4 out of 4 stars
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Thirteen-year-old Cale longs for adventure. He dreams of leaving home and traveling the land as a Ranger, protecting the weak, and bringing justice where it is needed. Those dreams are abruptly dashed on the day he loses his family, killed by some of the very men he had sought to emulate. With his village burning in the distance, Cale has nowhere to turn.
Wandering unprotected, Cale is soon set upon by bandits. Sliding down the bank of a river, Cale cowers within a tangled mass of roots. Desperately seeking a way out, the youth pulls hard on a sturdy ‘root’ thinking to use it as a club. Only what he draws from the mud is far more useful… and far more deadly. “Sword,” an ancient and sentient artifact of days long past, bonds with Cale, and imbues him with the power and skills to extricate himself from the situation. Cale has no idea of what (who?) he has discovered. I suppose it is best told in Sword’s words:
“I am a Spirit Sword, … sent to guide humanity on the paths of virtue. You are my Bearer, my wielder, and my sworn brother. It is to you I have been sent, to you I will counsel, and you whom I will serve.”
“For a thousand generations, we raised up Imperial Knights, serving our Bearers till they passed over, then bonding anew. Now, I fear I am the last of my kind.”
The legions of the damned rise in the shadows. With most Rangers corrupted, who is to stop them? Cale’s luck has turned, but with it, he is forced abruptly into adulthood, and the fate of the world is placed squarely on his youthful shoulders.
Within the pages of Spirit Sword by Sam Ford, lies an engaging and fully formed adventure perfect for ‘Young Adults’ of any age. The book has everything needed to make it a classic. Entertaining? Check. Enthralling? Check. Action-packed? Check. Immersive? Double-check. Though this is the author’s first published novel, the quality is superb. Through the flow of the words and the flawless melding of events in the story, Sam Ford presents as a far more accomplished author.
Ford’s world-building is detailed without being overbearing. For instance, you can clearly see the streets in a town, right down to the cobblestones and the windows of the shops lining the street. However, it is not described in excruciating detail down to every nick in the mortar between the bricks. I suppose the best way to describe it is that the reader does not only see the world of Spirit Sword; they also experience it. You won’t exactly ‘feel’ dripping wet when Cale or one of his adventuring friends crawls out of the latest lake, but if you’ve ever walked barefoot through the mud, you will find that you can almost feel it squishing between your toes.
Character development is skillful and unique. You know the feeling you sometimes get that you have somehow met a complete stranger somewhere before? Ford’s characters have been given a depth of personality and heritage that often evokes this feeling. He is an expert in showing who the characters are, not just telling the reader about them. For instance, one demon reminded me very much of the simpering yet very crafty chancellor in The Dark Crystal, complete with the annoyingly whiny voice.
There were a couple of constant elements in the writing that I loved. The first was the tongue in cheek humor the author wove throughout the story. As an example, take the following quote from Sword:
My next favorite element was that while the novel has darkness, it isn’t afraid to show you a thread of hope as well.“Life isn’t a fairy tale, Cale. … This is not a story; you are not the main character, and you are not impervious to stabbing.”
At its heart, Spirit Sword is a coming-of-age story swathed in magic, intrigue, and mystery. Our charmingly innocent young hero begins his journey abruptly, still very much a child when he is thrust jarringly into an adult world. As the story unfolds, the reader watches this unassuming thirteen-year-old slowly mature into his role and discover his calling. The author adopts a slow and steady pace to reflect Cale’s growing maturity. This realistic character development of such a young hero makes him even more relatable. Without revealing any spoilers, I will tell you that at the end of the story, there is an entirely unexpected twist that had me gasping “Just. No. Way!”
There was really nothing I disliked about this book. Reminiscent of the works of George R.R. Martin and Fritz Leiber, it was exceedingly well-written and immersive. I found only five minor errors in its one hundred thirty-seven pages. Given this, I unreservedly award Spirit Sword by Sam Ford 4 out of 4 stars. The only reference to intimacy I ran across was a vague mention of ‘coupling.’ I would recommend this book to almost anyone above the age of (approximately) eleven who enjoys a good fantasy book interlaced with both light and darkness. I cannot recommend it for younger children because there are several semi-violent (but not gory) scenes where many deaths occur.
So, has anyone seen my talking sword?
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