Book Review: S.M. Stirling’s The Sword of the Lady

Posted May 23, 2015 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: S.M. Stirling’s The Sword of the Lady

The Sword of the Lady


S.M. Stirling

It is part of the Emberverse #6, , series and is a science fiction, apocalyptic that was published by ROC Hardcover on August 25, 2009 and has 496 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.
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Other books in this series include The Change: Tales of Downfall and Rebirth

Other books by this author which I have reviewed include A Taint in the Blood, Council of Shadows, Shadows of Falling Night, Dangerous Women, Dies the Fire, The Protector's War, A Meeting at Corvallis, The Sunrise Lands, The Scourge of God, The High King of Montival, The Change: Tales of Downfall and Rebirth

Sixth in the overall Emberverse apocalyptic science fiction series and revolving around Rudi Mackenzie. It’s also the third novel of Emberverse II: The Change. If you’re interested, there is a chronological listing of the Emberverse books on my website.

It’s August of Change Year 24 (2022 AD), and the expedition has reached Des Moines while Rudi and Edain are heading into the Wild Lands, formerly known as Illinois.

My Take

The story revolves between the “states” that have allied as the Meeting of Corvallis, the battles they fight against the CUT, but most of the story is about Rudi and his company.

This is a journey with purpose — besides getting that sword that is supposed to save their world — as Rudi makes alliances every step of the way to Nantucket with Matti’s help in Iowa. The trip has also made him appreciate Matti’s mother, Sandra, more. The reasons for her policies and how they differ from his mother’s. Wisdom he could never have learned otherwise, and it makes him more aware that wisdom comes in many shapes and from many people.

It’s this journey and the time it allows for reflection that solves the problem of who will rule in the future. It also gives Odard time to come to his own conclusions and beliefs while the lessons learned from Master Hao in The Scourge of God, 5, crop up throughout The Sword of the Lady.

“…by following Rudi, I’ve found enemies worth fighting, and a man…a King…worth following. I will follow him and raise my sons to follow his.”

Lol, someone is reading Piers Anthony.

It’s an interesting conversation between Rudi and Colonel Heuisink about the differences between those who were alive before the Change and the Changelings. The colonel notes that the young ones are living the legends while Rudi says that the older ones spent more time living in their heads, contemplating life instead of living it.

“We do not ever know ourselves completely. How can we know another?”

Lady Sandra’s reaction to Matti’s news about the new name for Oregon and their pledges to Rudi is most unexpected. Fred intends for Boise to be part of Montival.

It’s a bit chilling when Rudi and company encounter the bear. One that was pushed by outside forces into being more combative than usual. I suspect it’s Rudi’s ritual that soothes the bear gods and sends bears to slow down the Corwinites chasing them. More chilling is the wrecked ship wedged onshore, the –mund Fitz–, Matti and the Southsiders come upon.

I do like Ritva’s curiosity about the Lord of the Rings and wondering how those Rangers managed to take care of their weapons and clothes, how they paid their bar tab and for their beds at night. It’s something I’ve always been curious about too.

One of the Mackenzie customs is diametrically opposed to the Catholic Protectorate, that of lying with a consenting partner outside of marriage. Rudi makes an interesting point toward the end about the Catholic concern about sins, that “in his experience they also broke their taboos more often than his clansfolk did, and were more likely to practice hypocrisy, and also to wrack themselves with guilt.” Too true.

It took me weeks to read The Sword of the Lady because I kept setting it down. My heart raced, I worried about who would die next, what direction the next battle would take. And I had to read on, if only because I love the warmth of Rudi and his care for the people who follow him, his honor in taking on such a task while knowing what lies ahead for him, that he dwells on how others rule their own, and especially that he is willing to learn.

This story is particularly interesting as Stirling provides us with a tour across the northern border of the United States, of groups of people who have survived and their customs. I’m looking forward to, with trepidation, reading The High King of Montival.

“…where you are, home is. For there my heart dwells.”

The Story

Rudi and Edain must retrieve the wagons Ingold had to abandon and get them back to Des Moines to save Matti, Ingolf, and the rest.

Nor is it easy for those they left back home in Oregon, for the Cutters are allied with Boise and Pendleton and coming after the Mackenzies, Portland, Corvallis, and the rest.

It’s Heidhveig’s vision that tells the Bjornings to aid Rudi, for if he fails, Ragnarök will come.

The Characters

The expedition is focused on…

…reaching Nantucket and retrieving the sword. Rudi “Artos” Mackenzie is their leader and Juniper’s son. He’s still riding Epona. Edain Aylward Mackenzie is his childhood friend, blade-brother, sworn man, and a champion archer. Garbh is Edain’s half-mastiff bitch. Princess Mathilda, Matti, is the heir to the Portland Association and a good fighter herself. Father Ignatius is of the Shield of St. Benedict at Mount Angel and has been chosen by the Virgin Mary in The Scourge of God. Sir Odard Liu, Baron Gervais, is falling in love with Matti, although it won’t interfere with his plans for her. Ingolf Vogeler is a mercenary originally from Wisconsin; now he’s a prisoner in Heasleroad’s jail. Mary (she still has Rochael) and Ritva Havel are twins and Rudi’s half-sisters. They’re also excellent scouts. Mary is engaged to Ingolf. Fred Thurston is the youngest son of the assassinated president of Boise and getting cozy with Virginia Kane, a rancher’s daughter who fled the CUT.

Des Moines is…

Bossman Anthony Heasleroad‘s turf. And he’s a madman. Kate Heasleroad is Anthony’s wife, and she actually loves him?! Tommie is their son. Annette is his nursemaid. The State Police are his household troops, a.k.a., the Brute Squad. Captain Edgar Denson is their leader. Captain Butler is one of the guardsmen. Farmers and Sheriffs are titles much like count and baron are in the Protectorate. Vaki is short for evacuee; think peasant and you’ve got it. They have a Cardinal-Archbishop.

Colonel Abel Heuisink is a landholder and part of the Progressive party, the opposition to Heasleroad. His son Jack served with Ingolf and they’re friends. Tancredo is a smuggler and a friend of Ingolf’s.

The Southside Freedom Fighters are…
…some of the wild-men Rudi and company have met along the way. This particular group is much more civilized. Well, at least they don’t eat their victims. Jake sunna Jake is the big man, chief, of the Fighters. His brothers are Murdy, Tuk, and Samuel.

Their enemies include the Knifers.

Readstown, Wisconsin is…

…part of the Free Republic of Richland and where Ingolf came from. His brother, Ed, is the Sheriff and head of the local National Guard. It’s a toss-up as to whether Ingolf will be welcome. Mark, Dave, Melly, young Ingolf, Sue, and Jenny are Ed and Wanda‘s kids. Kathy and Alice are Ingolf and Ed’s sisters, both married. Aunt Cindy.

Pierre Walks Quiet is Ojibwa and their chief forester and game warden. Weiss is one of the young men with whom Rudi trains. Al Clements was the bossman back in Ingolf’s youth; now his son Bill is the leader. Harry is the cousin-in-law of Ed’s sister, and he’s married to Janet.

Norrheim, Maine used to be…

…Aroostook County. Now its residents follow viking ways and its religion. Heidhveig is their leading seer who communes with spirits. Seems she knew Juniper before the Change. She also knew Sandra and Norman Arminger. Thorlind Williamsdottir is a godwoman, a seer who now leads the seidh group. Sven Jacobsson and Ingmar Marcellesson are part of Kalk the Shipwright’s garth and seeing Heidhveig safe to Eriksson’s.

The steading of Godhi Bjarni Eriksson is…
…also known as Eriksgarth and is the senior chiftainship, head of the Bjornings, and home of the Althing‘s meeting ground. Harberga Janetsdottir is Bjarni’s wife. Swanhild is one of their children. Gudrun is his sister. Roderic Karlsson, Thorolf Pierresson, and Olaf Davesson are some of his men. Hrolf Homersson thinks he can best Mary. *snicker* He’ll accompany them to Nantucket as well. Ranulf Waltersson is Bjarni’s uncle and will be the thul of the sumbel, a winter feast and time of oath taking. Sigurd Jeansson was Asgerd Karlsdottir‘s betrothed out on a viking trip. Rudi will name her Ulfhild Swift-sword. Now she’ll take oath to accompany Rudi and company to Nantucket.

Erik Waltersson, Bjarni’s father, was the man who pulled the Bjornings together and ensured their survival. A godhi is a chief.

The steading of Kalk the Shipwright is…
…located in what was formerly Washington County in Maine. Olaf Knutsson is Thorlind’s nephew. Thorleif Heidhveigsson is the man who will seize one enemy ship along with Odinleif, Thorvin, and Freyjadis.

Clan Mackenzie is…

…led by Juniper Mackenzie of Dun Juniper. Sir Nigel Loring is her husband. Their daughters are Maude and Fiorbhinn (she’s the one who’s inherited her mother’s music). Chuck Barstow died at Pendleton in The Scourge of God. Judy Barstow is Chuck’s widow. His son, Oak, has taken over. Timmy Martins Mackenzie is their brewmaster these days.

Dun Laurel
Sam Aylward is its lord, Edain’s father. In his sixties, he’s retired from being First Armsman. Melissa is his wife. Richard is a younger son.

The Dúnedain Rangers are…
…led by Astrid Larsson who is married to Alleyne Loring, Sir Nigel’s son. Little John Hordle is his childhood friend and married to the other leader of the Rangers, Eilir Mackenzie, Juniper’s deaf daughter. They have two children: Beregond and Iorlas.

It’s hard to believe that Sir Nigel, Alleyne, and Little John have been here for 16 years.

The Bearkillers were…

…created by Mike Havel and are now led by Signe Larsson Havel, his widow. Mike Jr. is the heir. Eric Larsson is Signe’s twin brother. Dr. Aaron Rothman is the chief doctor still.

Mount Angel is…

…a military monastery led by Abbot-Bishop Dmwoski. Friar Matthew is a Church courier. Brother Jerome has been assigned as a liaison to the PPA forces in the northeast.

The Central Oregon Ranchers’ Association is…

…referred to as CORA and are a loose-knit organization of ranchers who have allied with Clan Mackenzie and the Bearkillers. John Brown of Seffridge Ranch is one of its leading members.

Corvallis is…

…a university town that has held onto its educational roots. Edward Finney, Luther’s son, has allied himself and his supporters with Clan Mackenzie.

Kyklos is…

…a “scatter of independent villages around Silverton”. Beatriz “BD” Dorothea is part of the imbolc working to raise power, asking for help to see into peoples’ hearts.

Portland Protectorate Association (PPA)

Lady Sandra Arminger is Matti’s mother and a wise and wicked ruler. Jehane is her confidential secretary. The Lord High Chancellor is Conrad Renfrew, the Count of Odell. The Grand Constable Tiphaine d’Ath, Baroness d’Ath, had been a gymnast who had hoped to participate in the Olympics before the Change. Count Piotr Alexevitch Stavarov is one of the vassals they expect to switch sides. Sir Ivo Marks is one of Tiphaine’s protégés and in command of Castle Campscapell.

Barony of Ath
Sir Lothair is the Guard captain. Father Mendoza is their priest. Lady Delia de Stafford is Tiphaine’s lover, but also a witch and High Priestess of a coven. Lionel and Diomede are Delia’s sons and pages to Tiphaine. Heuradys is Delia’s latest babe.

Pendleton is…

…an association of ranchers. Their former bossman, Carl Peters, was kidnapped by the Rangers in The Scourge of God. The association has now allied itself with Boise and the Cutters.

The United States of Boise is…

…led by their first president’s assassin, his son, President-General Martin Thurston.

The Moors are…

…a general term for blaumenn, a.k.a., blue-men. Abdou al-Naari is the part-owner and captain of the Bou el-Mogdad, and he doesn’t trust these men of the Prophet. His family is of the Tidjiane brotherhood. Ahmed is his son. Jawara is his subordinate, brother-in-law, and captain of her sister ship, Gisandu which means “Shark”. Falilu is his bosun. Dia is another of his men, a younger cousin. The Marabout, Cheik Ibra, is a holy man supposedly in favor with the Grand Khalif of the Mourides, another brotherhood which was founded by Cheik Bamba.

The Corwinites are…

…also known as the Cutters or the CUT and are based in Montana. It’s a demon that has infested them, made some of them invulnerable and farseeing. They intend to conquer the world and force all to their way of worship. Major Graber leads the Sword of the Prophet, a military troop, hunting for Rudi and company. The High Seeker Dalan is the man, thing really, in charge. Vender and Roberts are two of his remaining lieutenants. The Bekwa are an Indian tribe who will do scouting for the Corwinites.

Montival is a Changeling name, one created from all the different populations in Oregon. Changelings are those who were born after the Change.

The Cover and Title

The cover has a white background on top. On the bottom half, it’s a smudgy brown with the golden light of the sunset creating a halo around a black vest and pant-clad Rudi, sword over his shoulder, his scabbard at his thigh, and a determined look on his face, standing on the shore of his destination: Nantucket. The origin of the EMP that took down the world.

The title is the object of Rudi’s quest: The Sword of the Lady. Yeah, I don’t think it’s any accident that Rudi was also named Artos at his birth.