Juliet E. McKenna – The Swordman’s Oath

Lately I seem to get across fantasy series of which each volume is relatively selfcontained as they have a beginning and an end while there is still the greater storyline in which it takes place. One of those is The Swordman’s Oath (1999) by Juliet E. McKenna, the second novel of The Tales Of Einarinn. Unlike those other series there is really a gap between events. Most of the previous storylines have been concluded and we are off for a fresh start although the central goal of the story is still the same.

It is this ‘fresh start’ which hampers the story mostly. The reader is halfway the book until events really begin to roll. Until then the pace is quite slow and the events are rather minor and of limited importance. The contrast becomes rather large as much more important things happens in the second half while the pace is increased a lot and events rush ahead, getting to a conclusion very quickly. Other events are then only referenced to which only increases the amount of unevenness in the story development. Most of the characters are the same as before so there is less need for introductions. The advantage of a next novel in a series is that you can put more plot and development into it as you don’t need to waste time setting too much up. The second part actually held more interesting details to be explored but due to the greater pace I only barely did not have the idea that I encountered infodumping. McKenna managed to avoid it outright, but as the time for the events were limited there was little time to do otherwise.

In my review of the first novel I wrote that McKenna chose one main character to tell the story from a first person narrative while she would use several other characters for a number of third person narrative. The reading experience was not great because of that as I couldn’t fall into a decent rhythm. In this novel she used a different main character for the first person narrative and one other character for a third person narrative. This time it worked much better as there was more steadiness between the changing of viewpoints as there were mainly two. What also helped was that the third person narrative told a different storyline that stood apart from the main storyline. Because McKenna didn’t switch that much she was able to create more of connection to the two narrators and develop their characters better. Still it was not really that well done. I remained a bit unsatisfactory on both accounts although there was an improvement compared tot the previous novel. A downside of telling two storylines that do not really complement each other is that there remains less room for the plot. In both cases the plot is fairly straightforward except for one sequence.

The main annoyance I had with the plot were a number of flaws and holes around the moment McKenna was done with the slow uneventful pace and decided to get things going. For most of the first half of the novel the different characters had been concentious regarding the dangers they were in. Then they suddenly decided to drop it all. As a reader you immediately know what is going to happen (and it does), but McKenna pulls off a twist which however leads to a surprising plot shift and also heads to the predicted direction. It immediately becomes clear McKenna was aiming for the plot to go into a certain direction (that is, the aforementioned second half plot), but had no solution on how to pull it off. The result is very poor and flawed and the story barely survives it.

Once the second part kicks in you are willing to forget the bad sequence and see where it goes from there. Unfortunately at a certain point McKenna reveals another plothole which is one of the centers of the following conflicts. She does not manage to explain it and the bad sequence as a result becomes even worse in hindsight.

From then on the plot of the second part does not manage to hold up for some time. I was willing to read over it (again) although the poor plotting did not improve. Once the main character gets out McKenna manages to recover as she gets back to familiar ground, leading to an engaging finale.

Even so, one of the central themes of the greater plot gets unhinged due to the course of the events. For some reason the bad guys choose a more difficult path while there is a clearer and much easier path they could follow. McKenna also attributes some major event in the past to something that seems rather minor in scale. It does not really add up.

My conclusion of this novel is mixed. There is an improvement in the general storytelling which has more stability and McKenna does some good worldbuilding which created interesting things to read about and provides an original setting. On the other side the plot of this novel has some serious holes and flaws that can barely be put aside while the greater plot also gets weakened on several points. So where do I stand now? My initial feeling of this series found certain confirmations on the overall quality while there were parts that were better than expected. I am still interested in how it all work out, although there are still 3 books to go, although my expectations have been lowered. I will not be rushing onwards and I only hope McKenna will keep improving, especially on the plotting.

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