Cedar: I had really been looking forward to this book, because I have loved the Bahzell and Brandark stories from the beginning. It had been a long wait, and I feel I was well rewarded by that. Sword of the South opens decades after the action in the last book, War Maid’s Oath. Just how long, you aren’t sure until somewhat later in the book. But we are introduced slowly to this through the eyes of the new main character. The prologue harks back to the dark days of a dying empire, 1400 years in the past, and the connecting persona is one of my favorite wizards, Wencit of Rum.
Kris: I looked forward to this as well. I started reading Bazhell books in high school, finding them to be very enjoyable, especially as they hit important socio-economic points without overriding the story’s readability. You can read them, and re-read them, and still be unhappy with the effort.
Cedar: Right away, you are plunged into action. The Bahzell series is unlike Weber’s other work, in that it is usually fast-paced and there are few scenes without some purpose in advancing the plot. What you have to keep in mind with this book is that there are layers of plotting. We’re reading this story, but also the over-arc of a trilogy which this tale opens up. And of course, the backstory which was the previous trilogy (I think. Or was it four books?).
Kris: The advance forward in time threw me off, though now that I understand why Weber did it, it makes more sense. Given the challenges he’s faced with Honor Harrington because he didn’t go with the original plan, I can see how a plot device like that in the middle of a series helps. It also got me thinking about which series I’ve read where the author uses that. One example would be the jump of time between Clancy’s “The Bear and The Dragon” to “Teeth of The Tiger”. Used correctly, it helps keep a story from bogging down indefinitely. Weber has had to write himself out of the corner he got stuck in with Honor Harrington. One distinction I will note is that this really only works of Weber can explain or justify the action at a later time. Notice that all four of the first Bazhell books were back to back. There’s this great hurrying rush for Bazhell to become a champion and do these heroic deeds, to build the canal previously mentioned in War Maid’s Choice. Then we jump several decades all at once. Why? What justifies this? I’m going to keep asking this because it remains to be seen at present time how this helps the series toward its conclusion.
Cedar: I think the justification here is Gwynna, Bahzell and Leanna’s daughter. I’m not going to reveal what happens to her in the book, but there needed to be a passage of time to get her ready to be a character and not just a plot moppet. I suspect in the next book she will play a big role.
Kris: Foreshadowing. There was enough of it to cause a solar eclipse. I felt like I was getting hit across the face with a bat swung by Jeter. Foreshadow. Foreshadow some more. Foreshadow a bunch! Absolutely no subtlety about it. Which made it feel incredibly ham-handed.
Cedar: The foreshadowing is very heavy. Or as a friend commented while we were talking about the book, ‘his foreshadowing was so heavy I got out my umbrella.’ I knew who the main character was almost from the beginning, having narrowed it down to two people while reading the prologue. This didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the story. Knowing who he was, Weber makes it clear through the telling that keeping the hero’s identity a secret is vital to the success of the mission. And by secret, in a world where wizards can stroll around inside your head stealing all your secrets, the hero couldn’t even know, himself, who he was.
Kris: I did like how the Assassin’s Guild felt about starting up the chase for Bazhell again. The constant discussion and bickering, it gives us a real insight into their minds for the first time, along with interesting notions about whom supports the Dark Gods and why. In some cases, it is solely for power and how whom is going to be triumphant remains very transient at this time.
Cedar: I really liked the scene at moonrise by the river. I can’t say too much, but Wencit’s transport beats the eagles in Tolkein all hollow, and that scene reads like a direct response to Gandalf and the eagles.
Kris: it certainly does Cedar. I also liked how Weber justified certain aspects. This makes it more enjoyable because we’re not sitting here asking ourselves “why didn’t you ride the Eagles from Rivendell to Mt. Doom in the first place!” Instead we focus on the story and the absolutely beautiful imagery he used all through out.
Kris: I intensely dislike certain tropes. One of them being “I’m a wizard and no matter how much headache and ass pain it causes down the road, I’m not gonna tell you everything.” Because Wencit keeps doing this all throughout. It actually ruined the book for me. Especially at the very end, when the character in question makes a very particular, and odd choice that I question. Without going into spoilers, I think it’s a load of hogwash that Weber will have to go back and address later. Because in the end, duty and honor are always going to be most prevalent. As Space Marines are fond of reciting- only in death does duty end.
Cedar: The mysterious mystic, which I first remember seeing in Tolkein with Gandalf. Yes, it is overdone. However, I do like how Weber shows the cost this has, both with Wencit’s anguish, and Gwynna’s revelations as she loses her innocence.