Sunday, September 12, 2010

Lincoln’s Sword (EOS/HarperCollins) by Debra Doyle and James D. MacDonald

As brother battles brother in a war that will decide the fate of the nation, a man strides through time and space in order to guide history into its proper course by placing a symbolic blade into the right hands. Lincoln's Sword, the latest historical fantasy by Debra Doyle and James D. MacDonald (authors of Land of Mist and Snow), presents the events of the Civil War through the lenses of symbolism and magic.

Confederate officer Cole Younger is rushed through rites of initiation into "esoteric disciplines" at the urging of a mysterious stranger. Mercy Levering, a talented practitioner of ritual magic, provides comfort to her friend and confidant, Mary Todd Lincoln. Mary is a sibyl, beset with visions of a country covered in the blood and smoke of disunion, as well as those of a mystic sword that is vital to bringing the nation together once again. Both Cole and Mercy are recruited by Mr. Thomas, an enigmatic figure with the ability to travel through both time and space, to ensure that the sword gets into the hands of President Lincoln in an effort to manipulate the events of history to fall into the proper pattern.

The main problem with this otherwise fine novel is the handling of the titular sword. While obviously symbolic of the sacrifice needed to form the Union, it is more often treated as merely a MacGuffin. Its true purpose and the reasons for its importance are ambiguous at best and, in the end, it only serves as the focus of Thomas' various machinations. Setting that aside, the novel's tight pace and multiple points of view keep the reader interested throughout. Further, the use of mysticism and magic within the historical period are handled with a light touch and do not overwhelm the overall story. In the balance, Lincoln's Sword is a good read.

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Shedrick Pittman-Hassett is a full-time librarian and part-time writer trying to do that the other way around. He has written reviews for Library Journal and has also had two articles published in the award-winning Knights of the Dinner Table magazine. Shedrick currently resides in Denton, Texas ("The Home of Happiness") with his lovely wife and the obligatory demon-spawn cats. When not writing, gaming, or watching cheezy kung-fu flicks, he can be found in a pub enjoying a fine brew.

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