- Audible Audio Edition
- Listening Length: 11 hours and 45 minutes
- Program Type: Audiobook
- Version: Unabridged
- Publisher: Audible Studios
- Audible.com Release Date: September 29, 2012
- Language: English
- ASIN: B009J7R2OW
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank:
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The Reluctant Swordsman Audiobook – Unabridged
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The character development was abysmal though, Duncan does his level best to approximate what a reasonable skeptical person might think in Wallie's place and he fails utterly. From the time he awakens our protagonist obstinately doubts the material of his senses in a way that no logical person would, for the first hour it might be reasonable to think you're hallucinating but once days pass it would be clear to anyone but a dullard that wherever you are it's not a place you can easily wake up from. This is clearly Duncan attempting to simulate what a skeptical person might do because it's equally clear that he isn't one himself and has no working understanding of what a person less enamored with his faith might do, think or say.
Wallie Smith/Shonsu's transformation from "reserved skeptic" to "saved sinner" is incredible and I mean that in the classic sense, I don't find it at all credible. Near the beginning of this exceedingly slow paced tale a Demi-God (read Angel) resolves that sex slaves aren't enough to get this guy to believe he's not dreaming (but the sex slave wanted it so that wasn't rape). Naturally as a divine agent this angel's next most persuasive argument is to see Wallie physically tortured for a day or two and then mock executed. Any morally normal person might respond to this with barely suppressed rage and soul deep contempt. Which is not to say I don't understand religious attitudes here, Christians often imagine that god is testing them but they only offer that benefit of the doubt to the God they already believe in, otherwise the next natural assumption is that "the adversary" is assaulting your faith.
So whether Wallie started out as a (twisted simulacrum of) a skeptical atheist or a Believer with a love his for faith there is simply no way to make sense of his instant conversion and submission to the will of the river goddess. Especially because no credible inner monologue is provided Wallie; just takes it on faith and is rewarded for his contemptible obedience to oppression. With no intervening incredulity, or inner struggle either with the concept of faith or having to take a new faith on board and reconciling that with his life history.
All of this would all be forgivable if the entire book weren't hell bent of bashing you over the head with the "submit to will of the god" message, that it manages to back up by implying that the use of reason is vain and prideful. According to this story, just be as obsequious as possible and everything will go swimmingly or at least... according to the divine plan, you still might be horribly injured but what is that measured against the pleasure of the gods? Who are surely just.
I think I was most appalled when just after jumping off execution cliff (leap of faith...is that too subtle for you?) Shorty the angel makes it clear to Wallie that he ought not to be disgusted at the poverty, inequality and slavery of his new world because earth has that too and Wallie wasn't doing anything to stop it here so he has no right even feeling in his heart that such things are wrong because God knows best.
This book is to faith what Atlas Shrugged is to libertarianism, a poorly constructed vehicle that does its best to suborn both the intellect and the moral impulses of the reader by depicting a world spun from the craziest fantasies of its author, where cause and effect are filtered through a surreal star chamber of ideology so artificial that the result is a waxy, lifeless Imitation of truth that fails to be compelling at any level past casual observation.
Duncan creates a world where the population is medieval in nature, everyone lives near the river that runs the length of the planet, people's professions and their ranks within those professions are permanently marked on their foreheads, and the Goddess actively intercedes and performs miracles. Most likely the world is simply another planet, although one where divine actions are common.
Into this world is propelled Wallie Smith, a middle-aged chemical engineer from Earth who recently died. His mind is installed into the body of a 7th-level swordsman (the highest level). After some difficulty in accepting the reality of what he's experiencing, he finally comes around and a demi-god gives him the knowledge and abilities of his host that are related to swordsmanship. Then he also receives a legendary sword and a mission in the form of a riddle. Note that the original owner of his host body, Shonsu, was given the same (or a similar) mission and failed. The remainder of the first book is his integration into the world and his efforts to get out of the temple city and on with his mission. This is not as easy as you would assume, as the swordsman garrison in the city is corrupt and its leadership is trying to steal the Wallie's sword.
The plot of "The Reluctant Swordsman" isn't epic by any means, but it's an interesting introduction to the culture of the world he's now residing in. There's character development, particularly with Wallie who has a difficult time handling the casual slavery of the society as well as the casual murder by the swordsmen.
Books two and three get more interesting, as the mission unfolds and we learn more about sorcerers, the enemies of all swordsmen. The people in Wallie's group also grow and develop and become major contributors to the mission. A lot of times things don't go very well for Wallie. The epilogue at end of the trilogy, however, is very satisfying. We see how Wallie's educated 21st-century mind combined with Shonsu's physical skills and mental responses is exactly what was needed to complete the mission. This, despite the fact that Wallie's mind and Shonsu's mind (such as it was) were constantly in conflict.
◘ Too much introspection and second-guessing by Wallie. While this is integral to the story, I think it's overdone.
◘ The pacing of the first book was too slow. It was essentially a very long introduction—a full-volume prelude to the actual story.
◘ I figured out two of the major mysteries in the story well before Wallie did. Specifically, the nature of the sorcerers' fire demons and how they were able to transmit information quickly over long distances. This was doubly annoying because Wallie is a chemical engineer and should have put the clues together well before I did. I was thinking, "Open your eyes. THINK! The clues are all there!"
◘ Author Duncan has created a believable, consistent world with characters that I was interested in.
◘ Wallie's second meeting with the demi-god, where he was shown a small bit of divinity, was fantastic. You hear about such things in the Bible, for instance, but Author Duncan does a great job of showing how even modern man can't handle seeing the nature of the divine (even in a small dose).
◘ The writing is good and easy to read.
I found it interesting to see how Duncan would try to incorporate two people into one body. The swordsman and the American. At first it was the swordsman was an information and skill bank which the American could tap when the plot demanded. The rational and emotional areas were the American's. Then, late in the book, deeper emotions like rage and bloodlust were the swordsman's. Weirdly, love was the American's. The swordsman was given no thoughts. The book ended with situational splitting.
The book would have an amazing depth (but perhaps a slow plot) if Duncan could somehow show his readers what it would mean to be two people at the same time. The perceptual discontinuity of seeing the same thing interpreted two different ways or the memory discontinuity of the same trigger bringing up two different memories or the physical discontinuity of being a heroic hunk and a geek office manager, would present a writer with difficult passages. But, heck, Duncan choose this as his story and he should probe the idea some.
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