A Plague of Swords by Miles Cameron
a review by Michael R. Brush
This is the fourth book from Miles Cameron and one can only gape at the cover – the artwork and the enticing title make you want to pick up this comfortably hefty novel. Indeed once within the covers and reading away, I was reminded of three greats – L. Sprague de Camp, H. P. Lovecraft and a liberal dosing of Edgar Allan Poe, most notably his three tales which featured the investigator Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin. With all that behind him, I think I have to explain why I only gave A Plague of Swords three stars out of five.
It kicks off with an interesting Prologue where we encounter a Beastie which made me feel it was made to make us recoil in revulsion – well done that it is, once you start to wonder why it is the way it is, some of its power to disturb is gone. Unfortunately a lot rests on this. Then we are thrust into the main narrative without any break – we come upon the main characters recovering from what seems to be the immediate aftermath of a battle. There is, however, no recap or helpful list of Who’s Who, which would have made carrying on less daunting. The maps, good as they are, do not extend to one of ‘The continent’ where a great deal of the action takes place.
Indeed, one has to also wonder about what period this fantasy is set in, given the amount of technical terms and details (by the time I was a third of the way through I had read ‘in full harness’ enough to last me for a trilogy – and nowhere are we actually told what that means, I assume it means wearing full plate armour and the context would seem to bare me out, so why not use different descriptions?) The almost same place names – Venike for Venice, Rhum for Rome, are just too close to being anything other than mildly annoying. Even though I found them only mildly tedious, it is a fairly constant irritant – for me it is better to stick with what we know or go the full hog and change them entirely…
Unfortunately, Cameron allows this sort of detail to slow the novel down and it becomes a hotchpotch of parts rather than a novel which seamlessly interweaves the style of the best writers (L. Sprague de Camp and the Others). This is tragic as when Cameron let’s himself go, he does write fast paced action narrative engagingly. He demonstrates this in parts throughout the book, right up to the end where the novel ends in something, for me, of a whimper rather than the promised collision of grand forces. It was written almost hypnotically good, yet a whimper, is I’m afraid, a whimper.
So, perhaps I should say why I’m giving A Plague of Swords three stars out of five, after all that. Firstly, this is Cameron’s fourth book and I’m sure that his fans will love it just as much as his earlier books. He did grip my attention with his writing, which is no mean feat, even if he didn’t always keep it. Thirdly, the sea battles were nothing short of what the front cover promises and scenes, and writing, such as that are their own rewards. Finally, the panoramic scale of this undertaking is huge and he does hold it together – it promises that the next book will take up directly where this left off and if you enjoy this volume, I wish you all the best with his next