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Oath of Swords    by David Weber order for
Oath of Swords
by David Weber
Order:  USA  Can
Baen, 1995 (1995)
* * *   Reviewed by Theresa Ichino

David Weber scores again. He has created yet another fascinating world, one ruled by magic. It goes without saying that he has also created fascinating characters. Weber is probably best known for his Honor Harrington series. However, this tale of heroic fantasy is equally gripping.

Norfressa is inhabited by the Five Races of Man: human, dwarf, elf, halfling, and hradani. (There are half-elves too, but they are not considered a separate race.) It is a world scarred by a cataclysmic Wizards War twelve centuries ago. The white wizards perished in a last stand that permitted survivors to flee to the shores of Norfressa. Hated by all are the hradani, tough warriors who were enslaved by black sorcery and afflicted with a berserker Rage that reduced them to mindless killing beasts. That Rage has bred true in hradani males, and continues to make them feared and fearsome warriors. No one seems willing to remember that the hradani suffered most cruelly of all. Now they dwell apart; any interactions with other races tend to be hostile. Physically bigger than the other Races of Man, gifted with great strength and endurance, their differences are underscored by their mobile, fox-like ears.

Bahzell Bahnakson is large even for a Horse Stealer hradani. Standing over seven feet nine, massively muscled, and even stubborner than the norm for his kind, Bahzell has need of his physical and internal strengths. His father is a shrewd and far-sighted ruler who desires to unify the hradani and bring them peace and civilization. It is a herculean task, given their independent natures, and complicated by the Rage. For political reasons, he has sent his son Bahzell to the Bloody Sword hradani as a peace hostage. Prince Churnazh is a corrupt bully who rules with great cruelty. His example is followed by his equally brutal sons. Like all of Weber's protagonists, Bahzell is honourable and courageous. Unable to ignore the plight of a young hradani girl being viciously assaulted by one of the prince's sons, Bahzell rescues her, leaving Harnak grievously injured. Harnak accuses Bahzell of his own crime and Bahzell is forced to flee, taking with him the youngster and an older servant who is witness to Harnak's crime. Both will be killed if they stay, as rape is the blackest of crimes to the hradani.

After sending the two women to his father's court, Bahzell flees the hradani lands. With him is Brandark, his only friend amongst the Bloody Swords. Brandark a freak in the eyes of his people, is devoted to music, poetry, scholarship, and dandyism. He is also a demon of a fighter. Since Harnak has accused Bahzell of breaking hostage bond, a return to the Horse Stealers would embroil his father in war. Thus the two set forth on an epic journey to places their people have never seen. Their lives are constantly in peril.

Worst of all, as far as Bahzell is concerned, Tomanak, god of justice and war, has decided that it is time for a hradani to become one of his Champions. Like all his people, Bahzell hates magic for the wrongs it did his people, and he has no trust in the gods who lent no aid to the hradani in their time of greatest need. Our heroes' quest south from the lands of the Bloody Sword and Horse Stealer clans to the Land of the Purple Lords is enlivened by Tomanak's messages and portents, but he is not the only god with an eye on the hradani. Dark forces are closing in.

Weber spins a lively tale of adventure, creating rich cultures and fascinating peoples. Bahzell and Brandark are irresistible; brave, generous, and loyal, either would blush to hear such praise. It is a journey of discovery for both, as they learn more about the dark history of their people. No one familiar with Weber will be surprised that the action scenes are vivid and compelling.

I always find a Weber tale entertaining, and I found Oath of Swords particularly intriguing for the rich diversity of peoples and history. I am agog to learn more about the Races of Man, the details of lost Kontovar, and the fortunes of Bahzell, Brandark, and their friends. My only disappointment is the artist's depiction of the hradani; they look like muscle-bound elves with enormously long ears. My own mental image sees soft-furred fox ears the same colour as the individual's hair - delightfully incongruous on the head of a towering barbarian warrior.

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