Sky of Swords : A Tale of the King's Blades
by Dave Duncan
Hardcover - 368 pages (October 2000) Harpercollins; 
ISBN: 0380974622
Review by EJ McClure
Check out this book at: Amazon US / Amazon UK

Dave Duncan knows how to spin a ripping good yarn. From the opening scenes at Princess Malinda’s trial to the climactic battle at Ironhall, SKY OF SWORDS is a page-turner. Exactly what we have come to expect of this versatile and accomplished author.

The story opens with the realm of Chivial is at war with the seafaring Baelish raiders led by the wily Lord Radgar. As if this external conflict were not challenge enough for a monarch afflicted with a stingy Parliament, King Ambrose also faces internal resistance to his plan to tax the elementaries, the conjurers’ powerful guilds. An attack by enchanted dogs nearly costs the king his life, and hardens his resolve to suppress the elementaries. Princess Malinda is a loyal subject of the crown; she would like to help her father, but not at the cost of her own freedom. She has already spent most of her brief life in exile from court at her father’s command, and is reluctant to be sent away again just to seal a dubious political alliance. She was just beginning to enjoy being a princess!

The shrewd and charismatic King Ambrose bears more than a passing resemblance to Henry VIII, and in Malinda we can see the shadow of a young Princess Elizabeth awaiting her moment onstage. Duncan skillfully plays on these familiar historical templates as he creates the fascinating historical and political backdrop against which Matilda grows to womanhood. His employment of the magical underpinnings in this richly textured fantasy novel is both subtle and pervasive and we get plenty of heroic swashbuckling along the way.

Thrust unexpectedly into the national spotlight by mischance, miscalculation and mischief, Malinda tries to keep faith with her father’s memory. But her clever and ruthless illegitimate half-brother, Lord Granville Fitzambrose, is a formidable opponent in every respect. Malinda’s kindness and naiveté prove a deadly combination; her every good intention is undone by the ambitions of the powerful men she is forced to trust. Her only true allies are the Blades of the Royal Guard, a cadre of superlative swordsmen. Malinda's first royal act is to go through the magical rites at Ironhall that bind four young Blades to her service. Their loyalty is a double-edged sword; if their ward dies, the bereaved Blades will go berserk. For their sake now, as well as her own, Malinda must survive her scheming court, and the perils of civil war. She must also master her own passionate nature if she is to command respect as Queen of Chivial.

SKY OF SWORDS can be read independently, but it is an integral part of a story arc that includes LORD OF THE FIRE LANDS and THE GILDED CHAIN. A reader with an eye for detail may initially be confused by what appear to be internal inconsistencies, but trust me, once you’ve read all three books, they make perfect sense. Until then, open the pages with an open mind. Prepare to be enchanted.