Susan Dexter: The Sword of Calandra

Swiss longsword, 15th or 16th century

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The second book in the Calandra trilogy is The Sword of Calandra.  I had memories of this one, because this book has (I don’t think this is a spoiler) a detailed and fascinating account of the forging of a sword, which was something I knew nothing about, and which I remember being engrossed in.  I enjoy learning about where things come from and how they’re made, and especially things as dear to my heart and yet present-day-exotic as swords. 

Tristan is in residence in the delapidated castle at Crogen, and preparations are ongoing for his crowning, amid a worsening of the weather – I feel for them, I really do; I’ve been beginning to suspect Nimir’s hand in our winter  – and constant threats from just about everyone in the surrounding countryside.  Elisena has located the royal regalia, and everything is present … Nearly.  They discover that over time and generations of kings and wizards the crowning has become thickly woven through with spells and rituals which must be followed.  And they discover – Tristan being Tristan, the hard way – that trying to take the throne without heeding every detail of the accretion of ceremony could be fatal.  The problem is that they don’t have the king’s sword.  And they very much need the king’s sword.  And therefore this is the quest for this book: locating a blade which has not been seen in centuries, possibly since the last king of Calandra fought the Duke of Esdragon.  It could be anywhere – or nowhere, though they hope that’s not so likely given its lineage and properties.  Once more Tristan finds himself with no other choice but to set out on Valadan – with Thomas at his saddlebow – to try to learn more. 

It’s fun to see how little Tristan expects to be missed when he leaves the castle, apart from Polassar and Allaire and, mostly, Elisena and Minstrel; few enough of the people of Crogen recognize him as their king as yet, especially when he wears what he has always worn and physics old ladies’ cows for them.  He has no real purpose there, and the mission is almost as much to be useful as it is to find the sword. 

They go to Kovelir, in hopes that the old wizard they met last time they were there – Cabal, who knew Tristan’s master Blais – will be able to help them, or at least to sponsor their search through the magic academy’s library.  Instead, through his soft-hearted reluctance to hurt the old man, who has aged and sickened in the months since Tristan last saw him, he finds himself apprenticed.  Which is awkward, at best.  He doesn’t have the heart to break the truth to Cabal, His days are spent with Cabal, and his nights in the library and on the streets searching for first Crewzel’s son and then Crewzel herself, the street magician who befriended him (in her own way) the last time they were in the city. 

All of his spells of seeking seem to come to naught.  Some information turns up in the library, but not enough, and time is running out – and Tristan finally decides his only course of action is to go to Kinark, legendary for its swords and the place where the king’s sword was made, and commission a new blade to the exact specifications of the ancient one.  It’s risky – but there’s no other real choice.  And that is how he meets Jehan, a smith with some very large and very painful demons.  (Given that it’s a fantasy I should specify they’re metaphorical demons…) 

Swords are pretty common Quest items, but this is an uncommon quest.  It’s one man, relatively ordinary in many ways, trying to accomplish something he feels is greater than he is.  Others may have confidence in him, but he doesn’t; he is so very human, believing he is well able to do many things but incapable of a huge number of other things, knowing from experience that however perfectly everything seems to be going it could all blow up in his face at any moment.  Sometimes literally.  He is befuddled at having been pushed to the throne; he is uncomfortable with ceremony and leadership on such a scale; he is scornful of his own abilities as a wizard.  He’s real. 

In Calandra Ms. Dexter continues to present flawed, human, real characters.  They don’t necessarily behave or react as the reader expects them to, any more than almost every human in any of our lives always lives up or down to expectations.  I love the characterizations, and the plots, and the story-telling.  The only thing I don’t love about Susan Dexter’s books is that there hasn’t been a new one in years.  And there’s no information out on the ‘web about her, so far as I can find.

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