The Face of Apollo, by Fred Saberhagen

the-face-of-apollo-by-fred-saberhagen coverGenre: Fantasy
Publisher: Tor
Published: 1998
Reviewer Rating: two stars
Book Review by Aaron M. Renn

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In the movie Heathers, Veronica Sawyer’s father asks, “God damn, won’t somebody tell me why I read these spy novels?” to which she replies, “Because you’re an idiot.” I feel the same way about Fred Saberhagen books.

I read and enjoyed Saberhagen’s Berserker works. I think his Empire of the East trilogy is a true masterpiece. His followup Swords trilogy wasn’t nearly as good, but was still very enjoyable. I even bought all seven of his Lost Swords books, in spite of the Swords universe getting old rather quickly. But now that he’s embarked on a series that could possibly be a prequel to the Swords trilogy, I’ve got to say enough’s enough. You’re killing me, Fred. Thirteen books is plenty. We don’t need anymore.

Young Jeremy Redthorn saves the life of a woman named Sal who’s fleeing from the evil minions of Lord Kalakh. He promises her that he will complete delivery of an important pouch she was taking to the Academy far downstream. The pouch contains a mask of the Face of Apollo, who was killed in a battle with dread Hades. When Jeremy puts on the mask, it seeps into his head and suddenly the consciousness of Apollo is inside him.

The book is your basic fantasy adventure story. It starts off slow, but the pace picks up towards the end. Other than a few additional tidbits of information about the Empire/Swords universe, there’s nothing much compelling in this book. If I weren’t such an insane and compulsive collector, I probably wouldn’t bother buying the remaining books in this series. But knowing myself as I do, I’m sure I’ll end up picking them up.

The most interesting thing about the book is trying to figure out if it is really set in the Empire/Swords universe. The general setting rings true (a fantasy world existing hundreds or thousands of years after a change wrought by a high tech culture, a Greco-Roman pantheon, etc). However, there is nothing like an Ardneh cult in the book that conclusively ties it in with the rest. On the other hand, I didn’t read anything that was clearly inconsistent with the Empire/Swords world either. The nature of the gods appears to be different in this volume, but not such that Saberhagen couldn’t explain it away if he wanted to.

While The Face of Apollo is billed as volume one of a series called the Book of the Gods, it is a standalone. No cliffhangers await the unwary. There is no indication of how many books this new series might contain, but knowing Saberhagen, it will probably be a lot.

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