So. The end of the world is coming any day now. Everyone you know is dying of an incurable plague. There’s a new enemy out there that seems to be able to possess entire populations of peasants and use them as undead slave soldiers with no personal will. (Incidentally, you have just been made the Emperor of a Byzantium-like empire). What do you do?
Have a tournament, of course!
This kind of inspired madness is what makes the Traitor Son Cycle so amazing. Because it’s entirely likely that medieval people would have had that kind of a reaction to the end of the world.
I’ve said it before (see my review of The Red Knight and The Dread Wyrm), and I’ll say it again. Most people have it all wrong about the Middle Ages. No, it was not a time when everyone wore brown leather or was constantly covered with mud. Even the producers of the otherwise excellent Hollow Crown versions of Shakespeare’s plays fall prey to this drab, boring aesthetic (see this excellent article about color choices and other cool things in Shakespearean adaptations). And no, the widespread religiosity of the populace did not mean that everyone walked around with sad faces, expecting lightning bolts to fall from heaven.
Medieval people were hilarious! Just look at the kind of things they included in their illuminated manuscripts. They loved bawdy jokes, and even their appreciation for the sacred sometimes was tinged with humor.
There’s this great scene in The Plague of Swords where Gabriel Muriens, the main characters, jibes with Sister Amicia (this series’ version of a living saint) about what the saints were really like:
“I have very little faith, but it amuses me to think of how they were…really. All the saints…people who snored and did tomfool things. And yet became saints.”
“Stop!” she said. “I’ll go to hell!” But she was laughing.
“I think you’ll be a splendid saint,” he said.
This little exchange is so modern, and yet, I can easily see two Medieval people having exactly the same conversation. It’s one of the many reasons why, despite the glut of Western European Medieval epic fantasy, this series is so fresh and fun.
Now, some people have complained that this book isn’t as good as the rest. I disagree. You have to understand what this book is. It’s a middle chapter. Wait! you may ask. How is book four a middle chapter? What’s up with your math?
Simple. The real bad guy and the real stakes were only made clear in book three, The Dread Wyrm. That’s when everything changed. It was really a “book 3” and a “book 1” in the same book, so to speak. So yes, The Plague of Swords is a transition book, a set-up for a grand finale.
And no, it doesn’t include any of the enemy’s point of view, as so effectively done in the other books. But that works to this book’s advantage. Honestly, I was reading this on a kindle, so I didn’t realize when I was getting to the end. When I turned the last page and realized it was over, I actually groaned aloud (to the consternation of my wife, it being 12 am and the kids asleep). This book can’t be over. When’s the next one coming?
In case you need more convincing, here’s a list of coolness from The Plague of Swords. Read it! (Here’s a link to the Amazon page, in case you need another push)
- a love-sick griffon with the personality of a 16-year-old teenager
- a really unique take on the idea of plague (an ever-present medieval reality)
- Jules Kronmir meets his match
- Pageantry! Tournaments!
- A last scene so awesome that I forgot to breathe a few times
- Not one, but two battles with sea monsters. And by the way, Ahab had it all wrong. Sperm whales are your friends!
Anyway, thank you, Miles Cameron, for keeping me awake at night.
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