Asulon (Book One: The Sword of Fire)
Date Published: August 6, 2010
Number of Pages: 297
Print Price: $
eBook Price: $2.99
Daniel, a prince of Asulon, returns home joyfully from a year of wilderness survival training, but his joy is short-lived. Enemies murder the king, his beloved father, and will murder Daniel if they can. Daniel must be spirited away quickly and secretly to the safety of his grandfather Anak’s court on the Isle of Logres, where he will undergo a required ten more years of training before he can assume kingship in his father’s stead.
Thus the stage is set for Asulon: The Sword of Fire – Book I, by William R. McGrath. The book’s opening chapters introduce us to the main characters: Daniel and his teacher, Moor, an almost-superhuman warrior; also Daniel’s parents, Argeus and Isolde (daughter of Anak, the last of the warrior angels on earth); Rachel, a visiting princess from Eretzel who has gifts of healing and true visions; and Simon, a wandering priest, wise man and loyal friend, who comes to give warning about the sinister schemes of the king’s enemies.
These enemies are the Builders’ Guild, made up of wealthy businessmen who already have put in place in Gaul a system whereby actual money is outlawed and buying and selling can only be done through census tattoos on each person’s hand. It is a system that will concentrate all State power in the hands of one man.
The leader of the Guild, and the man who plots to hold such power himself, is Sargon – but Sargon is controlled by the sorcerer Aesculapius and, behind him, a mysterious succession of dark beings. These want the powerful Sword of Fire told of in prophecy, but the prophecy also shows that the heir to Asulon is their rival in finding and owning it. Therefore, Sargon is given the assignment of killing Daniel before he can leave Asulon.
The succeeding chapters tell us the adventures of Daniel and Moor, accompanied by Simon and Rachel, as they attempt to evade Sargon’s assassins and reach the safety of Anak’s court on the Island of Logres. Along their way are several desperate fights; indeed, this is a book about and for warriors, in which, from beginning to end, various instances of hand-to-hand combat are described in such loving and exquisite detail as to be overwhelming to the average reader.
This reviewer found herself skimming through many of those scenes to find what, to her, were the more intriguing aspects of story, character, and history in this beautifully imagined world. Here is a fragment from the middle of a tournament fight scene that went on for several more pages:
“As Tricolor’s sword came down, Daniel raised his own sword in an angled block that deflected the force of the cut like rain off a pitched roof. He then brought the pommel of his sword down towards his opponent’s helmet. Not a killing blow to an armored man, but one that could stun him even through a helmet. Tricolor shot his left forearm into Daniel’s right wrist to block the attack, but this meant he now held his sword one-handed.
“Daniel used this opportunity to wrap his own left arm counter-sunwise around Tricolor’s right, trapping his sword arm in the crook of Daniel’s elbow. Daniel raised his own sword arm high and brought the butt down toward Tricolor’s head again. Tricolor caught hold of Daniel’s wrist to block the attack. Daniel’s left arm still trapped Tricolor’s sword arm, but his hand itself was free.
“Daniel brought his sword arm down sunwise near his own left hand and grabbed Tricolor’s right wrist, freeing Daniel’s sword arm. Daniel made a backhanded slash towards Tricolor’s throat. Tricolor ducked, barely missing the blade and came back up with a head butt, which rang against Daniel’s helmet. Daniel released his grip on Tricolor’s left arm and caught the dull back of his own sword with his left hand.
“Turning his wrists so that the edge of his sword faced his opponent’s back, Daniel pulled the edge into the bottom of Tricolor’s helmet working it into the back of his neck. Just then Daniel felt a blow to his lower back. He looked down to see that Tricolor had turned his wrist in and also taken hold of the back of his own sword with his free hand and pulled Daniel into a bear hug with the sword between his hands. Had they been using real swords, it would be too close to say which would have been severed first, Daniel’s back or Tricolor’s neck.”
But the astonishing warrior skills of Moor and Daniel are not all that is needed. As the little group struggle to make their way to Anak’s court, Simon’s extraordinary powers earn Moor’s grudging respect, and Rachel’s gifts also shine out. When they finally do arrive in Logres, they are greeted by even worse calamity than they left behind, but the foursome are now set to move on into the succeeding volumes of The Sword of Fire, and, presumably, more battles with their enemies.
The characters in the book are well-drawn, and the imagery vivid. Simon is introduced thus:
“An old brown bear of a man stood by the hearth. He wore a tunic and trousers the color of ripe wheat, a wide leather belt around his thick waist and well-worn brown boots on his feet. The old man’s round bald head shone above a mostly silver beard, striped here and there with strands of its original golden hue; the skin round his sapphire blue eyes crinkled like old parchment as he smiled.”
There is a somewhat puzzling mix of names and places, as well as Biblical and historical references in this book, and the reader may be hard-pressed to discern how the puzzle pieces fit. The sense of time is also confusing; this is a well-constructed medieval-like fantasy world, and yet it also seems to be pointing clearly to the countries and peoples of our own world, modern, ancient, and mythical – America, England, Russia, Scandinavia, Israel, the European Union, the Middle East.
The characters are decidedly Christian and Biblical references abound; indeed, each chapter is headed by a quote from scripture, and the nefarious financial plans of the Builders’ Guild is a thinly disguised reference to Revelation’s “mark of the beast.” The reader wonders, is this an imaginary world, or not, and how might it relate to our own?
Some of the puzzle pieces finally fall into place near the end of the book, when we learn the history behind the book’s story, a sort of Silmarillion – J.R.R. Tolkien’s backstory of Middle Earth – for this series. It is a fascinating and creative elaboration of Genesis 6:4, that tantalizing bit of scripture which speaks of a time leading up to Noah and the Flood, when the “sons of God” mated with human women to produce mighty warriors.
No more is said in the Bible, leaving fertile fields for conjecture. Who were these “sons of God”? Who were the “Nephilim”? The author dives into the questions with an absorbing tale that rewrites the Creation story, expanding backward into an imaginary time before it, filling out after it, in imagination, the sources of pagan religion and considerable pre-history, and finally tracing the story of Anak, our hero’s angel-grandfather.
This tale brings us up-to-date with the characters in this novel, and we can see more clearly how the people, places and events of this book relate, by analogy, to our own world and time.
In writing this novel, William McGrath has taken on a significant challenge, and done an admirable job. Even with its confusing aspects, the book presents us with a richly imagined fantasy world recognizably related to our own, peopled by interesting and vivid characters, and a story line that promises further excitement and enjoyment as the series progresses. This reviewer is looking forward to more.
Original Language: English
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