The Desert and the Blade by S.M. Stirling

Desert and  BladePre-reading prediction: The story takes place in a desert, and Reiku gets the Grass-Cutting Blade she’s been Question for! And some serious action will take place at the beautiful Golden Gate Bridge, and we will meet some new societies in California. Here’s another prediction: this twelfth book will feel a lot like Rudy’s Quest book, but with enough differences to make it interesting.

Post reading…  Well, that was a rousing adventure! <vague spoilers ahead, not much detail though>

The first half of the book brings Princess Orlaith and Empress Reiku (and friends/bodyguards) to the Golden Gate. It wasn’t easy! Our Heroines are death-proof, but no one else is. No one at all *sniffle* Some battles took place at sea. Some time was spent ducking Royal Orders which probably say to return – but the orders were never received, so Orlaith is technically not disobeying a direct order. Nope! See the back of my heels as I run away, Mom! The battle at the Gate itself takes a few chapters as the Enemy Allies converge, and so do Unexpected Allies – which the reader has expected, having followed their earlier chapters.

The Aylward Archers have their own smaller battles, as befits a small band. As befits Mackenzies, they also pull off some outrageous tricks – on enemies, on friends, what’s the diff? They reach the Golden Gate just in time.

We visit the California Rangers *head explodes* Let me rephrase. We visit the California post of the Dunedain rangers who live in harmony with nature, and the hippos down at the lake make great trade items, everyone wants their hides. Hey, harmony with nature includes nature red in tooth and claw, doesn’t it?

Finally Our Heroines & Crew sail off to new shores. They meet a new culture, fight another battle, head into the desert – and then Our Heroines must Go It Alone, which is both terrifying because they have no backup and you know something is sure to go wrong (but not too wrong, there has to be another book) and wonderful – they cast aside the burden of command. They acquire the sword, meet yet another culture, and head back to their allies. Did that seem a bit rushed to you?  Me, too. The battle at the Golden Gate used a lot of chapters, and there isn’t much space left for the second half of the book.

Remembering that Rudy fetched his sword just in time for the Big Evil War, I guessed that Reiko would get a Big Evil welcome…  but that person was totally, totally unexpected.

The Good:check mark

  • Reiko’s dreams. Rudy didn’t have his ‘wandering through the past’ dreams until he actually had his sword, and even then he was mostly an observer who could make no changes. Reiko comes from a culture that accepts Kami as popping up as needed, and she is able to ghost-speak to people in her past. Most delightfully frightening!
  • “We are the point, we are the edge, we are the wolves that Hecate fed” is still my favorite battle cry ever.
  • “My canyon tis of thee, sweet land of the hippie, of thee I sing” is now my favorite anthem.
  • Looking at the Makenzies and Associates through someone who remembers when the SCA was just geek culture was fun, do you grok?The Bad:x mark
  • Orlaith’s boyfriend. What boyfriend? Exactly. When King Artos went on his quest, he had built in romantic tension by bringing along his girlfriend. Also he bedded someone for the holiday, making for more angst by his virgin Christian girlfriend. We’re told that the princess is hetero and not a virgin, but she barely takes notice of the pretty men she meets.
  • The pacing. Too much time with old friends and old enemies, not enough time with the hippies (do they grow cannabis or not? Inquiring minds want to know!)
  • The pacing, part two: instead of so much time spent reaching Cali, they could have skipped a battle or two and taken the road past some new cultures. Surely there are more than two, locally.baloonThe Double Take:
  • Flets in redwood trees.  DON’T LOOK DOWN.
  • Hippos and buffalo in California. And camels.
  • Kights of the Association missing pizza and burgers, in front of someone who hasn’t seen them in ~50 years. *sniffle*
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