2 out of 4 stars
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The Stonegate Sword by Harry James Fox is a typical medieval epic fantasy novel, except for one detail: it is set in future North America.
It opens with teenaged Philip’s story, though after the beginning of the novel, his story is left off for one-third of the book, and then is reintroduced only to be included intermittently. His part in the tale is unclear even at the last page. Mostly, the book focuses on Donald of Fisher, a pacifist lore-man who becomes a man of war. He makes the transition surprisingly easily, with no remorse, self-doubt, or questions about becoming so violent. In fact, he doesn’t seem to have a strong opinion about anything, and shows very little emotion throughout the book. He does whatever he’s told almost without question and passively accepts whatever situation he finds himself in.
The plot is surprisingly lacking in this otherwise epic fantasy novel. Don doesn’t seem to have any goals, nothing that drives him, for the majority of the book. For a villain there is the Prophet—an anti-Christ figure (as far as I could tell)—as well as the Raiders who seem to be connected to him. This gives the characters something to fight against, but I was never really sure what they were fighting for!
After about halfway, The Stonegate Sword became a political, violent, boring, medieval military novel full of war strategy, and honestly, I couldn’t wait to finish it. To pour lemon juice on the wound, the few female characters were infuriatingly flat and cliché, even the “strong” female character. I also noticed a lot of errors, including missing periods and “horses’” repeatedly being written as “horse’s”. The ending, when I finally came to it, was neither satisfying nor a cliffhanger. It simply ended.
Though I have plenty to complain about, the book did have a few good qualities. Beautiful, well-written descriptions of the landscape serve as reminders of the unique setting, even if I never fully understood why that specific setting (or time period) was chosen. Additionally, the author clearly knows horses. His writing acknowledges that they don’t always act perfectly—aren’t simply a mode of transportation, like a machine. The horses in this novel balk at stream crossings and skitter sideways at unexpected things, which I greatly appreciated.
I rate this book 2 out of 4 stars. Although it contained many errors, and I became increasingly bored as I read it, I did enjoy the first half of The Stonegate Sword, and I think others who appreciate war-heavy novels may like it more than I did.
The Stonegate Sword
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