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Monday, March 28, 2016

Book of the Week: Son of the Black Sword

When I first heard that Larry Correia was dipping his toe into "epic fantasy", I have to admit that I rolled my eyes a little. How, I wondered, was he going to transform his patented gun porn, in which he lovingly chronicles every detail of a firearm, right down to the special blend of custom gunpowder that was formulated by the gunsmith for maximum impact, and which is of particular appeal to his core audience, into faux medieval terms?

I had visions of entire chapters being dedicated to the forging of Very Special Swords, and frankly, I doubted it was going to be as entertaining; a portrayal of a man testing the heft and balance of a sword just isn't the same as one competitively testing out the accuracy of a firearm at a firing range. Also, no vampires, werewolves, or Agent Franks.

But I should have known better. The most recent Monster Hunter International book showed how Larry has improved as a writer, both in terms of conceptual originality and characterizations. Son of the Black Sword represents another step forward for him; Correia may be a bestselling author, but unlike other bestsellers in the SF/F field, he has not been content to stand pat and keep churning out the same sort of thing over and over again, he has instead continued to refine his craft.

Son of the Black Sword is not, strictly speaking, epic fantasy. Neither is it high fantasy. I would describe it more as high sword & sorcery as there is a distinct flavor of REH about both the hero and the world, neither of which owe anything at all to JRR Tolkien, much less Robert Jordan, or, some political machinations aside, GRR Martin.

While I was less impressed with the worldbuilding than John C. Wright was, it is a competent use of the seldom-seen-in-fantasy Indian caste system and lends itself nicely to several key aspects of the plot. As you'd expect from Correia, there is a lot of action and the story never bogs down from start to finish. What you might not expect from him is some better-than-average characterizations, and the tale of the protagonist, Ashok, is gradually unveiled in a remarkably sensitive, even touching manner considering that he is a nigh-unstoppable killing machine with no more inclination towards mercy than the average Terminator.

And what you definitely won't expect from Correia is an intelligent subtext running throughout the novel providing a subtle metacommentary on the civilization-scale challenge facing Western society today. It is so subtle, in fact, that I'm not entirely certain Correia actually intended it, but regardless, it gives Son of the Black Sword an amount of the melancholy depth that endows the Conan stories with enduring power.

Although it will come as unwelcome news to some, Son of the Black Sword shows Larry Correia in the process of transformation from a popular author to a very good author who merely happens to be popular. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys action-fantasy, martial arts revenge thrillers, political intrigue, sword & sorcery, or in particular, RE Howard's Conan.

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55 Comments:

Blogger Nate March 28, 2016 8:08 AM  

"considering that he is a nigh-unstoppable killing machine with no more inclination towards mercy than the average Terminator."

sold.

Blogger White Knight Leo #0368 March 28, 2016 8:09 AM  

Similar to RE Howard? I'll give it a read.

Blogger Thomas Davidsmeier March 28, 2016 8:26 AM  

Stop making me want to buy books. I have no money for this, nor time. Grrr...

Anonymous Viidad March 28, 2016 8:30 AM  

I agree with this review - you put your finger on it. It's an excellent read.

Anonymous Skaare March 28, 2016 8:34 AM  

How does he handle religion?

Anonymous Steve March 28, 2016 8:42 AM  

Started reading it a couple of days ago.

While I'm a yuge fan of MHI and the Grimnoir series, swords n' sorcery isn't usually my thing so I had resisted buying BLACK SWORD for a while.

More the fool me. It's Larry C at the top of his game. A magnificently violent romp.

Anonymous SDH March 28, 2016 8:49 AM  

I liked it better than Grimnoir, and I really liked those.

Blogger BigFire March 28, 2016 8:49 AM  

One subtle idea is what happens to a very religious society that dissolve the religion and replaces it with law. There's a very good reason for this, and the result isn't pretty. Larry has been working on this story for a long time (prior to MHI publication).

Blogger Cataline Sergius March 28, 2016 8:57 AM  

@5 Skaare

More or less side stepped. The official state religion is atheism, backed up by an anti-religionist church. Their anti-priests wear masks, so it feels like Larry was influenced by Dishonored.

There are gods in this universe. Larry is a Mormon. which is to say a non-Trinitarian polytheist. The Indian polytheism he hints at reflects this.

Regardless, this book is not a religious treatise. It is a superb sword in hand high adventure that you damn well won't get from likes of Tor. This one could easily be put into Appendix N, no problem.

There was a war in Heaven and the Demons were cast down to Earth. The Demons were ravaging the Earth and Kalkin-like hero was sent down to destroy them. Which he sort of did...kind of. They were driven into the seas. Now the seas are Hell for these people.

There is the question of, is this our Earth? There is some hints about fallen great civilizations and other lands apart from this one. Plus people used to be able to fly.

@Vox, I kind of got the impression that this story was set in Australia. Possible or no?

Anonymous Sensei March 28, 2016 9:03 AM  

I'm weird and tend to prefer an author's earlier, less polished work, but I was surprised at the extent to which Larry succeeded in building a world that wasn't a clone of anything I've read before, then creating a main character who is very distinct from any of his other (now numerous) main characters.

I will say, from some subtle and not-so-subtle hints throughout the plot, I won't be surprised if we don't have firearms of one sort or another in play by the end of the series.

Blogger Jew613 March 28, 2016 9:08 AM  

Its excellent, in particular even relatively minor characters felt as if they had an entire life rather than just being 2 dimensional cutouts to move the story along.

Anonymous Ad Victoriam March 28, 2016 9:11 AM  

@2 My first thought as well. Glad to see REH fans out there ... great stuff.

Anonymous Chico and the Man March 28, 2016 9:20 AM  

Fun read. Is it eligible for Hugo contention?

Blogger Salt March 28, 2016 9:20 AM  

Just picked up an ebook copy.

Blogger CarpeOro March 28, 2016 9:22 AM  

Enjoyed MHI and Grimnoir, huge fan of REH (He and Pournelle are likely the only authors who's books in my collection have survived multiple moves). I'll have to check it out after I finish my current reading.

Blogger maniacprovost March 28, 2016 9:23 AM  

It was definitely award worthy. I thought it could have been Antarctica.

Blogger JDC March 28, 2016 9:34 AM  

Great book. My only complaint was that it was too short.

Blogger Sheila4g March 28, 2016 9:53 AM  

I bought it back when it first came out, because I so enjoyed MHI and Grimnoir. Took me a while to get into it, but I liked it better the more I read. In addition to the Indian-style caste system, there seemed (to me) to be hints of Japanese/Chinese style sword lore and mastery. Add in the religious conflicts and demons in the sea, and there seems to be quite an interesting mixture. As noted, it owes nothing to Tolkien. Very different for Correia fans, but well worth reading.

Blogger VD March 28, 2016 9:57 AM  

How does he handle religion?

In a surprisingly sophisticated manner.

Blogger Krul March 28, 2016 10:15 AM  

Picked it up after John C Wright's blog post about it.

Chapter 1 rocks, at the very least. We'll see how the rest is.

Blogger Alexandru March 28, 2016 10:29 AM  

I'm not a huge fan of his MHI books, just not really into Urban Fantasy. I ended up going to his signing in San Diego and picked up this book. Loved it, read the whole thing in one sitting. I'm looking forward to finishing the story.

Anonymous John Steed March 28, 2016 10:30 AM  

I have painfully learned from a long time friend (a retired USN SEAL), that it`s not what you have in the way of a pistol, but if you can hit anything that you can shoot at. ``Hey army boy`, he said once,``just look what Alvin York did with 14 rds of .45s and 21 rds of 30-06!`` 35 confirmed kills.

Anonymous Brick Hardslab March 28, 2016 10:59 AM  

I was surprised as well. It is in the REH vein or maybe a good Karl E Wagner without all of Wagner's sex.

Anonymous The Dude March 28, 2016 11:12 AM  

What is an "Ashok" ? For that matter, what is a "Preet"?

Blogger pdwalker March 28, 2016 11:12 AM  

@20 it gets better.

A very good read, definitely a kind of book that could have made appendix N.

My only neg is that I have to wait for the following books to finish the story.

Anonymous Nathan March 28, 2016 11:18 AM  

Larry's commented before that the worldbuilding on Black Sword was conducted with malice. Basically, take the lyrics of "Imagine" by John Lennon, and let's see how well they really work...

Blogger Krul March 28, 2016 11:34 AM  

The Dude wrote:What is an "Ashok" ?

The book is actually about the life of this character before he immigrated.

Blogger Were-Puppy March 28, 2016 11:34 AM  

I'm going to have to get it ASAP then.
REH is stil my favorite author.

Blogger Julie Dyal March 28, 2016 11:50 AM  

pdwalker wrote:My only neg is that I have to wait for the following books to finish the story.
Larry is, however, a fast writer. His throughput on novels is pretty darn good.

Anonymous Dsve March 28, 2016 1:21 PM  

Speaking of gun porn; Larry will be doing it on the television later this year: "I’ll be one of the guests this season on Gun Stories with Joe Mantegna on the Outdoor Channel. I’ll be filming next week."

Blogger Aeoli Pera March 28, 2016 1:23 PM  

My only disagreement is that Correia showed symptoms of being a very good writer very early on, in MHI.

Blogger mushroom March 28, 2016 2:16 PM  

Just popped for the Kindle. It better measure up.

Blogger mushroom March 28, 2016 2:16 PM  

Just popped for the Kindle. It better measure up.

Anonymous The Skidmaker March 28, 2016 2:25 PM  

mushroom wrote:Just popped for the Kindle. It better measure up.

Did you the Audible book for the extra $2?

Blogger mushroom March 28, 2016 2:44 PM  

No, I haven't tried it on anything yet.

Blogger Durandel Almiras March 28, 2016 3:37 PM  

I just finished it last week. Had been sitting on my kindle since it came out but I was reading other books first. I enjoyed it immensely, very unique world. I liked his build up of the mystery behind the caste system and the Forgotten, who so far sounds like Elohim crossed with the God of the Copy Book Headings. Looking forward to the rest of the series. And yes, Larry's writing in this book shows the similar improvements he had made with his last MH book staring agent Franks

Anonymous A.B. Prosper March 28, 2016 3:40 PM  

Glad to see Larry Correia doing well. Great guy.Fellow gamer nerd too.

Read MHI but found his work isn't my cup of Joe still as the Romans said De gustibus non est disputandum.

Anonymous Victor F. Michaelson March 28, 2016 3:41 PM  

@32, It'll measure up. Might not be gunpron, but it is weaponpron. The characters, culture, and story are all solid and deep enough to fully immerse yourself in the story to the point where nothing feels lacking. Larry's such an original writer you never know what's behind the next door, or when it'll be opened, but Larry being Larry, whatever he springs on you will keep you enjoying every page you turn, till you turn the last one. Then you'll start Jonesing for the next book.

Blogger SciVo March 28, 2016 4:08 PM  

Got it from the library a couple months ago. Devoured it. Now I have to wait impatiently for the next one.

Publication date of October 15, 2015 is (I assume) Hugo-eligible. Definitely going to be one of my nominees.

Anonymous LurkingPuppy March 28, 2016 4:22 PM  

SciVo wrote:Publication date of October 15, 2015 is (I assume) Hugo-eligible. Definitely going to be one of my nominees.

Larry Correia permanently recused himself from further Hugo nominations after SP3.

Blogger VD March 28, 2016 4:26 PM  

Publication date of October 15, 2015 is (I assume) Hugo-eligible. Definitely going to be one of my nominees.

Don't. Larry won't accept a nomination. He declined after being nominated last year.

Blogger SciVo March 28, 2016 4:37 PM  

Well, that's annoying. The book deserves it.

Thank you for the reminder.

Anonymous Dave March 28, 2016 4:41 PM  

For you Brits, Larry will be in the UK for Black Sword book signing on April 9. Damien Walters could not be reached for comment.

Other signings in Germany & Czech Republic: http://monsterhunternation.com/2016/03/22/my-european-book-signings/

Blogger maniacprovost March 28, 2016 5:11 PM  

Well, that's annoying. The book deserves it.


That's why it's "award-worthy," not Hugo-worthy... perhaps the completed series can be nominated one day, if peace is returned to the land.

Blogger BigFire March 28, 2016 5:23 PM  

Another reason for this series's inception is Fantasy series' tendency of having the lone obscure descendants of great hero to combat the return of great evil.

Correia turn this around, for if such great hero existed and he vanquished that great evil, he will NOT have a lone descendant. The grateful society would throw women, money and prestige upon him. His descendants will be legions. And his descendants would invariably abused their power and be cast out and their religion overturned.

Anonymous LastRedoubt March 28, 2016 6:37 PM  

it was an excellent book.

Blogger Stephen St. Onge March 28, 2016 7:40 PM  

        Larry definitely intended the political subtext.  In the early stages, he mentioned on his blog that the anti-religious centralized state he was creating would be the fulfillment of liberal dreams, and thus a totalitarian nightmare.

Blogger Feather Blade March 28, 2016 9:01 PM  

Tangentially, the link in the sidebar to Mr. Correia's blog is no longer current.

Blogger John Wright March 28, 2016 10:06 PM  

"How does he handle religion?"

It was one of the most sly things I have seen in print in years. The society is atheistic, worshiping only the Law, and there are rumors of the untouchables worshiping an old god called 'The Forgotten'. And as the plot unfolds ... but to say more would spoil things.

Blogger John Wright March 28, 2016 10:08 PM  

"There is the question of, is this our Earth? "

There are two moons. Unless Earth gains a new moon or our old one splits in half, the answer seems to be no.

Blogger John Wright March 28, 2016 10:16 PM  

"Ashok" is a famous conquering emperor of India who first imposed Buddhism as the state religion of the subcontinent.

Blogger Eric March 28, 2016 11:42 PM  

Does Mr. Correia know how to use an apostrophe? Because that's what I'm down to in my reading lately. I'm going to have a stroke if I read another book full of word's butchered by author's who cant master the apostrophe in it's intricacy's.

Anonymous theRea March 28, 2016 11:52 PM  

> What is an "Ashok" ? For that matter, what is a "Preet"?

Typical Aryan names. You are not expected to understand if you are not of the holy Aryan (v)eddas.

Anonymous Hound's Tooth Check March 29, 2016 1:03 AM  

"Unless Earth gains a new moon or our old one splits in half, the answer seems to be no."

On the other hand, that would be entirely consistent with the titanic War in Heaven that apparently took place in the book's prehistory.

Blogger McChuck March 29, 2016 5:29 AM  

To my mind, Larry has created a fascinating fantasy series for two separate reasons - not including the wonderful characterizations.

1) It's not a Tolkien-based world. There are no orcs or elves. This is refreshing, and the man-vs-demon theme gives a nod to REH's Conan.

2) The world-building is consistent, well thought out, and quite effectively blurs the line between fantasy and science fiction. No, the world isn't Earth, but the inhabitants are human all the same. Except for the demons, of course - who lost the war in heaven and fell from the sky. Naturally, as stories go, the real monsters aren't the demons, but some of the men ...

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