Format: paperback, 2nd revised edition from 2008 (originally published in 1998)
Reading Time: about 3 hours
This was a book that I decided to take a chance on when I was searching for potential purchases on Amazon. Although The Call of the Sword could be considered a classic review considering it was originally published 30 years ago, I bought it fairly recently so it’s not a book I once read and am now re-reading. I hadn’t intended to move it to the front of my queue – there are many more intriguing books waiting there – but I thought since it was short (and I don’t have a lot of reading time right now) I could blow through it quickly and get on to another book. So here’s my review, which is actually not filled with a lot of spoilers, because there is much to spoil.
The first thing one notices when picking up The Call of the Sword is that it’s pretty thin. It’s not as thin as some other books of its era like Elric or Amber, but it’s a quick read compared to today’s epic doorstops. The second thing one notices is that the story is filled with tropes and The Lord of the Rings inspirations: magic sword – check; gloomy evil kingdom nearby – check; mad king and poisonous adviser – check; evil humanoid creatures – check (mandroc = orcs, it’s right there in the name as an anagram!); castle on the border warding against evil – check. I do have to give it kudos for avoiding one trope that I have become bored with – the young teen coming of age. The main character, Hawklin, is no struggling youth; rather, he is a bit older, and though he has lost his memories, there are hints that he has an extensive and mysterious past.
Roger Taylor’s prose is, for the most part, excellent. He does a good job of painting a picture with an economical use of words. Another positive is that Taylor is effective in presenting villagers and common folk as empathetic characters. Unlike Terry Brooks, whose common people of Shannara are virtually invisible, some of Taylor’s common folk are given just enough page time and development to make them feel real and worth saving. It could have been even better with a few more pages and a slightly longer story.
That leads me into discussing a few problems with The Call of the Sword. One is that events are very slow to develop. A mystery builds, characters are presented and developed, and traveling occurs, but nothing much of consequence happens until the last few chapters. By the time things pick up, the story has ended far too quickly. This is what differentiates The Call of the Sword from Elric or Amber stories, which move along rapidly with several action sequences. Also, the main action sequence near the end is not well-described and is a bit confusing…Taylor’s prose was good up to this point, but he really struggles with trying to describe what is happening, and events were hard to follow. Magic is kind of all over the place, with no explanation as to how it works or how much people can continue to use it. The poorly described action sequence and unexplained magic contribute to a rather abrupt ending and left me quite unsatisfied with where the story left off.
The most glaring issue, however, is that there isn’t a lot here that we haven’t already seen somewhere else. It’s abundantly clear that The Lord of the Rings heavily influences this story, and although there are some interesting possibilities, such as Hawklan’s true identity, history carved into the stone of a castle wall, and a series of lords banding together against the king, it seems like I’ve read this all somewhere else. The Call of the Sword is not necessarily a bad story – it’s the kind of book I would have readily consumed in the 80s as a teenager – but it also doesn’t fare well against what is being published today. I might pick up the sequel, The Fall of Fyorlund, after getting wiped out by a giant epic fantasy and needing something simpler .