The Swans’ War: I never knew what was at stake

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsSean Russell The Swan's War The One KingdomTHE SWANS’ WAR by Sean Russell

I struggled through these books and I only read them because Stephen Donaldson and Robin Hobb gave them high praise.

What I did like is that the characters were unique, with the exception of Tam and Prince Michael — they seemed to be the same character. All other characters seemed to be woven from a fresh cloak — they were different people who came from different backgrounds but learned to live together.

What I didn’t like was that there was a distinct lack of urgency. Sean Russell was building to a crescendo, but when the crescendo was revealed, in the third book, I nearly threw the book to the floor. I had no idea — and the author never gave me the idea — that the crescendo was legitimate. He introduced factors slowly, most of them in the second book.

For a successful fantasy, the author needs to let the reader know what is at stake. I didn’t get the urgency until the second book, and even then, I didn’t get the REAL urgency until the third book. Nor did I believe it. The strategy of the final book is so radically different than in the first book that if it wasn’t for Donaldson’s recommendation on the cover, and Russell’s dedication to Donaldson in The Isle of Battle, I would not have continued reading. To have taken the time to read the first two books, and then to stop reading 1/3 of the way through The Shadow Roads is a huge disappointment to me. The book sat on my nightstand for days and days — untouched — and I finally realized I had given up.

Also, we should also know more about the arcane properties of the world — for example, nagar and smeagh. I still don’t know exactly what they are. I can guess but I can’t be certain. That just doesn’t work.

There was considerable action, but we didn’t know what that action was for. Black arrow men shot at Tam and his companions while they rode the river Wyyr, on a constant basis, but while they traversed the river, they ran into boring, archetypal fantasy characters.

Russell’s writing style is inconsistent: some is good, some of it is inexcusable: after describing something very specifically, he would say, they moved “this way and that” or “to and fro.” His editor should have picked up on that. I believe that Sean Russell lost a broad readership because his writing and plotting was sub-par. I’m disappointed in this effort.


Todd Burger FanLit thanks Todd Burger for this guest review. Todd is a businessman from Chicago. He fell in love with fantasy after watching The Wizard of Oz in second grade.


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