The Swordbearer: Read The Black Company instead

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews Glen Cook The SwordbearerThe Swordbearer by Glen Cook

The Swordbearer is an early standalone novel by Glen Cook, originally published in 1982 and re-released by Nightshade Books in 2009. If you’re a fan of Glen Cook, whose CHRONICLES OF THE BLACK COMPANY are classics of the genre, this would probably be an interesting read, as you’ll be able to see some of the author’s themes and quirks taking shape. However, taken on its own, The Swordbearer isn’t anywhere near as good as some of Glen Cook’s other works.

Gathrid, the main character, is the youngest son of a noble family who lives on the border with a growing empire. He wants to become a warrior like his older brothers, but isn’t allowed because of his relative weakness which was caused by a childhood illness. When his childhood home becomes the latest front in the war with the east, he flees and stumbles upon the magic sword Daubendiek. The sword is, in a nutshell, a direct descendant of Michael Moorcock’s Stormbringer: it hungers for souls and more or less controls its bearer. As Gathrid travels into enemy lands to exact revenge for his family and home, it becomes clear that he is the latest in a long line of Swordbearers who are only pawns in a game of god-like beings.

One of the problems with The Swordbearer is that it tries to cram too much information into relatively few pages. As a result, there are literally no well-defined characters. Even Gathrid, the main character, is only briefly described as the younger and weaker son before becoming an uber-powerful fighter. None of the other characters have much in the way of depth either — and there are many of them, including a large cast of nobles, rulers, and leaders whose introductions are so perfunctory that it’s hard to tell them apart. Likewise, the fantasy world contains several countries and what appears to be a long history and complex geography, but all of it is described so briefly that it’s almost impossible to get a clear picture of it. In a genre like fantasy, it’s rare to complain about a novel being too short, but this is one instance where a little more detail — and a map — would have helped tremendously.

Because of these problems, I had trouble maintaining any interest in the story. There’s plenty of action, intrigue, and suitably dark magic, but I never felt a connection to any of it. At 248 pages, The Swordbearer is a short novel, but I still ended up skimming through the last 50 pages or so because I’d completely lost interest. While the last chapter offers a surprising background story for some of the supernatural beings that control the action, I still felt like I wasted my time reading The Swordbearer. If you want to read Glen Cook, pick up a copy of The Black Company instead.

The Swordbearer — (1982) Publisher: A young boy’s dreams of glory and war turn into a bitter nightmare as his father’s kingdom is overrun by an invading army. Lost and alone in the woods, he finds an ancient sword that promises him the ability to claim his vengeance. As he begins to take that vengeance, he begins to realize the price that the sword will demand of him. Enemies soon become allies and strange bedfellows abound as the prophesies of an age swirl into chaos.

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STEFAN RAETS (on FanLit's staff August 2009 — February 2012) reads and reviews science fiction and fantasy whenever he isn’t distracted by less important things like eating and sleeping. In February 2012, he retired from FanLit to focus on his blog Far Beyond Reality.

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