Recent Reading: The Sword Smith by Eleanor Arnason

It says on Amazon:

The Sword Smith tells the tale of Limper, a master sword smith running from an oppressive boss-king who forced him to make junk, and Nargri, his young dragon companion. Written in the early 1970s, and published in 1978 by Condor, The Sword Smith is an anti-epic fantasy. In a new Afterword written for this edition, Arnason describes the characters as “mostly fairly ordinary people, rather than heroes, wizards, and kings. Their problems are ordinary problems, rather than a gigantic struggle between good and evil. There is no magic. The dragons are intelligent therapod dinosaurs, and the trolls are some kind of hominid, maybe Neanderthals. In many ways, it is a science fiction story disguised as a fantasy.

This is only sort of true. I guarantee that some of the problems are not in the least ordinary. In fact, now that I think through the story, almost none of them.

Nor does this story read like anti-epic fantasy to me. Let me see, what does seem like an anti-epic story, where the problems are mostly ordinary and the people mostly ordinary . . . okay, The Sharing Knife series is anti-epic. (Mostly.)

I would say that The Sword Smith reads more like . . . hmm. Like a series of folk tales, kind of. Like Norse mythology, a bit. It’s very episodic and there is no real plot as such. You know Mark Twain’s famous dictum that “A tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.” This one kind of doesn’t.

Limper is more interesting than likable, though I certainly didn’t dislike him (or I would have stopped reading the book). Nargri is a fine character too, but in fact given the description I would never have thought of her people as intelligent descendants of therapod dinosaurs. I get that this book was published back in 1978, and maybe we didn’t know yet that therapods were feathered, but I did not really get the impression that Nargri was fundamentally bipedal, and that really means that Arnason didn’t draw me a very clear visual image of her people. It’s true that her people make stuff and build stuff and use stuff, all of which implies bipedality, but the way everyone’s first reaction to Nargri is “a big lizard” and the descriptions of her running make me want to envision a big Nile monitor or something like that, which is not at all what any theropod ought to look like. Kate Elliot captured them much better in her Spiritwalker trilogy.

Yet for all that, I found the story surprisingly compelling. I blasted right through it. I liked the detailed descriptions about smithcraft, and the completely non-ordinary problems that Limper and Nargri got into were often very tense, and I whooshed right through the whole story nearly in one sitting, not counting breaks to take the puppies for long walks in this beautiful weather.

So, yep, ordered Woman of the Iron People. Looking forward to trying that one, and I expect to like it. I do wonder whether it will have been put together more like a regular novel, though.

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