Friday, December 18, 2015

Son of the Black Sword by Larry Correia

Son of the Black Sword
by Larry Correia

Okay, let me grasp the bull by the horns. I've discussed my stance on some things Mr. Correia is/was involved with. I'm not doing it again, and my opinion has not changed. If you're interested go take a look at the first and so far only sidebar I've posted. While I have differences of opinion with Mr. Correia politically, there are also things I agree with him over. That said I don't think such things are relevant in a discussion about his books. So on to the book!

This is the second book of Mr. Correia's I'll have reviewed here, unlike the last one, this book is the first in a series! So unlike Monster Hunter Nemesis a reader doesn't need knowledge from half a dozen prior books to really appreciate what's going on. It's not that I'm against long series mind you, but I do feel that the industry seems hell bent on turning every story into a 7 to 12 book series... Which is unnecessary. Some stories do need that kind of space to tell their tales, but a number of series really went longer then they should of (Wheel of Time is the poster boy of this to me. That's right! I said it!). But I digress.

Unlike the other two series of Mr. Correia's that I've read. Son of the Black Sword is a more or less straight fantasy. Being a fantasy taking place on another world, we of course have... Backstory! In this case long ago, the Gods went to War and cast Demons out of heaven. Unfortunately the aim of the Gods leaves a lot to be desired as those Demons landed on the world of men. Unprepared and unwarned the Demons were able to cause widespread destruction and chaos, and basically brought about the downfall of civilization, as demons tend to do. The gods realizing that this little oops was on them sent a great hero to save mankind, his name was Ramrowan and he united mankind, taught them magic and created the weapons they needed to kill demons. Under his divine leadership they fought back and drove the demons literally into the sea. The Demons however were not destroyed, instead they remain in the sea, lurking, waiting and at times attacking the land seeking weakness. So they may once again throw down the works of mankind and bring ruin. To ensure that this would never happen, the sons and daughters of Ramrowan were made into kings and priests. The 1% if you will. Over the generations, they grew degenerate, venial and cruel. Until unable to bear their unjust rule anymore, the people rose up, killing many of the Kings and Priests and forcing their relatives into a subservience. Mankind then established The Law, creating a stable society that had a place for everyone and put everyone in their place and ensured that a watch would be kept on the sea... Or did they?

The society that rules the continent of Lok, which due to the ocean being a demon infested death trap is completely cut off from the outside world, is an harsh, demanding one. A complex Caste system sprawls over the land, locking men and women into social roles dictated by birth. The Castes themselves have internal ranks and hierarchies as well. A man (or woman) can move up the ranks of their Caste, but they can never hope to move beyond that. Political administration and power is handled by Great Houses ruled by noble families served by military families, fed by farming families, with goods and services provided by merchant families. Meanwhile the dirty, painful disgusting jobs are handled by the untouchables. A group of people who are literally lower then slaves, slaves usually being war captives or debtors, who unlike the untouchables can be freed. The system itself is maintained by a number of organizations who exist outside the control of the Great Houses. The Judges, who hear and decide the law. The Inquisitors who seek for those who would subvert or corrupt the law. The Protectors, who fight and kill those who would openly defy the law and also fight and kill outside threats to society (like Demons). Protectors are able to do this because they are magic super soldiers! Just think of them as an order of psychotic Captain America's who live like warrior monks and have no problems tearing people apart with their bare hands. The deal with the Protectors is pretty simple, very young men are sent to train by their Great Houses. They are made into the best two legged killing machines possible and given strength, speed and stamina beyond the limits of normal men. They are unleashed against the enemies of Order and Law. If they survive 20 years of this, they can be promoted into high office within the Order of Protectors... Or they can go home. Most never face that choice.

Our main character and his best buddy are actually Protectors. Ashok Vadal, who is the son of the black sword in the title (I'll get to the magic sword in a minute) and his bestest best friend (to be honest from what I can tell his only friend) Devedas. Ashok Vadal has survived 20 years in the service by being the most dangerous man on the continent. He's aided in achieving this status by his magic sword, Angruvadal the Black Sword of the title. Angruvadal gifts Ashok with the battle memories and reflexes of all it's past wielders, meaning that he always knows what the right counter move or the best tactic in a fight is. Add this to his Protector given speed and strength and fighting him is really a messy method of suicide. Angruvadal isn't unique, as there are a number of black swords out there and they all grant their users such abilities. However each sword chooses it's wielder and if someone who the sword doesn't approve of tries to pick up the sword... Well, honestly folks it might be better to go tug the tail of a cobra or something. What really makes Ashok special though, is his utter and complete devotion to the Law. Serving the Law is everything to him, fulfilling his proper duty and station are what give his life meaning. He literally cannot conceive of another life and even if he could, he wouldn't want to. He is what everyone thinks they want a perfect law enforcer to be (trust me. Y'all don't really want that though). Which may be why he reacts so violently when he finds out everything he thought he was and everything about his past... Is a damn lie. Ashok's refusal to go with the lie and his refusal to let anyone keep it buried or well, to let the people who profited it... Live... Adds fuel to the fire of a crisis already shaking the foundations of his society (the untouchables have had enough of your shit sir and they got a prophet to lead them this time). In a lot of ways Ashok's character is comparable to Master Sergeant Sage, from Mel Odom's Master Sergeant. Only instead of me being bored out of my mind because Sage isn't real person, Correia goes with the fact that real people aren't like this and asks “What would it take to make a person like that?” What answer did he come up with you ask? An atrocity so vile that despite the fact that I'm not sure that I like Ashok...

I was cheering him on when he hacked an old lady to death for what she did to him to make him the perfect wielder of the Black Sword. It's a revelation I found disturbing because, frankly I think if it could be done there are people who would support doing it to police and soldiers and in doing so would take away large parts of our humanity and autonomy. Not to get political on you folks, but my experience has been that there are people on the left and on the right who would gleefully scrape away the free will and independence of every Marine, Soldier, Police Officer, Sailor and so on in order to achieve their goals. Some of those goals are even noble but speaking as a man with 4 years in the Marine, I find the sheer gleeful disregard of my own personal right to rule my own mind unnerving as it seems some folk are perfectly okay with viewing us as less then human because we decided to wear a uniform. But enough of that. Let me talk about Devedas.

Devedas is the son of a Black Sword wielder, he grew up being trained to take his father's place so when the sword shattered (when the wielder does something that the sword finds disgraceful, it breaks and usually the wielder dies soon after if not on the spot) his family is disgraced and cast out of power and he joins the Protectors because... Well he doesn't have any other options. He's loyal, cunning, smart, brave and ambitious. In another book, he would be our main character! He's also deeply jealous of Ashok because... He has everything Devedas wants. He has done his level best to master his jealous of his friend when the truth comes out... It's the final straw. Devedas washes his hands of Ashok and goes to become leader of the Protectors. Which in an interesting twist means that he's the one who is confronts and for most of the book is doing the most to oppose the villain of the story. The villain being Grand Inquisitor Omand.

As we all know, being an Inquisitor is a bad sign in fantasy fiction. Omand lives up to this being a vile, double faced, monster of a human being that someone should have drowned in a pond before he reached adulthood. I hate Omand's guts all the more because... I agree with his premise. Our Grand Inquisitor argues that the Great Houses have to much power. To many lives and resources are wasted in their petty conflicts and border wars. Additionally despite the best efforts of the Judges, Inquisitors and Protectors, the Great Houses often twist or bend the Law to their own advantage with the leading families being more concerned with their privileges then their duties. He's not wrong, but his solution is to create a centralized state (ruled by him of course) via methods that place him firmly alongside people like Pol Pot! His solution is worse then the problem! It's akin to fixing broken legs by cutting off everything below the waist! The cherry of what in the hell is wrong with you on this you are a terrible person sundae is the fact that... I think Omand knows this and just does not care because this method ensures that he'll be in charge when the dust settles. Which makes him even worse!

Ashok, Devedas and Omand form 3 factions moving through larger events that the other characters find themselves falling into. My two favorites being Thera and Rada, both of them are women, but that's all they really have in common. Thera is an outlaw and criminal because she can't keep to her place. Because of that she is officially done with your shit. She's blunt, outspoken, clever, sneaky and always pushing at Ashok and letting him know firmly what an idiot he is. Which I approve of. She's also rather talented with knives which while a traditional choice for women characters, makes perfect sense. She's a criminal who legally isn't suppose to own any weapons, any weapons she does own is going to have to be easy to hide, easy to obtain and be cheap enough that you can afford to lose it. Knives fit that rather well. Rada on the other hand is an upper class woman, her father is the chief of the libertarians, who function as the record keepers, researchers and general scholars for the central government. All Rada wants to be left alone to do a good job with her books and provide complete untampered with information to the Judges who ask for it. She doesn't have any problems jumping into bed with Devedas mind you and isn't militantly anti-social, it's just she would be perfectly happy if all these political manics just left her and her books alone damn it! But when they do drag her kicking and screaming out of her book stacks, she is going to do her level best to do the right thing. I like Rada honestly and I can completely sympathize with where she's coming from. Devedas also doesn't have a problem jumping into bed with Rada, which shows he has good taste in woman at least.

Unfortunately, I spend a lot less time then I would like with characters like Rada and Thera and more with Ashok, who I'm not sure I like. I'm sympathetic to his inner turmoil but his stubborn death grip on what he knows to be merely be someone else rearranging his life grates on me. Maybe he has no choice in the matter but it gets damn annoying and I find myself wishing Thera would hit him over the head with a rock and hopeful knock the stupid out. At this point I'm going to have throw my hands up and declare that protagonists that grate on people are Mr. Correia's specialty. Ashok is also damn passive throughout a lot of the book, leaving a lot of work to Rada and Devedas. The Caste System is pervasive through the book, but honestly we're left with no voices to really make an argument for it. The book takes the position that Caste systems are bad, which I agree with but... Seriously have someone make a good argument for it if it's going to be something everyone agrees with. Additionally the book ends on a bloody cliff hanger which frustrated me greatly. It's not a huge cliff so to speak but still... Tell a complete story in a single book guys! That doesn't mean you can't have plot threads that continue through more then one book but each book should be a story in it's own right! Still, despite this Son of the Black Sword by Larry Correia lands at a B-, hopefully the sequel won't have a cliffhanger.

Announcement! I am going on a holiday break as I am leaving my home in Phoenix for awhile to visit my parents in Oklahoma. As such the reviews are on January 15th with Heroes Die. What else can you expect to see? Empire of the Summer Moon, Lirael, the Dinosaur Lords, Seedbearing Prince II and more! Thank you for reading! I Will Return!

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