Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Dave Duncan - The Reluctant Swordsman

Wallie Smith can feel the pain. He goes to the hospital, remembers the doctors and the commotion, but when he wakes up it all seems like a dream. However, if that was a dream how do you explain waking up in another body and in another world? Little Wallie finds himself in the physique of a barbarian swordsman, accompanied by both an eccentric priest babbling about the Goddess and a voluptuous slave girl. Is this a rude awakening or a dream come true? What in the world will Wallie do now that he's found himself stranded in a strange realm? Well it just so happens that the Goddess is in need of a swordsman. It won't be easy but if he succeeds he will have everything he wants. If he doesn't, things could get ugly. Wallie is reluctant but sees his chance. If only he had the faintest clue as to the adventure he is about to unleash! If only he could imagine the forces that will be out to vanquish him!

Comment: I got interested in this book at a time I was quite dedicated to read fantasy. While talking to someone, this book was recommended and I remember I got it pretty soon after that. However, as often happens, I didn't read it as quickly as I got it and it has been in the pile for years. I've tried to go through some long standing books in the shelves an that is why this book got its turn now.

In this fantasy story we meet Wallie Smith who - we are informed even before the story begins - dies after some medical complications. However, Wallie doesn't remember dying and when he wakes up he is in a strange world inhabiting a body he doesn't recognize. After much confusion he is told by a demigod he has been chosen by the goddess of this weird reality to go on a quest and if he can prove to be successful, he can remain in this new body and live to a fulfilling new existence. Of course Wallie has doubts and makes several mistakes but along with some surprising friends, he goes on... but can he overcome his contemporary cultural expectations in such a different world? 

I like fantasy stories provided they can have some romance or if they are so well crafted that even without romance, the world building can sustain everything. Regarding this book, despite recognizing the imagination of some elements, the lack of romantic situations was very disappointing. There is a relationship between the main character and a woman but I wouldn't go as far as describing it as romantic.
I suppose it wasn't difficult to know this wasn't pure romantic fantasy of course, but I thought the story would go on a different path based on the blurb...

The beginning of this novel is a little confusing and it took me some time to understand what was happening and to like the story. The idea someone would die or disappear or never return to a reality that is as much a part of someone as any mental or emotional ties we develop in a lifetime was very melancholic for me to imagine. Yes, this is the explanation why Wallie, a modern man, could be the protagonist but...the difference was too much and I felt sorry for Wallie, not really excited over his adventure.
The new world Wallie is supposed to brave on and get to know wasn't really captivating either, even admitting the author's imagination and ability to put things into words.

If this is a great new world, with different rules and without any limit within a possibility, why must it be so dire and constricted in what can happen? Te society of the new world Wallie is facing, the social structures imposed on population and a whole range of cultural norms was so limitative, I can only guess it was meant to impose conditions on Wallie's actions. I mean... if Wallie is special to have been chosen for this so called quest, why is this world so filled with unfairness? Why not make this into a fun and challenging adventure but that the reader could cheer Wallie for?
The way things went with the rules Wallie had to follow, the unfairness of the situation, the lack of consideration for some characters... I just think the action was poorly done and explained. There are two more books but isn't it a bit unfair this can't be read as a standalone for those readers who couldn't read everything? Oh well.

Wallie himself was a good enough protagonist. What he had to face is too out there to imagine, even among so much fantasy worlds to compare things with. As a likable character, he isn't too bad and I felt for and with him some times. But he can't really change things to the point it would make a difference, so his presence isn't that special in the bigger scheme of things and his attitude goes with the flow or the dictations of his surroundings. For instance, his behavior/inner thoughts about slavery... I get it but if he isn't there to be different in terms of being a hero or a savior or something along those lines, why bother with a different reality scenario to why Wallie was chosen as the main character?

All things considered, I thought this would be more like those cute adventure stories but the world building and the action weren't very strong. I struggled to like some aspcts of this story, I actually disliked others and although Wallie has some qualities, I confess I don't really find any interest in reading what happens next. I might have lost interest in the pure fantasy genre and that is impacting my opinion about this, but I'm not that bothered by the fact anyway.
Grade: 5/10

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