Friday, August 24, 2012

Oath of Swords by David Weber

I began reading War Maid's Choice and soon realized that it had been far too long since I read the other books; I was lost. It's understandable, as I first read Oath of Swords when it came out in 1995, and the others as they each arrived.

Bahzell Banahkson is a prince of Hurgrum and a member of the hradani race. The hradani don't really equate to one of the traditional fantasy races. In Weber's world of Norfressa, they were either created or genetically altered during the Wizard Wars about twelve hundred years before this story takes place, and they seem to have two main characteristics; they're physically imposing humanoids, and they're subject to The Rage, a berserk state of mind that can come on without warning - very useful in battle, but the other races fear them for their savagery during the wars. They also have foxlike ears. Oooh, halflings have horns!

The story begins shortly after Bahzell's father, leader of the Horse Stealers Clan, has conquered a number of other hradani tribes and is carefully consolidating his power. He seems to be a somewhat enlightened ruler for a hradani. Bahzell is a hostage to the temporary peace in the kingdom of Navahk, ruled by Churnazh. Bahzell discovers Churnazh's son, Crown Prince Harnak, raping and beating a servant girl one night, and in a fit of righteous anger beats Harnark nearly to death, rescues the girl and flees the city, knowing that no matter how justified his actions, it cannot end well for him there.

Thus begins a long and epic journey for Bahzell, who has been chosen to be a Champion of Tomanak, the War God of Light and Justice. He is opposed by the dark god, Sharna, patron of assassins, who "coincidentally" is worshipped by Harnak.

I didn't realize it back in 1995, but as we are all now well aware, Weber loves to set up great long sweeping plot arcs in his stories, and we see the elements all begin to fall into place here.

When Bahzell flees Navahk, he is joined by a would-be bard, Brandark, a Bloody Sword clan hradani whose playing skills are marvelous, but who can't carry a tune in a bucket. The banter between these two throughout the novel is quite amusing, and it covers their strong friendship for one another quite nicely. The troubles with other humans in the first part of their journey establishes nicely for us the environment of ingrained suspicion and hatred the hradani are met with by the other races.

The pair end up joining a caravan in the Duchy of Esgan as guards, where they meet the dwarf chieftain and merchant Kilthandahknarthos - Kilthan. They serve honorably on this mission, and create lasting friendships with Kilthan and his guard captains, which sets up some alliances in later books nicely. They are attacked by bands of "dog brothers" or assassins regularly along the way, who have been set on Bahzell's trail by the servants of Sharna, though it takes him a while to figure out it's him they're after.

When they leave the caravan, Bahzell once again gets himself and Brandark in trouble in the city of Riverside when he defends a woman, Zarantha from being raped - this is getting to be a habit. The woman turns out to be the daughter of Duke Jashan, and needs the help of the pair to return to her homeland. We begin to see the gods' hands in all of this...or maybe it's the author. Again, we get the setup for alliances down the road. Bahzell definitely go above and beyond the call of duty to escort her, then rescue her from evil wizards when she is kidnapped from an inn on the road.

Bahzell is a reluctant hero, and fights against becoming the Champion for most of the book, but when it becomes apparent that he won't be able to do what comes naturally to him - fighting evil whenever it appears - without Tomanak's supernatural aid, he succumbs to the inevitable and is given some special powers and a nifty sword, too. Bahzell and Brandark meet up with the centuries old legendary wizard, Wencit of Rum, while they're on Zarantha's trail, and Wencit deals neatly with the evil wizards, while B&B handle the mere forty or so mundane thugs.

The final encounter which may create an alliance takes place at the end of the novel, when Bahzell impresses a group of halfling sailors and their captain, and he and Brandark sail off into the sunset, ready for the next installment in the story.

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