Oath of Swords, by David Weber

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Oath of Swords

Oath of Swords, by David Weber

David Weber is famous for his Honor Harrington science fiction/space opera series, and not every author can do fantasy and sci fi successfully.

David Weber, however, most certainly can.

If you are expecting something like Honor Harrington, but with more swords (OK, not that many more swords) but fewer spaceships, forget it. Oath of Swords is something else entirely. This is a funny, observant romp of a traditional swords-and-sorcery fantasy novel.

In Weber’s fantasy world, there are five ‘races of man’ – humans, dwarves, elves, halflings and hradani. The hradani are a kind of orc-equivalent – large and violent – and Our Hero, Bahzell, is one of them. This immediately marks the book off from other fantasy novels as the hero is not straight vanilla human, and he’s from a race that’s traditionally the Bad Guys in fantasy. In fact, since Bahzell’s world is several hundred years after a fairly apocalyptic mage war in which the hradani fought on the wrong side, hradani are seen as the Bad Guys by everyone who isn’t a hradani in this book too. The lingering prejudice against hradani is a running theme in the book.

Bahzell, being the son of the ruler of one of the hradani city-states, is a sort of envoy crossed with hostage at the court of another hradani prince. He interferes in some local nastiness which results in him having to flee (with the female victim) for his life. His local friend, Brandark, goes with him ‘to keep him out of trouble’.

The rest of the book is the chronicle of Bahzell and Brandark’s amusingly ill-fated journey across the continent, dealing with evildoers, rescuing maidens in distress, and confronting unwanted gods. Unwanted by Bahzell, anyway. There are plenty of running jokes throughout the book, and Weber takes the opportunity to play with as many well-known fantasy tropes as he can conveniently handle, either playing them straight or twisting them into interesting pretzel shapes. But behind the humour, you do get some sense of what it’s like to be an orc in Lord of the Rings – you get pressganged by the Dark Lord, you get magically changed into something else, and then the so-called Good Guys put all the blame on you for it, and keep blaming you (and your descendents) for the next several hundred years. Not that you’ve got much time for self-pity in amongst trying to put your shattered society and culture back together.

Although this is quite definitely ‘light fantasy’, it has enough depth to be interesting and Weber has written characters that you like (or like to hate) so you want to read on in order to find out what happens to them, and what scrape Bahzell (and Brandark) is going to get into next. It’s good clean fun, and I’ve read it more times than I like to admit.

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