The Sword of Winter

The Sword of Winter May 3, 2024

Image: Amazon

It’s always interesting to go back to books you read in the past and judge whether or not they’re any good–which of course is really judging whether past you had good taste relative to present you. In high school, I pulled the book The Sword of Winter by Marta Randall off my grandparents’ bookshelf and read it through. I remember enjoying it quite a bit, but not enough to send me on a deep dive into the fantasy genre (though enough to snag it off my grandparents’ bookshelf when they passed away and add it to my own). On revisiting it this week, my younger self’s taste is affirmed: this is a solid little fantasy book that’s worth your time.

Lyeth is a “Rider”–basically an official courier–sworn to the dying Lord of Cherek. While the Lord’s heirs bicker and scheme over who will take his place, Lyeth wants nothing more than to return to the quiet of her home province and forget all about her royal service and the intrigues of the palace. But then she gets stuck with the orphan Emris and roped into the selection of the next Lord in order to avoid chaos and civil war.

Again, I’m no expert in fantasy (though I enjoy it more than I used to), but this seems to be an interesting sample of the genre. There’s no magic and no swordplay, and in fact we seem to be in a world that is just on the edge of leaving the world of fantasy behind. Steam power is on the rise, the telegraph is expanding in usage (almost making Lyeth’s job obsolete anyway), and guns are in common usage. Not, in other words, what you’d expect from reading Lord of the Rings.

And yet, this is also clearly a world more like Frodo Baggins’ than it is yours and mine–and no amount of gunfire can change that. The castle, the foods, the guilds and guards and adventure are all just what we want to read in a work of the implausible past. The grim political wheeling and dealing–George R.R. Martin invented nothing–happens in a background that could just as easily be full of dwarves and giants.

This is especially an interesting book for a a Christian to read, given that the Randall easily could have written better people into her (deeply creative world). Instead, we get a very accurate view of humanity, with all its goodness and sinfulness side by side. We get friendship and backstabbing and kindness and hate and everything across the spectrum of human existence. We even have a mild view of the Gospel here, though I can’t explain it without spoiling the book–just leave it that salvation comes through the giving up of a life out of service and sacrifice for another.

Overall, The Sword of Winter is an excellent little book that you should read!

Dr. Coyle Neal is co-host of the City of Man Podcast an Amazon Associate (which is linked in this blog), and an Associate Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO

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