Reviews of Sword of the Spirits, the (1972)
Review by jmmasten (2009-02-04)
In the next few hundred years, solar flares will prompt catastrophic natural disasters, pushing society and civilization back hundreds of years. At least that's the idea behind John Christopher's Sword of the Spirits Trilogy. The SOS books are narrated by Luke Perry and tell the story of his rise from lowly captain's son to king of a vast domain. When the third book opens, Luke is Prince of Winchester, leading a charmed life and well on his way to his prophesied glory. Then, about 100 pages in, tragedy strikes. Rather than bring in sly enemies or vicious monsters, however, Mr. Christopher destroys Luke's life in the most tragically beautiful manner: Luke makes bad decisions and suffers the consequences. You watch, knowing he'll regret his decisions but unable to blow out the match he's burning his bridges with. And a hundred pages later, you turn the last page and sit back, pondering your own bad decisions and what bridges you've burned along the way.
Like most of Samuel Youd's other work under this pseudonym, The Sword of the Spirits is classified as "young adult," and the narrative structure, plot, and writing style are simple and pleasant enough to appeal to young adults. (The night I finished, I picked up at page 43 at 11:45 p.m. By 1:30, I had finished the remaining 170 or so pages.) Hiding just behind the relatively simple plot and style are the complex truths that lie behind all great myths. Most obviously, Luke's trials warn us about the dangers of excessive pride. We see the decisions Luke makes, we know why he makes them, his friends tell him exactly why he makes them, but he never listens. You urge him to---you see the light of hope if he just makes the right decision, but you can't do anything.
It's unusual for an author to keep up a high standard of quality through to the end of the series. It's far more common for the first to be incredible, prompting a sequel, which is (maybe) above average, and then a third installment that usually hits average or just below. And that's how it goes for the rest of the series. I'm happy to report that Mr. Christopher held back his best punches until the last installment.