Just finished reading the trilogy (although there is now a fourth book in the series), and it was pretty good.
Duncan creates a world where the population is medieval in nature, everyone lives near the river that runs the length of the planet, people's professions and their ranks within those professions are permanently marked on their foreheads, and the Goddess actively intercedes and performs miracles. Most likely the world is simply another planet, although one where divine actions are common.
Into this world is propelled Wallie Smith, a middle-aged chemical engineer from Earth who recently died. His mind is installed into the body of a 7th-level swordsman (the highest level). After some difficulty in accepting the reality of what he's experiencing, he finally comes around and a demi-god gives him the knowledge and abilities of his host that are related to swordsmanship. Then he also receives a legendary sword and a mission in the form of a riddle. Note that the original owner of his host body, Shonsu, was given the same (or a similar) mission and failed. The remainder of the first book is his integration into the world and his efforts to get out of the temple city and on with his mission. This is not as easy as you would assume, as the swordsman garrison in the city is corrupt and its leadership is trying to steal the Wallie's sword.
The plot of "The Reluctant Swordsman" isn't epic by any means, but it's an interesting introduction to the culture of the world he's now residing in. There's character development, particularly with Wallie who has a difficult time handling the casual slavery of the society as well as the casual murder by the swordsmen.
Books two and three get more interesting, as the mission unfolds and we learn more about sorcerers, the enemies of all swordsmen. The people in Wallie's group also grow and develop and become major contributors to the mission. A lot of times things don't go very well for Wallie. The epilogue at end of the trilogy, however, is very satisfying. We see how Wallie's educated 21st-century mind combined with Shonsu's physical skills and mental responses is exactly what was needed to complete the mission. This, despite the fact that Wallie's mind and Shonsu's mind (such as it was) were constantly in conflict.
◘ Too much introspection and second-guessing by Wallie. While this is integral to the story, I think it's overdone.
◘ The pacing of the first book was too slow. It was essentially a very long introduction—a full-volume prelude to the actual story.
◘ I figured out two of the major mysteries in the story well before Wallie did. Specifically, the nature of the sorcerers' fire demons and how they were able to transmit information quickly over long distances. This was doubly annoying because Wallie is a chemical engineer and should have put the clues together well before I did. I was thinking, "Open your eyes. THINK! The clues are all there!"
◘ Author Duncan has created a believable, consistent world with characters that I was interested in.
◘ Wallie's second meeting with the demi-god, where he was shown a small bit of divinity, was fantastic. You hear about such things in the Bible, for instance, but Author Duncan does a great job of showing how even modern man can't handle seeing the nature of the divine (even in a small dose).
◘ The writing is good and easy to read.
- Mass Market Paperback: 326 pages
- Publisher: Ballantine Books; Reissue edition (1 May 1988)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0345352912
- ISBN-13: 978-0345352910
- Product Dimensions: 17.1 x 2.5 x 10.2 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 90.7 g
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