Wizard of Blades

I recently finished reading Lynn Kurland's Nine Kingdoms (or at least the three books centered around Morgan and Miach) books.

I guess I wasn't too thrilled with the whole body of it. The first book was pretty good; I did like the story of the journey north to Neroche. That is to say, the characters, and their interactions, were pretty entertaining. But I can't help but find several problems with the whole thing.

If she's the best swordswoman around (and, to be clear, better than any swordsmen), how does she not have a nice, steady (and very well-paying!) position as a bodyguard for some paranoid ruler. Plus, I'm forced to ask why is she so much better than anyone else?

That might seem like an extraneous question, but a woman is under such large disadvantages when it comes to any form of hand-to-hand combat that some explanation is needed for it to be believable. Being partially elvish? Maybe, but we're never given any reason to think that might help her. Being especially tall? It would help, but there's never any indication that she is. Being especially quick? That would definitely help, but we're never given any reason to think that she is. Being exceptionally strong? Again, no reason to think so. Extraordinarily coordinated? Again, no evidence. Especially dedicated? Well, we do see that, and that'll certainly help her beat people who are close to her natural talents, but will be of limited benefit against those who are more talented. The exception to that, of course, would be if she's willing to sacrifice her body, but since she isn't covered with scars, we can safely throw out that possibility.

Another (unimportant to the main plot, but still detracts from believability) issue is her absolutely supernatural endurance. Being able fight for an entire day with trained fighters (as she did at Hearn's stronghold) is just not remotely feasible. Forget, for a moment, the physical exertion (which is extreme, by any measure); just the mental concentration needed to face live blades (any time there was a mention of blades, even in practice, they were using real steel, although it's true there was no particular mention here) for that length of time is absolutely mind-boggling. Think about it; that's eight or ten hours where you can't afford the smallest slip-up.

Let me put it a different way; this is analogous to a football offensive lineman who is going to be injured (possibly even killed) if he screws up his blocking a single time. And instead of playing for about eight minutes (yes, that's about how much time they spend blocking over the course of a single game; in fact, that's probably slightly high), he's got to play for that many hours. Without the frequent breaks where, for instance, the defense is on the field. And he's blocking a different person every (couple of?) play(s). Even if he's a top NFL blocker playing college guys (hell, even playing high school kids), that's an awfully tall order.

Another couple of minor points from about the same part of the book. There is no such thing as a "best horse in the world", as Hearn's are portrayed. There is only best for a certain task. A thoroughbred might be the fastest horse around, but you don't want one to pull a plough, carry a heavily armed warrior, or run for much more than a mile. There's a reason the Budweiser cart is pulled by Clydesdales.

And someone who isn't trained sure as hell isn't going to be able to tell what is the best horse of a herd. They'll be able to tell with is most symmetric (maybe), and which has the glossiest coat. But they won't be able to tell anything about age, about most diseases (I'm pretty sure), and certainly not about how muscle definition of a particular horse makes it especially (un)suited for a specific task.

There's also the minor detail of how much pain someone who's never ridden a horse before is going to be in after riding all day for days on end.

Ok, I think I've beaten the Hearn section into the ground.

Moving on, we also never find out why she was able to use either of the powerful swords. She was destined for the Sword of Angesand, I suppose, but we never get a real explanation of why it would be her. Miach feels it must be, but that's hardly a reason. That isn't so bad, I think (I didn't second-guess that one until looking back from the end), but there isn't even the slightest attempt at an explanation as to why she could use the Sword of Neroche. And that one is a big deal, not only because it was a driver for a huge chunk of the story (it was the plot device that got her to meet Miach, most importantly), but also because it apparently meant that she needed to be crowned next monarch of Neroche immediately. At least, that's what happened when Miach used it in the third book.

As I implied earlier, though, a great deal was lost between the first and second books. The most obvious part was losing all the side characters who played off Miach and Morgan. Adhemar never reappeared, while Morgan's mercenary companions disappeared until the third book (and never did anything of note after reappearing). Which kind of calls into question how close Morgan was to them.

The next, and, to my mind, more damning problem is more of a structural one. Morgan has to be the main character (she's the title character of both the second and third books), but she's actually peripheral to the entire second book. That is to say, she's central in that she's almost always there, but she does nothing to drive the plot forward. She's just a passenger in Miach's vehicle.

Which brings up another way believability was thrown by the wayside. Miach was far better with his sword than he had any business being. Maintaining that kind of skill with a sword requires very regular practice (as in daily, or damn near to it). Not only did he not practice regularly as they were traveling in the first book, but we only saw him draw his sword once over the several weeks. And that's ignoring that he seems to have spent all of his time prior to the story in arcane pursuits.

One thing I had mixed feelings about. Several characters that were talked about as legends in the first book, we later found out were not only still alive, but many were even personally known to Miach. As a plot device, that was kind of neat, but it was also rather anti-heroic, not to mention rather obsolescive of other plot devices.

What do I mean, that it obsolesced other plot devices? Well, what was the whole driver of the first book? They needed to protect the kingdom, and needed someone to wield the Sword of Angesand to do so. Ok, why not just ask Mehar to help protect the kingdom for a bit? She doesn't seem to have been involved in anything that would preclude that. And if you really do need someone to wield the sword, why not just ask Mehar who it should be? Or even ask her to look for the wielder, if she's not going to be able to directly answer the first question.

What do I mean about anti-heroic? Well, legends existed about these people because they had done amazing things in the distant past. Two of them had subdued Lothar a number of years ago. If he was really being a pain, why couldn't they do it again? Why do they just retire to lives of leisure? What are they living for? Hedonism? Narcissism? Some bigger threat of which there was never a hint?

In fact, the more I think about this, the more it annoys me.

I'll continue on. Another thing that I kept wondering about what Mehar's ring. It kept looking like it would have some significance (even if only symbolically), but it never did. What was it doing there? Just a McGuffin?

Anyway, I'm dwelling too much on things that are annoying me. I guess I'd give a qualified recommendation for the first book of the series, despite it ending on a cliff-hanger. I really can't recommend the subsequent volumes.

And I really need to avoid 'Fantasy Romance' novels. Wish I'd noticed that these were in that category (not that I'd previously heard of it).

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