A large duck (burger_eater) wrote,
A large duck
burger_eater

The Wizard Lord

I finished The Wizard Lord by Lawrence Watt-Evans earlier this week. It was a much better book than I was expecting, but that shouldn't be taken as faint praise. I enjoyed it quite a bit, just not in the way I expected.

A plot description would not do it justice: A young man who is enchanted to be the greatest swordsman in the world joins a group of similarly-enchanted people to overthrow a Dark Wizard Lord.

Try putting that in a query letter and getting a request for a full manuscript.

But here's the thing: lwe knows better than to play the genre cliches straight. Breaker (the name of the protagonist--people from his village all use nicknames because real names have so much power) becomes the greatest swordsman in the world because the old one asks for volunteers, and he speaks up. He's not special in any way except that the local spirits thought someone from his town would be a good candidate for the job and he was willing to step up and shoulder the responsibility.

There's no secret lineage/hidden magical talent/rilly secret specialness involved. He volunteers to take the job because he wants to travel the world a bit and he figures he'll impress some girls.

The Swordsman is one of eight Chosen, ordinary citizens who have specific powers that let them all work together: Leader, Scholar, Seer, Archer, etc. Barokan, the land where this story is set, is ruled by a Wizard Lord, who keeps the weather stable for the crops and keeps the peace. The Wizard Lord is elected from a council of wizards of ordinary power. Becoming Wizard Lord means having a butt-load of magic under your control, but it means a great deal of responsibility, too.

The council chooses the Wizard Lord. The Chosen watch the Wizard Lord to make sure he doesn't go mad with power and start killing/conquering; if he does go bad, they kill him. The council keeps watch over the Chosen.

It's a system of checks and balances that seems to work pretty well on the surface, but the longer things continue the more broken the system seems.

And of course the Dark Lord is not an average, faceless evil guy. His motivations for the crime he committed are very human and his self-justifications are petty and despicable.

Each of the Chosen is a unique and interesting individual, too. Each has pays a price to maintain their magic, and each knows that might be called to drop everything and head off to murder someone.

Much of the book is taken up with Breaker becoming the Swordsman and then collecting all of the Chosen so they perform their mission. In that sense it's much more like one of those old action movies where the protagonist collects a band of specialists to undertake some dangerous mission, with the mission filling about a third of the story.

In this way, by focusing on the characters, their gifts and the price they pay for them (I wanted to talk about the Beauty and how she's forced to wear the equivalent of a burka in her daily life, but I need to sign off now) the story sheds many of the trite plot elements of "band of heroes overthrows dark lord" and takes a clear-eyed look at the nature of power and the hollowness of heroism.

Good book.
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