Friday, March 29, 2013

Retro Review: The Sword of Angels by John Marco

Here's the last of my retro-reviews for John Marco's first three novels in the The Bronze Knight Chronicles sequence.

With The Sword of Angels, John Marco brings the tale of Lukien, the Bronze Knight, to a close. The flawed, yet noble, knight has seen much in the two previous novels (The Eyes of God, The Devil’s Armor) and his trials are far from over when we meet up with him again in this massive tome. When last we left the cast of characters, Baron Glass was lording over Liira in the Devil's Armor, with Jazana Carr as his consort/queen. Gilwyn Toms, the young librarian, left Jador in hopes of saving Glass's soul, and Lukien was in search of the mythical Sword of Angels. At just over 900 pages, this is a large novel, and Marco uses all the pages to nicely bring the plot threads, cast of characters, and elements of the previous two novels together rather nicely. 

Marco has a knack for opening his stories with oversized vistas on a large canvas. The opening passage in this novel is no different and sets the tone for the whole novel, I think.

"The Desert of Tears seemed eternal, like an ocean, stretching the corners of the world."

The world Marco has laid out is expansive, and the scope of action and cast of characters equally epic. This nearly dwarfs the reader in comparison, serving a warning that there is much in front of them. In the case of Marco’s writing, this is a good thing, for his tale does not stutter or slow throughout.

In this fantastical world, through the use of enchanted objects, people can bond with Akari who have passed on from the world of the living. Often, the bond is a benefit to the living person, granting them extended life, or magical powers and abilities. In the case of Lukien, he has been wearing one of the Eyes of God since the first book in the saga, which grants him long life and an incredible ability to heal any wounds. While Glass destroys all would-be challenges to his power with the Devil’s Armor, Lukien searches for the Sword, a sword inhabited by the Akari Malator, the brother of Kahldris. Many, many years ago the two brothers had a falling out over the Devil’s Armor, created by Kahldris for Malator’s use in defending the Akari. To say Lukien is a reluctant hero is an understatement, he wishes only for his long, scarred life to end so he can finally meet with his beloved Cassandra in the afterlife.

I found it somewhat interesting that while the title of the novel is of Lukien’s sought after sword, Marco spent as much, if not more, time in focusing on the character of Baron Glass, and his relationship with Kahldris, the dark Akari with whom he shares a bond through the Devil's Armor. In each scene featuring Baron Glass, we can see him descend deeper into insanity and corruption as he continues to feed and be fed by the Devil’s Armor. The Baron's struggle with Kahldris is one of the strengths of this novel, that while the milieu of their struggle is the fantastical enchanted armor, the essence is a very human one. A struggle of control of oneself, a struggle for power and doing whatever you feel is necessary to meet your ends, regardless of the consequences. In Glass’s ambition for his own good, he has become blind to what serves the greater good, and his blindness and lust for power are palpable. He wants to return his land of Liira to its former glory. In essence, Thorin has become a force of nature out of control, falling ever more under the sway of Kahldris.

In previous reviews, I’ve mentioned how well Marco is able to give most, if not all, characters a sense of believability. That is, you know Glass is corrupted by the Devil’s Armor and that he has performed some very despicable acts. However, Marco, at least early on in the novel, portrays Glass as a very convincing character, making his plight almost understandable. Other characters, like King Lorn, once known as King Lorn the Wicked, who were not exactly pleasant, now come across in a more sympathetic light. He makes all the characters convincing of their plight, which in turn makes the characters more humanely drawn and less of the simplistic good vs. evil cardboard cutouts.

So, keeping in mind that this is a concluding volume in a three-book sequence, does Marco deliver on the promise of the previous two volumes? Yes, I truly think he does. As I indicated above, in the justifiable size of this novel, he does a more than commendable job of tying up the plot threads he scattered in the previous two volumes. How does this stand on its own, judging it as a single novel? Knowing what has happened in the previous two volumes makes it somewhat difficult to give a concise positive or negative. However, there have been a couple of years between the publication of The Devil’s Armor and The Sword of Angels, so I don’t remember the specifics of the previous events, merely the generalities. Quite frankly, the summation on the back of the book does a decent job of bringing readers up to speed; however, a page or two briefly recapping the previous two volumes would have been very welcome (as is the case with Tad Williams’ novels, also published by DAW as well as Donaldson’s Covenant novels). I was also a little disappointed not to see a list of characters in an appendix, especially considering the sizeable cast Marco created. Of course these are just nitpicks and don’t really detract from the overall quality of the story Marco put to the many wonderful pages of this fantastic novel.

Marco threw a nice curve ball towards the end, unfolding some events unexpectedly. Despite the strong sense of closure, Marco left the door open should he ever choose to return to these characters. To sum up, this was a very enjoyable novel and a great wrap-up to an entertaining series. With the trilogy complete, I can fully recommend all three novels.

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