Thursday, July 16, 2009

Fred Saberhagen's Books of Swords

The Book of Swords by Fred Saberhagen

The entire Swords series is comprised of the first trilogy (which stands on its own) and then individual books that carry the story further, each standing on its own but best read as part of the series. Especially notable is that Saberhagen's series of Lost Swords doesn't read as tired and worn out after the first three novels.

The Book of Swords trilogy tells the story of the twelve god-forged swords (each with unique powers) distributed to mortals for a 'great game’ the gods intend to play. Needless to say there are some unforeseen consequences.

The eight Lost Swords books tell the stories of the Swords of Power after the initial trilogy’s climactic battle.

What kept me reading was the fact that the series is filled with interesting characters, including some of the Greek gods themselves, each with lives and ambitions that often are at crossed paths.

To give a flavor for the books, I've included the The Song of Swords below (which is an integral thread woven into the fabric of the novels):

Who holds Coinspinner knows good odds,
Whichever move he make,
But the Sword of Chance, to please the gods,
Slips from him like a snake.

The Sword of Justice balances the pans
Of right and wrong, and foul and fair,
Eye for an eye, Doomgiver scans
The fate of all folk everywhere.

Dragonslicer, Dragonslicer, how d'you slay?
Reaching for the heart in behind the scales,
Dragonslicer, Dragonslicer, where do you stay?
In the belly of the giant that my Blade impales.

Farslayer howls across the world
For thy heart! For thy heart! who hast wronged me,
Vengeance is his who casts the Blade,
Yet he will, in the end, no triumph see.

Whose flesh the Sword of Mercy hurts has drawn no breath,
Whose soul its heals has wandered in the night,
Has paid the summing of all debts in death,
Has turned to see returning light.

The Mindsword spun in the dawn's grey light,
And men and demons knelt down before,
The Mindsword flashed in the midday bright,
Gods joined the dance, and the march to war,
It spun in the twilight dim as well,
And gods and men marched off to hell.

I shatter Swords and splinter spears,
None stands to Shieldbreaker;
My point's the fount of orphan's tears,
My edge the widowmaker.

The Sword of Stealth is given
To one lonely and despised;
Sightblinder's gifts: his eyes are keen,
His nature is disguised.

The Tyrant's Blade hath no blood spilled
But doth the spirit carve,
Soulcutter hath no body killed,
But many left to starve.

The Sword of Siege struck a hammer's blow
With a crash, and a smash, and a tumbled wall,
Stonecutter laid a castle low
With a groan, and a roar, and a tower's fall.

Long roads the Sword of Fury makes,
Hard walls it builds around the soft,
The fighter who Townsaver takes
Can bid farewell to home and croft.

Who holds Wayfinder finds good roads,
Its master's step is brisk;
The Sword of Wisdom lightens loads
But adds unto their risk.

As indicated, the song’s lyrics are woven into the plot lines, adding depth and texture. Beyond what the song's words indicate, the fact that the Mindsword’s stanza is the only one with six lines, or the fact that some swords have two names and others do not, hint as to the direction struggles and conflicts will take as they emerge.

Of great issue for the characters in the story (and debated among readers) is which sword is more powerful, or at least most useful to achieve one's objectives. And to add interest, beyond the hints in the Song of Swords, their strengths and weaknesses are revealed within the action of the storyline.

A listing for the books in the series are:
The First Book of Swords
The Second Book of Swords
The Third Book of Swords
The First Book of Lost Swords: Woundhealer's Story
The Second Book of Lost Swords: Sightblinder's Story
The Third Book of Lost Swords: Stonecutter's Story
The Fourth Book of Lost Swords: Farslayer's Story
The Fifth Book of Lost Swords: Coinspinner's Story
The Sixth Book of Lost Swords: The Mindsword's Story
The Seventh Book of Lost Swords: Wayfinder's Story
The Last Book of Swords: Shieldbreaker's Story

Since publication initial, the books have been combined into three volumes (One for the original Book of Swords trilogy and two for the Lost Swords books). Most are still in print, but I’ve often found them (including the individual mass market paperbacks) available in most used book stores.

If you read the Swords books and still have a hunger for the series, look into The Empire of the East (originally three books: Black Mountains, Broken Lands and Changing Earth) which is set in the same universe as the Swords books, but long before the swords are forged. It gives an explanation to some of the gods, and the development into the gods of the Greek pantheon.

On a final note, as a writer I appreciate the world and characters that Fred Saberhagen created in his Swords series. The way the various parts are developed, from the characters, kingdoms, conflicts, and historical backdrop to the swords themselves, is masterfully accomplished within the context of the overall story arc.

If you're a fan of fantasy and looking for a good set of reads, Saberhagen's Swords books might be just what you've been looking for.


  1. Thanks for the heads up, Terry. I never heard of these books before but I'll look for them now.

  2. Hope they're something you enjoy, Passive-aggressive. If you do read any or all of the Swords books, let me know.