September 12, 2005

Oath of Swords,
The War God's Own,
Windrider's Oath, by David Weber

This is a trio of fantasy novels; the first two were written in the mid-'90's, and the third was published a month or so ago. All concern an unlikely hero named Bahzell Bahnakson--unlikely because...but hold that thought.

A thousand years ago, the continent of Kontovar was the home of a vast and sophisticated civilization. Humans, elves, dwarves, and hradani lived together, and mostly in peace. Then came a war in which the black wizards tried to take over Kontovar. Wizards aren't much good as foot soldiers, even assuming they feel moved to try, and so the black wizards magically enslaved the wise, peaceful (but immensely strong) hradani and turned them into fierce berserkers.

The black wizards lost in the end, but the war ruined Kontovar. The survivors fled to another continent--including a small contingent of hradani, no longer enslaved but still subject to fits of berserk Rage. Hated and hunted for their role in the war (though it was no choice of theirs) and with hair-trigger tempers (and you really don't want to see them when they are angry), the hradani have since scraped out a barbarian living in lands no one else wants.

A thousand years later, the hradani are still hated and feared by the other four races of men. Bahzell Bahnakson is a hradani.

He's also the son of the most progressive of the Hradani lords, and in addition to being large even for a hradani (who are the tallest of the races of men) he's somehow acquired a strong sense of justice. As a political hostage to another clan, he surprises the eldest son of the clan lord on the verge of ravishing a serving girl. Rape is practically unheard of among the hradani--their women are not subject to the Rage, and hence are highly valued--and rapists are dealt with harshly. Bahnak cannot turn aside, and so he thrashes the evildoer, ties him up, and then to save his own life (and that of the girl) takes it on the lam.

After securing the girl's safety, Bahnak must go forth into exile; having been a hostage, he cannot go home without forcing his father to renounce the treaty under which he was held and starting yet another war. And as he travels he starts having dreams. It develops that the War God wants Bahnak to be one of his Champions, to sally forth righting wrongs and so forth. Bahnak wants no part of it--the gods have never done anything for the hradani, and so the hradani want nothing to do with the gods. But the War God is persistent, and the result is a foregone conclusion.

Oath of Swords contains the part of the story I've described so far, up until Bahnak's eventual capitulation; it's a delightful picaresque and goofy fantasy, and it made my laugh frequently. The War God's Own continues the story as Bahnak learns what it means to be one of the War God's Champions; there are Dark Deeds Afoot, and the War God has Champions to thwart them. The goofiness continues, and indeed it's rather surprising how much fun you can have following an extremely competent, dedicated paladin around and about. In fiction these days, paladins are supposed to be stuffy pantywaists who can't get the job done because they insist on following the rules. Bahnak follows the rules and gets the job done too.

Windrider's Oath, on the other hand, was something of a disappointment. The book suffers from the same bloat as the latest Honor Harrington novels. The plot is adequate, but the pacing is lousy; too little happens, and it's related in so much detail for so many points of view that the suspense cannot be maintained. (I'm beginning to think of this as Weber's Disease.) The book would have been much better at half the length. Worse, the goofiness that made the first two so endearing is largely gone.

If Weber writes another book in this series, I'll read it; I like the characters, and I'm curious about what happens next. But I begin to fear that Weber has jumped the shark.

Posted by Will Duquette at September 12, 2005 07:50 AM