Sword of the Bright Lady by M.C. Planck. ★★★
Wow, am I conflicted over Sword of the Bright Lady. On one hand, it’s not my thing at all. On the other hand, I stayed up until 1 AM to finish reading it.
Basically, Sword of the Bright Lady is a look at what it’d be like to wind up inside a fantasy game. The protagonist, Christopher Sinclair, winds up in another world on complete accident with no idea where he is or how to get home. When he’s drafted into a seemingly endless war, Christopher decides his best chance of survival is start an industrial revolution.
I don’t know where specifically Planck was drawing inspiration from, but if like me you have some experience with Dungeons and Dragons, elements of Sword of the Bright Lady should feel very familiar. When a person dies, tael is gained. If you collect enough tael, you move up a rank, gaining more powers and abilities. The society of Sword of the Bright Lady is extremely stratified along class lines with ranked nobles depending on peasants not only as a means to til the fields but also as a source of tael. Oh, people can also be resurrected or healed depending on how much tael you’re willing to expend.
See my comparison to DnD?
On one hand the approach of “what would it actually be like to live in the world of a Dungeons and Dragons manual” was interesting, although I feel like some things were adapted which shouldn’t have been (“affiliation” i.e. alignment). On the other hand…. it meant that the world of Sword of the Bright Lady felt like the very familiar standard medieval Europe fantasy book.
There were other things that bothered me about Sword of the Bright Lady. For one thing, it really seemed to have a fondness for using elements of Japanese culture (katanas for instance) but the cast was entirely white. The book also wasn’t too great on gender, and I felt like I was never able to get a handle on what women’s role in the society was. I wasn’t thrilled that the inciting incident is Christopher rescuing a peasant girl from being raped by a nobleman – it felt like rape being used yet again as a cheap plot tool, this time to also make the male protagonist look good. I did feel like Sword of the Bright Lady was trying with its female characters, but it kept giving off the vibe of “women are mysterious creatures who cannot be understood by mere mortal man.” It also didn’t help that the women were all very attractive and interested in the protagonist.
Christopher was not a particularly interesting protagonist. He had the feel of being written as an “every man” type character and I usually find those really dull. He also seemed to forget pretty quickly about going home again. It gets brought up occasionally but still seems largely absent from his thoughts. There’s also the problem with narrative tension being lost when you can revive the dead. Plus, the revival and the magic healings made it feel like there wasn’t lasting consequences on the characters, although the end may have challenged that.
But for whatever reason I enjoyed reading Sword of the Bright Lady enough to get to the end and to consider reading the next book. I spent a while thinking about why this might be. Besides the nerdiness appeal of the DnD connection, I think I liked it because the fantasy society is actually going through change instead of just being stagnant. And I really love it when fantasy settings actually experience change.
As I said at the beginning of my review, I’m conflicted. I think this is a case of me liking the plot and core ideas a lot more than I liked the setting, characters, or execution. I’m still evaluating as to whether or not I’ll read the second book.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy from Pyr in exchange for an honest review.