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Swords of the Horseclans (Horseclans #2), by Robert Adams
Genre: Military Science Fiction
Publisher: Signet
Published: 1976
Review Posted: 8/21/2013
Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: 10 out of 10

Swords of the Horseclans (Horseclans #2), by Robert Adams

Book Review by David L. Felts

Have you read this book?

While I would classify the first volume a being close to heroic fantasy, albeit in a future apocalyptic setting, this second volume in the series, Swords of the Horseclans, is more military fantasy. Book 1 ends with Milo completing his odyssey of leading the Horseclans from the high plains of the middle use to the eastern seaboard, where he establishes them in their new home and forms the Confederation.

Swords of the Horseclans takes place some 30 years after the end of book one. Milo and three other undying (Aldora, Mara and Demetrious) now rule the Confederation, it being a bit larger than in the first book with the addition of some additional territory over the years. With the exception of Demetrious, Milo and the undying rule the confederacy as a benevolent dictatorship, with each member state free to see to its own affairs as long as such affairs include treating the common people well. Demetrious come from a rather decadent ruling class, and has returned to his pederast ways after a brief stab at being a decent human being at the end of book one.

Milo and the Confederation has enemies however, including the 'Witchmen', a group of leftover scientists from before the cataclysm that destroyed civilization. Unlike the undying, these scientists aren't physical immortal. Their immortality is obtained by transferring their minds from one host to another. And now Milo's Confederation faces the largest army ever seen, led by a Zastros, a southern king who vanished into the lands of the Witchmen only to emerge three years later with a new bride that rumors say is a witch. Zatros sets about assembling the largest army ever seen and heads north toward the Confederation and Milo.

While the first book was a pretty linear adventure as the Horseclans neared the end of their journey to find the fabled land of Ehlai, this one is pretty much a medieval military fantasy, write in (sometimes excruciating) detail. If you weren't convinced of Adams' expertise in medieval military trivia, you will be after reading this. We experience the war through the eyes of various leaders and soldiers, as well as from Milo's point of view. We're also introduced to Lekos, the grandson of Lekos we met in the first book (who was a lover to Mara in his youth). Lekos is a prince in the Sea Isles, a group of islands off the coast where Bermuda used to be. He is being courted by Milo and Mara to become part of the Confederation.

There's a lot of exposition here, a lot of details about battles and formations and duels. I didn't find it as entertaining as the first book. Lekos is an interesting character, as is Portos, a captain who defects from Zastros army to join Milo. While Lekos crops up from time to time, Portos disappears after his meeting with Milo. Individually, most of the battles are interesting and energetic, but they begin to wear a bit thin.

Honor, valor and fairness are a big theme with Adams in these books. We like to see the bad guys get what they deserve, just as we like it when an ill-treated good guy gets his chance. There's plenty of that, and it's fun.

There doesn't seem to be much for women to do so far in the first two books, other than be husbands and consorts. We're told about the independence of the Horseclans' women, but so far the series seems to be lacking a female character that actually has a real impact on the story. There's the witch-wife of Zastros here, but she's never front and center as a character except briefly, and as such never rises above the stereotupe of the evil witch wife of Zastros. Mara is co-ruler of the confederacy (along with Milo), but she stays behind to see to Lekos while Milo goes out to fight the war. After a brief appearance in the beginning of the book, we don't even see Aldora again.

The final chapter of the book is a rather lengthy and dry exposition by Milo as he 'explains' the history of the burks and other political entities to Mara in answer to our... I mean her, questions. There's also a good bit of diatribe against the church at the time, which makes pretty apparent Adams' view on organized religion, or at least on the Catholic church.

While Swords of the Horseclans further establishes setting and history, it does so at the expense of its vitality. It's almost like reading instructions on how to repel an invasion and treat underlings fairly.

I've made a loose commitment to work my way through the Horseclans books again. I petered out the first time through, though i couldn't tell you what volume I made it to. If you read book one and liked it, you'll like this one too, although probably not as much. If you're new to the Horseclans, don't start here. Do it right and start at the beginning.
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