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Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Once and Future (High) King.

"Fated to dree a hero's weird."

With The Sword of the Lady, the Changeverse series makes a gradual transformation into the Artosian Mythos. And I use the Arthurian paraphrase deliberately.

The second series has focused on Rudi Mackenzie and his companions' quest for the titular Sword to battle against the malignant supernatural evil embodied by the Church Universal and Triumphant, which has to date destroyed the powerful LDS state of Deseret and co-opted the equally powerful United States of Boise.

The close of previous book The Scourge of God saw Rudi and Edain crossing the Mississippi on a difficult quest: to retrieve the looted art collected by the orders of the hereditary Governor of Iowa, Anthony Heasleroad. Which is held in several wagons without horses, a tricky task for two men, no matter how gifted.

In the course of resolving that task, Rudi also comes to grips with the cancerous power of the CUT, literally coming to blows with one of its possessed adepts. From there, pursued by the dauntless CUT troopers bent on stopping him, the action gallops across the country from Iowa to Wisconsin to Maine and finally Nantucket, surveying the wrecked and not-so-wrecked parts of the Sunrise Lands along the way. Not, alas, including Michigan, fellow Peninsulares. But we do see the good, the evil and the downright ugly of the survivors east of the Mississippi. We also see a famous ship whose fate proved different in this world, too. Blink and you'll miss it. New allies are also collected, new cultures growing in the ashes (this time, Norse Aesirtru), crucial alliances formed and, sadly, a perspective character dies, albeit an heroic, redemptive and hope-filled death.

At the very end, we do see the Sword, and we get a strong hint of the Arthurian end awaiting Rudi/Artos at life's close.

The good: It flies. A breakneck pace, and yet the detail does not suffer. Far from it--Steve's mastery of landscape description remains unmatched. I wrote him after I received the draft of a scene where the heroes enter the Wisconsin farm country in October, and I told him I could smell the autumn air and see the way the sunlight shone off the trees. It captured it that well.

Also good: battle scenes, including the "supernatural" ones featuring Fr. Ignatius and Rudi battling the CUT adept. You might think there's nothing remarkable about the latter two holding their own in a sword fight, but you have to remember the adept usually doesn't have to draw his own weapon. The characterization also remains strong, with, as could be hoped, more depth to the characters as they move along. Even Sandra Arminger continues to show glimmers of genuine humanity, despite her ruthless practicality and lack of allegiance to any ideals larger than the survival of House Arminger.

Rudi and Mathilda move closer together (not in *that* way, to Rudi's emotional and physical discomfort), but how close I'm not going to tell you, to quote Monty Python.

Continuing to be good: the Catholic bits. Again, as I feel compelled to do, I am just the advisor/sounding board on this particular aspect. 99% of the time, Steve presents something to me and I say the equivalent of "Yep, looks good!" in an uneconomical thirty-plus words.

And yes, Sean, I hear your objection. I'll address it momentarily.

Evil here is evil. Not misunderstood, or the product of a broken home, but stench-of-the-pit evil. You can admire the virtues of a Peter Graber, raised to fight for an awful cause, but you are left wanting him to lose at every second.
Also, there are references to what happened in other parts of the world, including the new Islamic corsair states of west Africa, and the Imperial English sea power which keeps swatting them down.

The usual pop-culture references are dropped into the text, and nods to other authors appear like Easter eggs, sometimes only on the second reading.
At the last, we get a nice throwback to the Island series, and strong hints toward an explanation of the why, and perhaps who (in the sense of the good principalities vs. the bad ones) was responsible for the Change. Along with suggestions as to its permanence.

The bad: lack of space means relatively short shrift to the allies battling the bad guys out west, though it does adequately convey that it is going badly. It jumps from the shores of Lake Superior to northern Maine with just a bare reference. I understand why--the publisher's not giving him another 100 pages until his last name changes to "King." But it's still a bit jarring. Also jarring is Fred Thurston's newly-declared religious allegiance. Yes, there were signs it was going that way, but it's still a bit abrupt.

Finally, to what I *think* are Sean's objections: the Norse oracle and the respective visions of Fr. Ignatius and Rudi at Nantucket. Yeah, it's a bit pluralistic, to use the trendy theological term. To which I reply, yes, but (1) it's not a Catholic novel by a Catholic writer, (2) it's as palatably presented as pluralism could be from an orthodox standpoint, and (3) Fr. Ignatius gets an explicitly Christian vision and explanation for what the others are seeing. Added together, yes, I know, that means it's not orthodox. But we don't usually get this favorable a hearing/presentation in the first place, so I'm disinclined to complain. If I want to, I can write my own.
All told, I think it's the strongest in the second series, which now stands fully apart from the original trilogy and is not merely the continuation. Take, read.

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