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Sword of Straw, by Amanda Hemingway Book Review | SFReader.com
Sword of Straw, by Amanda Hemingway Genre: Fantasy Publisher: Random House Published: 2006 Review Posted: 6/16/2007 Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: Not Rated
Sword of Straw, by Amanda Hemingway
Book Review by C. Dennis Moore
Have you read this book?
Nathan Ward is just like any other 14-year-old boy in the world. He attends a private school on a scholarship he struggles to maintain, he's got a best friend, Hazel, a loving mother, Annie, and a protective family friend, "Uncle" Bartelmy. Nathan dreams himself into alternate universes in search of three items of power (a grail, a sword, and a crown), his friend Hazel is a budding witch, and Bartelmy is a several-hundred-year-old wizard. And there's the question of his heritage. Nathan's father died before he was born, or so he's been told. But the pictures of his "father" Annie keeps hidden away beg the question of Nathan's dark skin and whether the water spirit that seduced Annie the night her husband died might be the boy's real father. If so, what does that leave in store for his future? Best not to think about that until and unless, Annie decides.
I don't read a lot of fantasy, and I regret it. Especially when I read a book like The Sword of Straw. Amanda Hemingway is a wonderful author and her Sangreal Trilogy (this part I've read of it anyway) is an awesome story. No, it's not particularly original, we've still got the average, everyday boy hero with the "chosen one" aspect to his character. We've got the mysterious items he must find (and a grail and a sword? Der, how long did it take to think of those?), the close friend who knows more than everyone else and is always able to dole out that important bit of information at just the right moment. But for all these everyday plot elements, I still found myself drawn day after day to this story. Mostly on the strength of Hemingway's prose.
Everything changed. He was in a gray daylit room plentifully layered with dust and shadows--the cleaners had obviously gone with everyone else, taking their brooms and brushes with them. On a table by the window was an enormous open book, the reader's place marked with a spoon. Nearby, someone silhouetted against the light was pouring things from one bottle into another, from bottle to jar, from jar to bowl. Occasionally the mixture thus produced would change color, or give off a tiny puff of purple smoke, or the sound of birds singing, or an eye-watering variety of smells. A diminutive oil lamp with a naked flame, currently pale green, stood at hand; every so often the man would lift bottle or jar in a pair of tongs and warm it over the flame, whereupon the contents would bubble, or steam, or scream, until removed. As Nathan drew nearer he saw the man had a fluff of thistledown hair and very mobile eyebrows that soared in excitement and plunged in doubt according to the progress of his experiments. Frimbolus Quayne.
I like that. Nothing too showy, but fun enough to make such a dull description into something interesting. Something else I liked about this book, and its writing; it's very self-aware. Hemingway knows the comparisons stuck-up critics are bound to make, and she's made them already herself, and poked sticks at them:
"There you are. You should be looking for a tarantula."
"Scorpions are cool," another boy said. "Spiders are so last-year."
"I thought the one in Return of the King was pretty good," someone offered.
"Oh, puh-lease! It was prancing around like something out of panto--LOOK BEHIND YOU!--and there wasn't enough yukky stuff when it got stabbed. There should have been lots of fluorescent green goo bubbling out."
"It was better than the ones in Harry Potter. They all ran around like they were clockwork."
"Ten-p in the forfeit box for mentioning the H-word!"
Settling down at last in his tarantula-free, scorpion-free bed, Nathan only hoped their zeal wouldn't disturb their sleep. If they woke in the night and saw him gone--off on some dream voyage in Eos or Wilderslee--there would be panic.
Hahahahahahaha, I love that line. "Ten-p in the forfeit box for mentioning the H-word!"
I assume book one, "The Greenstone Grail," dealt with introducing Nathan and his world as well as his search for the grail, as by this book's start, it's already safely stored away. The Sword of Straw fills in more of the overall story while concentrating mostly on Nathan's quest for, well, the sword. His dream voyages take him to Wilderslee, an abandoned kingdom haunted by Urdemons and populated almost entirely by a young princess, her nurse, a "doctor" (Frimbolus Quayne of earlier), and an ailing king, victim of the Sword's curse. Apparently no one can touch the sword, called the Traitor's Sword, except a "chosen one". Anyone else who handles it wakes the demon living inside it and everyone in the vicinity is killed or permanently injured--like the king.
Nathan's quest brings him to this place where he must not only figure out how to transport the sword to a safe place without touching it, but his affection for the princess also makes him desperate to help save her bedridden father from the wound that hasn't healed in ten years.
Meanwhile forces in Nathan's world are also working against him. Naturally.
Like I said, lots of common plots elements here. But Hemingway makes them, not necessarily fresh, but acceptable. In light of her prose, you don't question the ease of the plot, you just enjoy it cuz it's fun reading.
Will I seek out the other two parts of this trilogy? Probably not. I don't need to read the first part, because I know Nathan gets the grail and he doesn't die, so there's no tension left for me in that direction. And given how many predictable elements were in this second part, I can't imagine there's much in part three that would be terribly unexpected, either. But I would definitely not mind reading another Hemingway novel once this trilogy is wrapped up.
The Sword of Straw isn't anything original, but it's a whole lot of fun and very much recommended.
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