Customer Reviews: Sir Stalwart (Book One of the King's Daggers)
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on March 13, 2000
It's dedicated to Anne McCaffrey, and why not? This book does for Duncan's 'King's Blades' series what the Harper Hall trilogy did for her Pern series: offers a portal for the younger reader to enter without condescending to the older reader. The language is simpler, which lends a sense of urgency to the narrative, and the moral choices are clear-cut. At the time of the Monster War, Candidate Stalwart (known as Wart to his friends) becomes the King's secret agent against a magical plot where a magically-bound Blade would be detected. With hastily-defrocked White Sister Emerald and a load of stinking garlic, he rushes along his mission, tipping his hat to McCaffrey and T.H. White along the way. Keep in mind that the Blades books are darker and not meant for Harry Potter fans. Duncan rewards older readers with a closer look at the weird magic of this world, and a closer look at the White Sisters and their magic-sniffing talent. The sisters see everyone as a blend of the four real elements (earth, air, fire, and water) and of the virtual elements (death, love, time, and chance): one real, one virtual, so they characterize someone as a fire-death person, or an air-chance person. Duncan himself? All eight elements contend in his books, but somehow love always balances the equation.
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on November 26, 1999
When I heard that Dave Duncan was writing a Young Adult companion piece to his Tales of the King's Blades series I was very excited, because the latter ranks in my best fantasy series top 3, along with Robin Hobb and George RR Martin.
Sir Stalwart is clearly written for the younger reader, with a shorter word count and less complex, complicated plot. But it's still vintage Duncan: breathless excitement, great characters and fresh, exciting prose. So few authors these days seem to know how to string words together in an excitingly visual way. The booskshelves are crammed with dull, pedestrian, ordinary prose. Not Duncan. He really knows how to paint a picture with words ... other writers would do well to read his books with an eye to seeing how good prose is written.
While I regret the inevitable condensation of this tale, I still highly recommend it to all action fantasy fans of any age. Roll on the next installment!
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on March 13, 2000
A small Blade? That would be a dagger, and it also describes poor Stalwart, more accurately described as Wart. He's a shrimp, although he can fight like a buzzsaw, and so he's the perfect fellow to be sent on a dangerous mission without being 'bound' as a magical 'King's Blade.' I kept waiting for Wart to pull a sword from a stone, and the boy didn't let me down. Dave Duncan is obviously holding himself back in this young-adult version; it's still intense and rough, and he's obviously forging and sharpening another one in the wings. Go, Dave! Yahoo!
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on January 24, 2000
This is a great small novel which introduces the character of Sir Stalwart into THE KING'S BLADES' SERIES (from Dave Duncan). It is a short novel, shorter than I usually like, but can be read in a few sittings. It has good characters, plots, writings, etc... Hard to put the book down at points(stayed up until 4 am to finish it on a work day). If you want something to get you started on a series, this book is it... Dave is now one of my top four writers(Feist, George R. R. Martin, Robin Hobb).
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on November 18, 1999
I love this guy. Duncan's characters *breathe*. His heroes and heroines have failings and foibles just like the rest of us and they don't always win. One thing Sir Stalwart shares with the other books about the Blades, it's exciting, well-written fun. Not as deep or thought-provoking as his other works set in the same universe, but a terrific read all the same and one I'd recommend to any fan of swashbuckling adventure. Got it on Wednesday, finished it on Thursday and had a hard time putting it down to do *anything* else - including eating or sleeping.
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Dave Duncan takes his "Blades" series to the young adult level in "Sir Stalwart," a new subseries about a not-yet-bound Blade and his adventures. Well thought-out, well-characterized, and sprinkled with sharp dialogue and a tight political storyline, this is a book for those who like the sword part of sword-and-sorcery.
Stalwart (called Wart) is one of the King's Daggers, one of the young men trained to become the elite Blades when they are older. Unfortunately, he is also shrimpy and sweet-faced, though he is an expert swordsman. When a senior Blade shows up, Wart is not bound through the magical sword-striking ritual, but he is initiated into the Blades through only his word, so he can be sent on a secret mission. Elsewhere, the White Sister Emerald sees a giant spider, and is expelled from the order when she refuses to deny the spider's appearance.
She ends up travelling to another city with the disguised Wart as her driver, but senses that he is not what he claims to be. And when they stop at an inn, Emerald meets a woman with a hideous good-luck charm and a sad-faced doctor who asks for her help. She and Wart soon become enmeshed in a frightening tangle of sorcerers, rogue White Sisters, and a political plot that stretches to the King himself.
Duncan shifts effortlessly into kids/YA territory, with minimal awkwardness. This book is essentially a clean, profanity-less version of his adult Blade tales, with the same fast pacing and heavy machinations. He doesn't dumb down anything for the kids, and so adults will probably enjoy "Sir Stalwart" as much as their kids will. The only signs of transition problems are things like Wart thinking "Oh, vomit!" (at an all-boys academy, he didn't learn to swear?) or the comment "Peculiarer and peculiarer" (an awkward homage to Lewis Carroll?).
His fantasy world is very like medieval Europe, with some not-so-subtle differences. The idea of the Blades (who obey their king because of a magical ritual where they get stuck through the heart with a sword) is exceptional, and plenty is done with this idea. The White Sisters are also given some more dimension, a nunlike order that has the ability to detect magic. Duncan displays that even they are subject to political pressure, even if the means to an end are wrong.
Wart is a likeable hero: He shows fear, courage, irritation, cockiness, humility, and occasionally rage that overshadows everything else. In a reversal of "you can't judge a book by its cover," his sweet boyish exterior hides a passionate swordsman with a somewhat seedy past. Emerald (also known as Lucy Pillow) is a good counterpart as the cool-headed voice of reason, a strong female character with a brain -- and perhaps a future love interest in Wart. Sir Snake will catch attention and interest of the readers, while the repugnant Thrusk will have readers hoping that Wart dispatches him in a particularly gross way.
Fans and newcomers to the Blades series will love this fast-paced, high-intensity fantasy thriller. A great read.
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on February 20, 2002
Sir Stalwart is a wonderful book, the first of a trilogy. It has a great plot, the characters are described well, and it's action-packed. Science Fiction or Fantasy fans would like it the most, probably. If you've already read it, go on to the next two, The Crooked House and Silvercloak. Silvercloak's my favorite.
As for plot, Stalwart is sent on a secret mission, a very dangerous secret mission, to help find some people that want to kill King Ambrose. How? They use a White Sister (a person trained to detect magic) for bait. When they (Stalwart and Emerald, the White Sister) are captured by those who they are looking for, and Stalwart meets an old enemy, the suspense builds up until the final scene.
Sir Stalwart is a very entertaining read, a book that can be read over and over. It's a young adult book, and I totally agree with the age rating. BUY THIS BOOK!
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on February 28, 2000
This was more of a novelette in length. But it was a rip-roaring read. I couldn't put it down. A straightforward plot. The ending was a bit of a letdown and the sense of urgency created in the first chapters diminished as the book unfolded. Nevertheless, it's worth taking a look at. I look forward to the next installment of the King's Daggers.
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VINE VOICEon June 13, 2011
Stalwart hopes he will be picked to become one of the King's Daggers. He doesn't expect it, but he hopes. In the initial selection, he is not chosen, but is given a secret assignment that will let his dreams come true.
Emerald is one of the White Sisters, women who can sense magic. The White Sisters have become valuable lately as there have been several attempts on the king's life. However, due to circumstances totally unfair, Emerald is kicked out of the order and must make her way with just the itchy clothes on her back.

Fun, with characters I enjoyed. A good world. Stalwart is an energetic, likable guy, and Emerald is not annoying though I thought for sure she would be. A quick read.
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on February 24, 2008
Duncan delivers a fun, swords and sorcery romp in a short book that you don't need to invest hours slogging through. Too often there are books out there that simply can't stand on their own without being 8-900 pages in length and Duncan seems to avoid this.

Now, if you have never read any of the King's Blades before, there are some gaps in this story line that will not make as much sense for you. The concept of Soldiers who are magically indentured to their King and thereby granted exceptional skills and unfailing loyalty is cool. The rest of the books in this series seems to go into more detail on that.

Sir Stalwart focuses on one particular Soldier(blade to be) and the mission for which he becomes famous. Duncan does a good job of building a complete character and surrounding him with exposure to other legendary characters and the solid foundation of the King's Blades series. This makes for an enjoyable, fun read if you have already been immersed in the series. The quirks and strengths that make Stalwart who he is are central to the story line.

I really enjoy the way that Duncan creates new main characters for each installment in the series. He doesn't just write the same guy with a different name and that makes it fun to explore. It's not Epic Fantasy, but it's fun when you are taking a break between the Erikson and Wurts' series that demand so much concentration.
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