-wing subtext that genocide is ever a morally defensible strategy. This is just too dangerous a position to ever condone, especially within the current political context of the Bush Administration's War on Terror. I am a bit disappointed that an otherwise radical work should reveal itself to be so conservative at its core, but this is unlikely to disturb many American readers, or pretty much anyone into sword and sorcery. So morally reprehensible stance aside, Sword Masters is recommended to fans of the genre.

Reprinted from NeoOpsis Magazine #14