Library Book Sale Finds: The Sword of the Spirits by John Christopher

Hey, hey, sneaking in under the wire, two months in a row!

This book had a lot of telling right at the beginning, and it took me about halfway through before I realized I was reading the last book of a trilogy.

Title: The Sword of the Spirits
Author: John Christopher
Genre: Science Fantasy
Publication Year: 1972

Pros: Impressive wordsmithing
Cons: A lot of telling, unlikable main character

Wikipedia tells me that this is the last book of a young adult trilogy. I would not have considered it young adult before that, but apparently the main character is considerably younger in the first two books.

The beginning, as I said above, has a lot of telling–recounting what the main character had done at what must have been the end of the second book, explaining how the world works, etc.–but it was very pretty telling. I’m always a little annoyed when I read a book and the telling is pretty and interesting. I think I’m just annoyed that someone had broken the cardinal rule of writing and done it in a way I can’t even be grumpy about.

(Eye of the Dragon by Stephen King is like that too.)

This series takes place in a post-apocalyptic United Kingdom (mostly England) where things have reverted to a medieval level of technology and the people live in individual city states. (I’m not clear what exactly happened…something with some sort of radiation, I suppose, since there are classes of humans called dwarves and polymufs which have various physical differences from “true” men. Also some sort of overall cooling of the planet.)

Do you remember when we read the Finnbranch trilogy? This felt like that, and is of about the same era of fantasy. It’s not true fantasy, of course, because it’s Earth in the future, but most of its tropes and elements come from fantasy rather than science fiction.

Our main character is Luke Perry (which is a thoroughly modern name and for some reason very distracting to me), Prince of the city-state of Winchester. He’s apparently prophecized by the Seers (basically scientists pretending to be holy men since machines are considered to have been the reason everything fell apart in the past) to be the one that will unite all the city-states again.

And he’s a pompous idiot.

There, I said it.

Luke is very headstrong and doesn’t take advice well, and he doesn’t take well to people challenging his decisions. Everything that goes wrong–and things go horribly wrong–is his own fault. I guess that’s kind of the author’s trademark, writing flawed protagonists. But it does make it hard to root for him.

And I won’t spoil the end, but I felt like it was unfulfilling, that everything Luke had worked for throughout the book was worthless in the long run. Also, it was depressing, and not in a way that was satisfying. Almost like the story was bored of itself and wanted to be done.

Now, it’s possible that if I had read the whole trilogy it would have been better, but maybe not. I’ve read enough 70s trilogies followed “chosen ones” of whatever ilk, and I’m kind of bored of the whole thing, since they’re almost always depressing and make you wonder why you bothered.

Would I recommend this? No. But the book does have a 3.8 on Goodreads, which is decent, so your mileage may vary.

Read any less depressing fantasy trilogies from the ’70s? Have any book recommendations in general?

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