The Sword and the Chain (Guardians of the Flame, #2)by Joel Rosenberg Published 01 Apr 1984
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WARRIOR, WIZARD, DWARF, THIEF, AND MASTER BUILDER
All of them had chosen this world as their destiny, a realm where dragons were only too real and magic, not science, was the law of the land. Karl, Andrea, Ahira, Walter, and Lou knew there was no going back to twentieth-century America now. Instead they were stranded in a time and place where only healing spells and their own wits stood between them and the sharp, deadly edge of a slaver's blade.
But even if they could have returned home by some sorcerous trick, all of them would have refused the chance, bound by their pledge to bring this incredible realm the one treasure it lacked -- freedom! But leagued against them in their fight were the entire forces of both Wizards and the Slavers guilds. And, in this world where a wrong step or a twisted spell could transform friend into foe, how could Karl and his band fulfill their pledge?
"The Sword and the Chain (Guardians of the Flame, #2)" Reviews
If I recall correctly, I actually read this book, the middle of the trilogy, before I was able to locate a copy of The Sleeping Dragon. This one had just come out, and for some reason all the bookstores only had the new book, and no one was carrying the first one. So, I finally gave in and read it, and loved it. But, apparently I didn’t love it as much as the first volume, because I don’t seem to remember it nearly as well, which suggests that I haven’t re-read it as often.
The book picks up where Sleeping Dragon left off, with a group of former college students choosing to remain in the fantasy world they were transported to by their professor/Dungeon Master. Each of them had to “give” something in order to earn the resurrection of their friend (the “disabled kid” of the previous book), and the most significant of these was former skinny nerd Karl Cullinane, who took on a quest for the powerful cleric that performed the miracle. He agreed to make it his personal mission to abolish slavery in this primitive world. His friends (of course!) agree to help him, and that’s the jumping-off point for the plot of this book.
Of course, abolishing slavery in any world is a long-term project, and so Rosenberg gives us a relatively short-term villain for Karl and his friends to fight (an important slaver), and focuses on how our heroes adjust to the world they’ve chosen to live in. The party is down in the magic department, since the cleric chooses to stay with her sisters in the Tabernacle, and the formerly powerful magician has transformed back into his geeky-engineer self of pre-fantasy days. All they’re left with is the girl who had just joined the game for the first time and was playing, in effect, a first-level Magic User. Fortunately, they picked up a daunting ally: Ellegon, a baby dragon. He’s got certain limitations, though, which they learn about as the first battle commences.
In general, the book has everything you’d expect from the previous one, including those pivotal epiphanies. The first of those comes early on, as Karl learns why his dragon friend is so frightened in certain combat situations. The characters continue to learn and grow, although from looking at it now, I’d say that’s less of an emphasis than it was in the first book. Maybe that’s because there’s a limit to how much growing one character can do in a short trilogy, and Rosenberg couldn’t come up with as many learning experiences for them. Or maybe he just needed to focus more conventionally on plot for the middle book. In all, I still remember it fondly, but not with quite the strength of affection I have of the first book.
My review of the first book in this series talked about how this felt like 'false nostalgia' in a way. That is, this was a book I would have loved at twelve, but didn't read when I was twelve and am now not in a same position to enjoy it.
The Sword and the Chain is a weaker book than it's predecessor. The continuing adventures of a group of University Students propelled into a Fantasy world by the Dungeon Master of their D&D Group. That premise alone should be, and is fun, and I'll talk about the parts I didn't like a little bit later.
The Characters continue to be interesting if for no other reason than while we have our 'Main Character' who is sort of a Nerd transformed into Super-fighter, you get a sense from the others of a divergence of characteristics, opinions, etc. The impression that the course of action they are taking is because of the personalities involved but that were the composition fo the group different, the actions would be different.
Having freed a dragon and slain a Master slaver the group is hiding near a holy order of healers. They realize they cannot hide here forever and set off a ways. They start to persue their goal, given an oath they gave said healers group for helping a friend of theirs last book; To eliminate slavery from the world.
So this sets up the driving narrative of the series one presumes and of this book; Trying to create a community as a base of operations, made up principally of free'd slaves. Setting up attacks against slavers, etc. The book as it goes on also reveals a bit more of the world; the nature of Dwarves and Elves for example, and mysteries regarding what they 'know' of the world. Is their Former DM/Wizard using them as proxies in some sort of War against the Wizards guild? Is the nature of time not as precise here as they first believed? These are interesting mysteries, even if they occasional come across as attempts to direct the plot in contrived ways at times.
The adventure parts of the book are interesting, but it does suffer from some flaws. Some of these are simply a product of the time and place in which it was written. There are two principal female characters from the original troupe; One is not in the book at all, having suffered a catastrophic assault in the previous book. She is 'off healing'. The other spends the majority of the book being Pregnant and existing as a motivation for the principal character. These tropes, which were a little present in the last book become very noticeable in this one. Something I might have overlooked but it's a bit glaring.
The other big problem for me is a problem Ihave with much fiction of this kind. The old trope of introducing Gun Powder as a leveler is here, and I'll admit I just don't find it that interesting.
Related though is a sort of naivety about history, economics and social engineering which tend to raise their head in these sorts of things. There is always much crooning about the outsiders bringing in some superior methodology of technology, but rarely a recognition of what that might entail or how that technology might get away from them, how it might impact the broader society and how it mgiht interact with the magic at the heart of this society. Chattle Slaveries existence is a well researched topic and it's social implications don't' always so neatly align with the idea of 'Evil Greedy Slavers vs. Freedom'. Two of the largest Slave owning Societies in History billed themselves as bastions of Freedom, and I don't think that accidental.
But perhaps that me asking too much of a book series that is fundementally an imagining of 'Wow, how much would it actually kind of suck to be a D&D Character in real life'. That I can still applaud. I'm not sure if I'll continue with the series, but it is a light read.
Fun read. I enjoyed rereading this novel from back in my early D and D days.
The second volume of this series picks up shortly after the end of the first book. The main characters are now forced to deal with the after-effects of the promises they made at the end of the first book, and must start to figure out how they're going to live in a world that is essentially medieval by their standards. As the book rolls along, it becomes clear that Karl Cullinane is going to be the main character of this book. His character gets built out a bit, and he starts to "grow up" as the responsibilities of his mission begin to weigh on him.
One element I didn't love was a "tease" of deus-ex-machina toward the end that implies a major plotline that will come to pass in the future, and which implies a long and interesting backstory, which is never explained. I feel like a major chance was missed here. Having read the next book in the series, also, I happen to know that this thread is brought up yet again, before being dropped yet again, with no satisfaction to be had. This is some long-range planning, here, that I hope will pay off someday.
Overall, this is an interesting thought experiment in how modern people might try to fit into and/or reshape a medieval society.
Great dialog and banter between characters for those who come from the 70’s and 80’s. If you are younger you may not get all the popular cultural references. Not an incredible story but simple and fun.
Having sworn an oath to bring freedom to slaves, Karl Cullinane finds himself at a bit of a loss how to pull it off. It's one thing to have defeated a single band of slavers and freed a dragon from its chains, but changing the whole institution will involve something else entirely. But he's determined, and after all, what a small band of friends can do may well change the world. . .
Picking up right where The Sleeping Dragon left off, the plot wastes no time digging right into the action. Unwelcome in the Society of the Healing Hand, Karl and his friends are camped right outside trying to figure out their next move. Karl's impulsiveness decides about as much as rational thought, and shortly they've got a plan strung together. Though the goal is more nebulous than the first book, the story hangs together more, resulting in a fast-paced trip and a number of intriguing mysteries. And people die. Quickly. Senselessly. Survival is a real struggle.
Also nice was how the story moved beyond its gaming roots, concentrating more on the world and the people in it. The roots are still very evident in places like the miraculous healing potions (everything but death, cured in seconds), but a large part of the story is about settling down, making a home.
Although this book does a better job at handling the characters (mostly due to the current party not having double personalities on everyone), they still show pretty much everything through action, without much backstory or description. The good guys and villains both are pretty straightforward; nobody really breaks out of the stereotype set during his or her introduction. Also really odd was how, after all the effort to bring her home, Aeia decided not to stay. It wasn't clear if her parents had been killed, but it felt like she made the decision far too quickly.
The story has improved a lot from the first book, but there's still not much to grab a non-gamer who would have to wade through the first book to understand what's going on. I rate this book Neutral.