Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Sword of Bheleu by Lawrence Watt-Evans

Written by Lawrence Watt-Evans, the Sword of Bheleu is apparently the third in a series. This is another one of those novels that I picked up for $1.00 at Half Priced books. Hell, maybe I had a coupon and picked it up for eighty cents or something.

The interesting thing is that at the time of its printing, it was $2.50. Yeah, inflation in a specific field gone wild again eh? More interesting to me, is that at Amazon, you can buy it in ebook format for $5.59 which to me is a little overpriced considering the original cover price but not horrible.

Knowing nothing of the series, the author, or what happens after, as I'm still reading it,  but I'm going to hit some spoilers below.

First off, the book is sword and sorcerer. Magic is fairly rare but those who have it tend to be powerful. Magic items are also fairly rare, and in this case, while we have a few of the standards, like the crystal ball, the Sword of Bheleu itself turns out to be a major artifact, effectively making the user a avatar of the god of destruction. This isn't a one way ticket though. Indeed, the sword often compels its user to destroy, to attack, to kill. this is often indicated by the massive ruby on the hilt of this two-handed bad boy glowing with an inner fire. A great visual cue but if you're playing the prototypical dumb fighter, all the visual cues in the world aren't going to help.

The sword is also a bit of old school in that it seems it can do many things. For example, when the wielder, Garth, is spied upon with a crystal ball, his connection to the got of destruction travels back on that feed and destroys the crystal ball. Garth can also use the weapon to set fire to buildings, to burn through stone itself. This doesn't count that others don't seem to be able to use the weapon without suffering massive burns and wind up dropping it.

By not pinning everything the sword does, the author provides himself some space in which to use the sword for different elements. One of the terrible things that third edition started, and fourth edition fully embraced and has been struggling to get back ever since, is removed the magic from magic items. I haven't played a lot of 4e lately and I know that some others, like the Fourthcore group, have also tried to bring some of the magic back to the magic so to speak. Damn shame that it ever got that far to begin with.

Anyway...

Another interesting aspect of the book is that Garth isn't human, he's what's called an overman, humanoid but physically better than a human. The problem is that the overmen lost the Racial Wars that happened some odd three hundred years ago. Turns out that like orcs and some other humanoids, while they may be great independent fighters, they are terrible fighters when it comes to war as they are not great social creatures, each too headstrong and independent to do any group warfare that doesn't involve a numerous commanders involved with many levels of the soldiers. Their home life structure isn't that great either, they essentially borrow the idea of marriage to provide some stability to their lives.

I like this factor because it provides the overmen some character and showcases why they are where they are when I read this book. It's not some nine hundred page beast that I feel compelled to read because it's trying to teach me history. Rather, it's a quick sword and sorcery romp that showcases  bad things happen and sometimes, more bad things happen. Heck, I think Rolemaster old versions may even have something similar to this guy. I know that they had High Men, which were essentially homages to Strider's people, but I think they had something even bigger and stronger and with even fewer background points in one of their series of companions.

In addition, it gives me some ideas as to why elves and dwarves and other long lived races don't rule the world. They're just not able to compete with humanity. It's not that elves aren't the best archers, rangers, or masters of magic. It's just that they're so tied up in their own thing they never think, "Man, these humans are going to take it all over." For the dwarves, they might have so much going on in their various book of grudges, that they don't necessarily care that humans are taking over until those humans get into the book of grudges themselves, and because humanity at least if often allied to dwarves, the dwarves are only worried about specific humans to hunt down. The decline of their race isn't something directly attributed to humans often, but rather to their many numerous other enemies ranging, at least in say, Warhammer, to goblins, trolls, orcs and Skaven, to even chaos dwarves. Humans may provide worthy foes, a few may even go into the book, but for the most part, allies and trade partners.

Speaking of those bad things, in that war three hundred years ago, when the overmen lost, they got some bad terms. But interestingly enough, the garrison, the town, the fortress that provided them? Well, as Garth notes, humans have short memories and yesterday's heroes are today's useless dregs of society. The town that has its borders with the overmen is poor and feeble and easily overcome. Mind you this isn't necessarily a good thing because as I read its indicated that yeah, this was a wasting outpost but its just a part of a larger entity. Still, showcasing how decay can ease up onto these elements of society, especially those that might have been considered the most important at one part of a setting's history, are important.

The overmen have another advantage here in that they have warbeasts. These are essentially large, black massive hunting cats that, like like worgs, wargs, or dire wolves, are actually more dangerous than the overmen themselves. This makes fighting overmen even worse when they come prepared. Worse still, the beasts aren't too concerned with what they eat as at one point Garth is worried about the warbeast eating patrolling soldiers if they're not feed soon. Scary but entertaining stuff.

A third interesting factor, is the use of the King in Yellow. Now I'm not saying it's the exact character from the Mythos, but when you read a little on the author's page about the series, yeah, it's pretty much him. He comes off as a tragic character with a terrible destiny but also a little like the dude of Many Eyes and the Faceless mentors of the Twain from Fritz Lieber's various Swords Against series. Good stuff.

So, still reading, and may/may not get the ebook versions, but they're out there, the paperbacks are still out there, and there's even an omnibus edition. It's old school with a bit of a twist and well worth reading for those looking for a non-human hero with a kick ass magic weapon.
and come on, how can you not lover a cover where the guy in the middle of these enemies isn't looking like he's going, "What, you wanna piece of this?"