Reviews of 'The Crown and the Sword'
Reviews of 'The Crown and the Sword'
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The Crown and the Sword by Douglas Niles is the second book in the Rise of Solamnia trilogy, with Lord of the Rose being the first and The Measure and the Truth being the third. This trilogy is supposed to signify a substantial change in the Knights of Solamnia order and how they function. There have been bits and pieces of that scattered throughout the first two books, so the third book should have much more.
The plot of this book is not as straight forward as one would expect. There are several subplots that Niles throws into this book. My sense is that he throws them in to add character depth and development, but there are times when reading one of the subplots that the reader is left to wonder why it was included. After finishing this book, it almost leaves me with a sense that the author tried to do too much within this story. The main plot line is well written, don't get me wrong, but the subplots at times feel 'off' and wrong for lack of better words. This book does move at a fairly decent pace and there are events that are very worth reading. I can easily see the events of this book, and the trilogy for that matter, affecting Krynn for years to come.
The characters in this book are split into two groups for me. In one group there is some great characters. Fun to read, interesting and all those other positive characteristics of good characters. Yet, in the other group there are characters that are so poorly developed that they should not even be in this book. There is little substance behind them and they seem to be there for no other purpose than to advance the plotline, but even then it seems forced and contrived. Also, this being the second book in the trilogy, one could expect a great deal of individual character development, yet that is an area that is severely lacking. Within this book I expected to learn a great deal more about the main character especially, what drives him, why he is there etc. Yet, coming away from the book I know exactly as much about him as I did after the first book. The characters in this book, for the most part are rather disappointing.
Another criticism I have with this book is the dialog. Some of the conversations between characters were groan producers, and not in a good way. Characters, at times, talked like totally different characters. There are at least two times I can think of where it was so bad it jarred me out of reading and I had to go back and make sure the right character said what was being said. I think a lot more could have been done on the dialog front and still accomplish what needed to be accomplished.
One other minor thing, is that Niles uses titles for each of his chapters. However, some of the chapter titles have rather significant spoilers in them and took away from certain chapters. Some authors who use titles do so in a way to confuse or deceive the readers, yet in this book some of the titles give away a good portion of the chapter. I would suggest Niles puts a little more effort into that or just don't do it at all.
The last thing I didn't care for in this book, and this will be very vague, so I don't spoil anything, was the new invention that is slowly being created through this book. When I read fantasy books, that's because I want to read fantasy books. I don't want an advancement of technology that is shoved down your throat. Yes, I understand gnomes make strange and wonderful things. I understand dwarfs are master craftsmen. However, the item created in this book is so blatantly 'our world' that each time it had a scene I was immediately turned off by it. That may be just me and some personal bias though.
The last thing I will say, is that these large scale battles that seem to be permeating fantasy novels lately should end soon. After all, if you think of the overall population after just coming out of the War of Souls, it shouldn't be 'full'. Yet thousands and thousands of people die in this book. There has to be a time when there will be no more people, after all the population is a finite thing. Yet, each time Niles needed more people they came from 'such and such' location. Each book does not need to have these large drawn out battles where thousands are killed.
Reading the above review you may think I hated this book. That is not the case. I think there is a very good story here and one that will impact future books in this line. However, the follow through and writing of this book didn't sit well with me, which was disappointing because I am a very big Niles fan. I have always enjoyed his books, but even when I read Lord of the Rose I was disappointed. I think if you are a Dragonlance fan you need to read this series as the events are noteworthy and will most likely be talked about in other books. However, if you are not a fan of Dragonlance or are just looking at starting to read fantasy I would look somewhere else as this may not hold your interest.
Let me begin by saying that Jaymes Markham is a real bastard. He is cold and at times heartless. A man willing to do whatever it takes to reach his goal. I wonder if Mr. Niles watched High Plains Drifter while he was writing this book because Markham is just like Clint Eastwood's character in that movie.
The story picks up two years after the events in Lord of the Rose. Markham is now Lord Marshal of the Solamnic Armies. A position he created for himself, by popular decision, after defeating the three dukes and putting Du Chagne in his place. However, his power is not seated and Markham has to deal with political maneuvering at the same time he is trying to wage an effective war.
Being man of action rather an intrigue, Markham takes steps to insure his role as the head of the Solamnic people by enlisting the aid of the White Witch. What he commands her to do is unforgivable. The fact that Coryn did it also speaks of her determination to see things through and to secure peace in Solamnia's future. Still it makes one wonder who the real villains are.
Other changes to the Solamnic armies have taken place. Besides the new Lord Marshal position, there is the reintroduction of the Solamnic Auxiliary Mages, which are now named Kingfishers for the symbol they wear on their tunics. Once mages of the White Robes they now server the Solamnic knights for the greater good.
Markham also makes use of other new units as well. Using a combination of crown, sword and rose armies, he also makes use of Kayoln Dwarves. Armored much like Tanks these hard-hitting fighters are feared on any battlefield and Solamnia is better for it. Markham also has bodyguards called the Freeman, men who serve Markham out of loyalty and honor. Seeing in the Marshal someone who can bring Solamnia into a new age. A rather elite bunch and capable soldiers.
All these change leaves one to wonder where are the typical Knights of Solamnia. In a rather neat twist, it seems the traditional Solamnic knight forces are on Sancrist along with the Grandmaster Liam and the Whitestone council. Their contribution to the war it seems is the Order of Clerist's who go among the rabble of the Army of Solamnia and teach the Oath. But that does not go over well with all and soon there is tension between the Clerist's and the regular forces.
Events are moving rather fast throughout the book as after two years, Markham has Ankhar's army on the defensive. After three huge battles, the half-giant is forced to give up more ground each day. Desperate the half-giant goes on a quest which will have lasting repercussions throughout the book. It is here that what would seem a secondary villain rises and takes center stage from the half-giant. Which I rather liked and thought was a change of pace. This villain is active through out the book as battles are waged and when bad guys scenes come up he tends to steal the show.
Markham is not idle during Ankhar's quest and it is here that something is introduced that will change Dragonlance forever. Many fans already know of Blackpowder and many are against seeing it used in Dragonlance. However, what was seen in Lord of the Rose was nothing to what is introduced into the world of Krynn by Markham's Secret Compound. By the end of the book, warfare will have changed forever for those calling Ansalon home.
Making use of this new, terrible technology, Markham is able to score a victory but at a very terrible cost but as I mentioned in my opening paragraph it is one he willing pays. Not to be stopped, the villains of this book flee and we will surely see them in The Measure and the Truth.
Having action, humor and political intrigue, I have to say this book is a marked improvement over Lord of the Rose. Maybe a bit too much D&D dialog but still a great read. I give it a strong three out of five.
As with my review of Lord of the Rose, I'm going to preface this review with a note about my own viewpoints and biases. I'm a huge fan of the Knights of Solamnia. I've played them in the RPG and I've enjoyed some of the books about them, especially The Legend of Huma.
My review of Lord of the Rose was not the most favorable. It was a book that had continuity errors, and presented a picture of the Knights of Solamnia that was alien and foreign. While I had high expectations of Lord of the Rose, I had low expectations of The Crown and the Sword. I viewed it with a critical eye. As it turns out, I was pleasantly surprised.
The Crown and the Sword is part II of the Rise of Solamnia trilogy. We find that a couple of years have passed, and that Jaymes Markham now serves as the Lord Marshal of the Knights of Solamnia. While he doesn't rule Solamnia, he does command its military. In conflict with the Lord Marshal are antagonists in the form of the politically-minded Bakkard du Chagne, the gold-hoarding Lord Regent of Palanthas, and Ankhar the Truth, master of the enemy horde.
To truly understand Jaymes Markham, you have to set aside the stereotype of what a Knight of Solamnia should be. He is not a "white knight in shining armor." He is no Sturm or Huma. He is a pragmatic man who does all he can for the betterment of Solamnia. He is an anti-hero who does some amazing things, yet is nothing short of a right bastard.
To further his goals of a strong Solamnia, he bewitches and marries the Lord Regent's daughter, Selinda du Chagne, giving her a magical potion that causes her to act like a schoolgirl in love. Though he seeks to marry her, that doesn't prevent him from spending an evening alone with the duchess of Solanthus. I could forgive that indiscretion for a bit, as war tends to strain one's faithfulness. Still, this is not the action of a man who is newly engaged.
While I found the parts dealing with Jaymes alone to be a bit troubling, I have to say that what really catches my attention about this book is the war. Niles does an excellent job painting the scene of battle. He also adds to the flavor by presenting the names of several Solamnic units, such as the Thelgaard Lancers and Kaolyn Axers. For the first time, we see Knights of the Sword perform divine magic in the form of the Clerists. We also see the Solamnic Auxiliary Mages take a large part in the story as the Kingfishers.
Ankhar has on his side powerful allies as well, including the hobgoblin witch Laka and Hoarst, a former Grey Robe. Both are further developed in this novel, giving more insight into their characters. Hoarst especially catches my eye during the final battle of the book, where he demonstrates exactly how powerful a Knight of the Thorn can be. Ankhar has a new ally as well, the Elemental King, a monster made up of all four elements. He is an unstoppable force that destroys any who get in his path.
After The Crown and the Sword, war will forever be changed on the world of Krynn. Jaymes now commands the terrible power of bombards, early cannons, which he uses to devastating effect upon Ankhar's Horde. Initially, I approached this with some trepidation. After all, cannons sound like a gnome invention. And while that is the case, it is the Knighthood that uses the bombards. What I discovered was that I actually enjoyed reading about the firing of the bombards in battle. It was interesting to see how Ankhar's Horde reacted to the bombards, and how tactics changed to counter this new technology.
Compared to the first book in this series, The Crown and the Sword had far fewer pitfalls. The three orders worked together this novel, and though they mimicked their organization in the first novel, they still meshed fairly well with established continuity. Plus, we actually see some heroic knights in this book, though most of them die. Still, there were knights as I expected them to be. Other continuity errors were fairly small as well, and editing errors weren't too noticeable until the final chapter, which were minor.
I would have liked to see more development of some of the minor characters, such as Sir Templar (love that name!), Sulfie, and Dram. I would have liked to see doubts about Jaymes' character thrown in for Dram conflicting against their long-time friendship. Sulfie's grief could have been explored as well. And what of Hoarst? Though he's better developed, we still don't get into his head in terms of his motivations. That could have strengthened Ankhar's puzzlement about him towards the end of the novel. Also, why is it that Bukkard du Chagne is now a wimp of a man? Though he isn't all that likable, I would have expected more political tension and behind-the-scenes maneuvering from him.
Overall, this was a fairly good read, though I will advise long-term fans of Dragonlance and the Knights of Solamnia to approach this book with caution. If you don't want to see the technology of warfare to change, you may hate this book. If you are looking for the world to evolve, you may like this book. The book ends with a fairly good cliffhanger, though all I can reasonably expect at this point is some angst between Jaymes and Selinda, as well as another war. And while I enjoyed reading about the war, you need something more to base a novel on. We'll see in The Measure and the Truth what happens to Solamnia, and what will happen with Jaymes Markham running the show.
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