Swords of Waar by Nathan Long – Book Review [Shadowhawk]
Shadowhawk reviews the sequel to Nathan Long’s Jane Carver of Waar, which he called “a perfect novel”.
“I had thought that it would be next to impossible to top the awesomeness that was Jane Carver of Waar. Nathan Long fortunately proves me quite wrong on that account for Swords of Waar is even better than its predecessor!” ~The Founding Fields
When I read Jane Carver of Waar back in March, the novel proved to be an experience that I hadn’t quite had until that point, at least this year. It was funny, it was serious, it had great characters, some over-the-top sequences that were written extremely well, a protagonist who was as “good” as you can get, a large political conspiracy, lots of adult humour, and so on. Packing all that into a little package like Jane Carver of Waar was what defined the novel for me and showed me that if I thought Nathan Long was a great tie-in fiction writer, he was an even better one when it came to original fiction. As a reader, I had so much fun with the novel, that when I reviewed it, I gave it that perfect 10/10 score, which I hadn’t to any book until that point. In almost ten and a half months of reading some truly amazing novels, Jane Carver still stands out as one of the best, right at the top of the food chain, which is saying something, if you’ve been following my reviews all through this year. Inevitably, I had some really high expectations of the sequel, Swords of Waar, and I kept hoping that Nathan would duplicate the success of the first novel.
In that respect, Swords of Waar definitely threw me for a curveball, and I came away from it amazed. I’ll admit, I had an extremely fanboy mindset going into the novel, and I came away from it an even bigger fan of Nathan’s work. I often remark that I’m a fairly easy sell and that I am generally disposed to thinking quite favourably of what I read, but when I started reading Swords of Waar, I went in with a very critical eye. Those expectations had to be met after all.
When the novel begins, it finds Jane back on Earth, after she was sent back against her will, presumably by the priests of Waar. For the first act, we see a very different Jane than we did in Jane Carver of Waar. She is morose, depressed, regretful, and generally miserable. Even though I was prepared for something like this, it still struck me on an emotional level that Nathan managed to capture those emotions and her feelings so well. It got to the point that if I could reach out and give her a hug, I would. He takes her to the very depths of her depression, to the point where she will do anything, absolutely anything to go back to Waar and live the rest of her life with Lhan, the nobleman of Waar with whom she fell in love with by the end of the first book and who she was with when the priests came.
Nathan doesn’t dwell overlong on her misery however, and she is soon back on Waar, after a string of circumstances that will leave the reader grinning because of Nathan’s tongue-in-cheek solution to the problem. If you loved Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novels, then I think you will definitely appreciate the irony of those scenes.
But things aren’t as smooth back on Waar as Jane had thought. She comes back in the most unlikeliest of places, the grand church of the priests of the Seven in the Oran capital itself. And the priests are most definitely not happy to see that the “she-demon” is back, and with a vengeance to boot. From there, the narrative is all about Jane and Lhan discovering the deepest and darkest secrets of the church, foiling assasinations, organising religious rebellions. As Richard Dean Anderson’s Colonel Jack O’Neill would say, “its all about sticking to the man and doing the right thing”. Incidentally, I can totally see Jane saying something like that since Nathan fills the narrative by several one-liners where Jane references pop culture and the like.
For the entirety of Swords of Waar, Jane is a very different woman. Her experiences on Waar have changed her, and although Oran society is backwards in many ways, such as slavery and misogyny, she couldn’t be happier anywhere else as long as she has Lhan with her. The romance between the two of them is quite stormy, with ample disagreements since Jane is capable of physical feats the likes of which Lhan can, at best, only dream about. He may be a better swordsman and be well-versed in Oran culture, but she has raw power on her side, and an ingenuity the likes of which no Oran can match. In that respect, they make for a great complementary couple, so different from each other, and yet so similar.
Several characters from Jane Carver make a return in this novel. We have Lhan-Lar of course. There is Kai-La, the pirate leader who befriended Jane and the others, even though she later sold them all off like slaves. There is Sai-Far, the first Oran that Jane met, befriended, and helped get his betrothed back to him. There is Wen-Jhai, Sai’s aforementioned betrothed, and her father, the Aldhanan of all Ora. There are some new faces of course, mostly priests of the Seven, but we don’t see much of them as the novel is all told from Jane’s first person perspective. Seeing all these characters come together for new adventures, intense pulp political thriller-adventures at that, was really gratifying. In a book series such as this, having a good mix of characters both old and new is a big draw and Nathan maintains that balance. The focus in the novel shifts from the trio formed inJane Carver of Waar by Jane, Lhan and Sai, to Jane and Lhan’s duo, with the Aldhanan taking a more central role than he did before. his character, as the sovereign ruler of the Oran nation, is explored in quite a depth. He was definitely a standout character this time around, unlike previously when he only showed up in the final act, and for the ending. The characters have all changed considerably, much as Jane herself has, and getting to see those changes as they happen, and their “fallout” was another highlight of the novel.
Having read the comics adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Gods of Mars, the inspiration behind the plot of Swords of Waar is quite clear. But there are several important differences between the two. For one, Jane isn’t caught up in an idyllic realm within Mars’ far reaches where no Barsoomian is permitted unless he or she be on their “final voyage to death”. Instead, she is caught up in the political struggle between the church and the Oran nobles, who are fed up of the church’s controlling practices, and its monopoly of all water resources on dry Waar. Second, she doesn’t explore the nature of the Waarian gods as John Carter does in Burroughs’ novel, but she does help people understand that what may be the power of the gods, isn’t necessarily so, that the human agents are far more powerful than they appear to be. And some other things that I can’t talk about without giving away spoilers.
One of the things that made Jane Carver of Waar so good was that there was a sexual intensity to the narrative. For example, Lhan is a bisexual character, Jane herself indulged in some of it with one of the gladiators she trained with, and there was a strong attraction between her and Lhan that finally found a release at the end. In Swords of Waar that factor has been amped up. One of Jane’s motivations to get back to Waar is that she wants to make out with Lhan. Its not a purely sexual drive however, since she genuinely loves him and despite the differences in their culture (among other things) she does think of having a life of her own with him in it as her equal partner. Throughout the novel, Nathan handles this whole aspect maturity. The sex is an added benefit of the relationship rather than the sole motivator.
As with the first novel, Nathan once more explores the Oran culture, this time through the theology aspect of it all. With her irreverent nature, Jane is ready to challenge everything that the Oran hold dear and what the church teaches them. With the added support of the (inevitable) grassroots religious rebellion, she goes quite a ways to bringing about changes in Ora. For a science-fiction novel, it made for a good change in pace, although I suppose that these things are one of the mainstays of a sword-and-planet story. They certainly were in the Edgar Rice Burroughs book (I’ve listened to the first book by now).
Additionally, the action scenes are just superb. The first novel gave us gladiator combat, daring skyship raids, aerial duels. Swords of Waar gives us a hell of a lot of more daring skyship raids, lots of personal combat one-on-one style, and plenty of superhuman feats the likes of which only Jane can do. There is a very big twist towards the end of the novel however, one that for me was very unexpected, and which turned out to be quite a lot of fun indeed. That marks once of the genius moments of the novel.
Where with Jane Carver of Waar I had agonised over the rating so much, whether to give it that perfect score or not, I made no such deliberations with Swords of Waar. From about twenty percent in, I knew that this novel was a firecracker, and that feeling never changed. All I can say is that if I could give the novel a higher score, I totally would. That I cannot is a big tragedy.