Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Gilded Chain, Dave Duncan

The Gilded Chain
Dave Duncan

The Gilded Chain by Dave Duncan is the first (I think) in a set of related fantasy novels following a group of people called Blades. Blades are supremely gifted swordsmen who are magically bound to defend one individual when they graduate from their order. They are trained from childhood to be the best fighters possible, and many go on to guard their king.

As far as I can tell, each book (there are at least six so far) stands alone but tells a tale set in the same universe. I think some books even discuss the same characters at different times, or (possibly) from different points of view. I'm a bit hazy on this, but I have talked with someone who has read several books in the series. In fact, she recommended them to me.

As fantasy, The Gilded Chain is reasonable. It doesn't compare to Tolkien or Donaldson in my mind, but it's OK. It's far better than the early Shanara books by Brooks, for example, and much, much better than the Lost Swords books by Saberhagen, which are just terrible.

But that being said, there is still something here that's not quite right, something just didn't flow for me. Perhaps part of it is the writing, which I found to be serviceable but not great. There were several places where I just didn't like the author's word selections for example, and even when that wasn't bothering me the text still didn't sing, if you will.

The story was interesting in some ways and oddly disjoint in others. It follows one person from the time he joins the guild through the end of his life. But it skips over huge chunks of that life, and occasionally presents events out of order in a way that briefly confused (and irritated) me. And though the author does tie a couple of the sub-stories together in the end, the overall picture remains disjoint and less than satisfying.

I'm not sure I'll read another of these books. Perhaps Duncan gets better with practice, but he's churning these out at a frantic rate (one a year or so, along with other writing, it appears) which leads me to believe that quality is not his primary goal. I'd love to be wrong about that, however, so if you think the more recent tales are better, please let me know.