Book Review–The Sword of The Lady–SM Stirling
As much as any other series in the last five year, SM Stirling’s The Change series struck a chord with me. In fact, I think it was shortly after reading the first few books in this series back in 2008 that I decided to start writing again. Dies the Fire, the first book in The Change reintroduced me to the world of post-apocalyptic fiction that I had first seen with Stephen King’s The Stand. The Stand will always be the gold standard of PA Fiction, at least for me, but I found Stirling’s approach in Dies The Fire unique and a very good read.
The Sword of the Lady is the sixth book in this series. It’s a long book, at over 650 pages, and at times – especially in the first half – it wanders. There are many scenes of two characters telling each other about things that have happened to them in the past, which is apparently for the benefit of readers who read the preceding books a long time before. There are also numerous diversions into the world of religion and witchcraft, and asides to characters not really integral to the plot in this book. Those asides are mainly to show us that life is gong on in the Willamette Valley as the hero, Rudi Mackenzie and his intrepid band of questers travel across the continent in search of the Sword of the Lady, the mythical sword which will grant Rudi the power to save the world.
There were times in reading this book where I was a little aggravated with the pace. Not “throw down the book” aggravated, but aggravated enough that the book wasn’t as enjoyable as it could have been. I found myself skimming pages and wishing that Stirling had been a little tighter on the edit. There were parts that were incredible – that put goose bumps on my skin – and parts that just read, really well. But I really had to fight through the backstory to get to them.
At the end of the book, I was reminded of the end of Stephen King’s Gunslinger Series, where he asks the readers why they read, and why they might be upset if parts are too flowery or descriptive or wandering, and reminds us that we buy the books to be entertained, and not as a race to get to the end so we can say “I’ve read that.” But there is a give and take between the reader and the writer. And in the case of the Sword of the Lady, the writer took a lot more than he gave. It won’t stop me from reading the next one, because when it comes to reading series, I’m a little OCD. But it did remind me that as I write my books, there is a balance between where the writer wants to go, and where the reader is willing to be taken. And when they are out of balance, the experience isn’t as good as it could be.