The Sword of Stealth is given to / One lowly and despised / Sightblinder’s gifts: his eyes are keen / His nature is disguised. Let’s sing the fifth verse of the Song of Swords with The Second Book of Lost Swords: Sightblinder’s Story, by Fred Saberhagen.
Long ago, the gods forged Twelve Swords of Power and threw them on the gameboard of life to watch men scramble. But they had forged too well: the Swords could kill the gods themselves.
Now, the gods gone, the Swords are scattered across the land, some held by those of good heart, and some by evildoers.
One is held by Arnfinn, a country boy who knows nothing of Sightblinder’s power: to make the viewer see that which he most desires—or most fears.
Sightblinder must be used, if Ben of Purkinje is to rescue Prince Mark from the hell in which he lies captive, prisoner of the horrifying ageless Ancient One.
Two years have passed since the previous Book of Swords, and the evil being known as the Ancient One is continuing his plans for world conquest. He has taken over a wizard’s castle in the middle of a lake, entrapped Prince Mark within a prison of magical ice, and laid his vile hands on Shieldbreaker, the Sword of Force. Coming to rescue Mark are his friend Ben and his nephew Zoltan. The two of them receive aid from unexpected sources: Yambu, former Queen turned religious pilgrim, willing to aid her own enemy; Draffut the gentle but powerful Beast Lord, dog of gods and god of dogs; and the Emperor, who pulls his own personal version of Monty Python’s “Funniest Joke In The World” sketch and makes an entire army laugh themselves to death.
Unfortunately, a good portion of the book is also dedicated to a guy named Arnfinn, the current lowly and despised holder of Sighblinder. I despised him, all right. For one thing, he kind of rapes Ninazu by having sex with her while disguised by Sightblinder, so she thinks he’s someone else? Now, granted, Ninazu is a pretty bad person; but this series doesn’t really have the gritty, grimdark tone of works such as The Second Apocalypse or A Land Fit For Heroes where rape is a common occurrence and even the nominal heroes are “pay evil unto evil” types that would make such a thing feel appropriate to the setting. Also, it really isn’t treated with appropriate seriousness by the narrative. To cite another example, in The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, when Thomas Covenant rapes a woman, it is an extremely grave and impactful event. Sightblinder’s Story just kind of glosses over it with a single sentence:
And in trying to love her, taking advantage of her, possessing her so falsely, he had wronged her terribly.
– The Second Book of Lost Swords: Sightblinder’s Story
In any event, the novel ends with both Arnfinn and Ninazu dead, so there’s never any reckoning regarding his crime. That’s one way to avoid dealing the with implications of a moral dilemma. At least I can content myself with the knowledge that I won’t have to worry about them returning in one of the sequels.
The Ancient One does not die, but his true identity is revealed: he is none other than Wood! No! It can’t be true! It’s impossible! Not him! Not Wood! I am shocked to the uttermost depths of my soul! …Is what I might say if I knew who the hell Wood was. And maybe if The First Book of Swords had been numbered as Empire of the East #5 instead of Book of Swords #1, I would. But it’s not really fair to advertise a book as number one in a series and then expect the reader to come in with preexisting knowledge, now is it? …I do plan on reading the Empire of the East books eventually, to get the backstory; but as of right now, the Book of Swords series is what I set out to read, and the Book of Swords series is damned well what I’m going to read. I’m sticking through with these books to the end out of sheer bloody-mindedness.
Not that the series is so bad that I’m dreading forcing myself to read the next one, mind you. All the storylines other than Arnfinn’s were quite interesting, and I liked the plot developments. It looks like Zoltan and Yambu are teaming up for a wacky buddy-cop adventure; and the narrative has finally remembered that the Emperor’s big revelation in book 3 about Ariane still being alive should actually mean something; and maybe we’ll even find out what’s up with that as-yet unnamed mermaid girl. Let the song continue on.
Final Rating: 3/5