The Sword of the Spirits by John Christopher (1972) 162 p.
This is the third and final book in Christopher’s Sword of the Spirits trilogy, and I have to say, I can’t think of any other trilogy in which the name is derived from the title of the last entry rather than the first.
Having killed his brother at the climax of Beyond The Burning Lands, Luke is now the ruler of Winchester, and is working to consolidate his power while the Seers – openly a religious order, but secretly working to restore technology to the world – assist him. Other factions, including some within Winchester, are working against him.
I wouldn’t say Luke is a well-developed character, pe se, but he is interesting in the sense that he breaks the mould of the traditional young adult protagonist. There are signs as early as the first book that he is headstrong, proud, self-important and lacks intellectual curiosity (indeed, he rarely seems more than indifferent towards the goal of the Seers). But it only becomes clear towards the end of The Sword of the Spirits that he is, in fact, the villain of the trilogy. The hero is one of his old friends, whose travels and adventures have taken place almost entirely out of the reader’s eye, but who returns at the climax to save the day in a rather unconventional way. Luke is presented with the error of his ways and is begged to reconsider, and – much like the climax of The Guardians – I was honestly uncertain which way it would go; whether he would achieve redemption or sink into tyranny. John Christopher was no George R.R. Martin, but he most definitely didn’t follow the unwritten rules of the genre. I won’t ruin the surprise, but suffice to say that even after Luke makes his choice, the novel ends on a very different note than I thought it would, with a particularly bleak final sentence.
In five years time I will have forgotten the names of all the characters and likely much of the plot as well. I will, nonetheless, remember certain events, and the overall trajectory of the novel. The Sword of the Spirits trilogy doesn’t come close to matching Christopher’s Tripods trilogy, but it’s nonetheless a step above most young adult fiction, and well worth reading if one is interested in the genre.