Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Books of the Swords
The Books of the Swords is collectively a sci-fi/fantasy novel series written by Fred_Saberhagen. Its central theme revolves around twelve mystical Swords forged by the gods, each endowed with a particular power or gift, and how various people acquire and use them. The series spans several decades of time, and features dozens of characters.
Books of the Swords
- The First Book of Swords (1983)
- The Second Book of Swords (1983)
- The Third Book of Swords (1984)
Books of Lost Swords
- Woundhealer's Story (1986)
- Sightblinder's Story (1987)
- Stonecutter's Story (1988)
- Farslayer's Story (1989)
- Coinspinner's Story (1989)
- Mindsword's Story (1990)
- Wayfinder's Story (1992)
- Shieldbreaker's Story (1994)
The Twelve Swords of Power
The Twelve Swords of Power are important elements in the series. The plot of the entire series revolves around the finding, acquiring, stealing, using, and eventual destruction of the Swords for purposes good, evil, or benign.
The Books of the Swords series blends science fiction and fantasy to create unique takes on the staples of both genres. The back story to the Swords universe is explained in Saberhagen's Empire of the East series, for those interested in learning more.
The books are set far into the future, although this is not immediately obvious to the reader at first. Approximately 50,000 years ago, sometime during our third millennia, mankind was almost driven to extinction by a global apocalypse. This is broadly hinted at as being brought on by a nuclear World War. An intelligent super-computer ARDNEH, motivated by a desire to preserve as much of the human species as possible, initiated a physical change to the structure of the world. This change negated the effects of atomic weaponry and most other forms of high technology, and introduced other side effects, such as the creation of magic, gods, and demons. ARDNEH then continued to stabilize and sustain humanity through the ensuing dark ages. However, after thousands of years both ARDNEH's plan and the computer itself have gone slightly haywire. By the time the events recorded in The Books of the Swords occur, ARDNEH has passed into legend, worshipped as a benevolent god.
The gods of the Swords universe are based on various mythological deities, with most coming from the Greco-Roman and Hindu pantheons. They are elements of human hope and imagination that were made real during The Change. As such, they have no real power other than what mankind gives them. When this fact is discovered during the game of the Swords, the gods begin to slowly lose power and then disappear altogether.
Though having no "real" power, humanity has invested quite a bit into their legend during the height of their worship and popularity. Thus for most of the series, the various gods and goddesses hold enormous power over mankind. Though the gods do not like to descend from the heavens and deal with mortals, when they do, they are physically larger than men in build and appearance, have nearly infinite physical power, can break the laws of nature at will and harness magic effortlessly. Gods are far stronger than demons and do not generally fear them.
The gods, after becoming bored with mankind, devise a grand game of survival of the fittest to be played out on earth. So they create Twelve Swords of Power, and scatter them throughout the world, planning to watch and wager over the chaos that ensues. However, the gods find out they have created too well, and that the Twelve hold power over, and can even kill the divine. Faced with their gods' mortality, mankind begins to question belief and faith in them. Ironically, in making the Swords as a game to inflict on man, the gods unwittingly engineered their own demise.
The Demons of Saberhagan's Swords universe are the remnants of atomic weapon detonations, rendered anthropomorphic by The Change. They can take on various forms and appearances, but their natural form is a free floating radioactive cloud. Their mere presence can sicken and injure those who have not magically prepared themselves to resist them.
A demon's power is greater than that of any human, though sufficiently strong wizards can experience some success in warding them off or even controlling them for some time. A demonic attack usually consists of the demon enveloping a person or animal and then devouring their life essence, which is a uniquely painful experience that the demon can prolong almost indefinitely if it wishes.
All demons have a "source of life", which is usually a fairly innocuous object like a mirror, charm, bottle, or weapon. (Compare to djinn. This object does not bear any relation to the demon's physical presence. However, if it can be found control can be exerted over the demon it belongs to, as harm or destruction to the life source will translate directly to the demon.
All demons have names, which they jealously guard. To know a demon's true name is to hold a greater degree of power and influence over it. For some unknown reason knowing their name strengthens binding spells against the creature. Demons can be harnessed and used in these ways for swift transportation, skilled assassins, and horrific, but effective bodyguards. One must be very careful in dealing with demons, as they resent being controlled and will exact a horrible vengeance from their masters if ever they are able to throw off their yoke.
Demons are powerless before the Emperor. Any of his children have the power to banish demons, regardless of power or familiarity, by invoking his name in a verbal command.
Magic is an arcane and subtle art in the Swords universe. It takes a lifetime of training and dedication to pull off the simplest of parlor tricks. The most powerful sorcerers often have several lifetimes of mastery under their belt, as these mighty few have learned to delay aging and death, usually sacrificing their humanity somewhere along the way.
Magic is very fragile; unsheathed blades and other iron or steel objects degrade its power significantly. Thus it has limited martial uses. It is most often used to influence others, to mentally suggest or trick, to tame or calm. It can be used to accelerate healing, and dispel the effects of alcohol and drugs. Many times, armor or other implements are charmed by the use of symbols and spells, to enhance their effectiveness.
Magic can be layered on over time, increasing its effectiveness. If one wanted to shut a door, one could spend literally weeks and months enchanting it, adding one spell on top of another, creating a magical barrier that could stop a determined intruder for days on end.
Like demons, wizards are very picky about who knows their true name, for they are inexplicably made especially vulnerable to spells and magic incorporating this information.
There are three major religious sects in the Swords universe. Although many privately worship their own gods or goddesses in small shrines spread throughout the land, these three are institutions that can be found no matter where one goes.
The White Temple is ordered around the worship of ARDNEH, and holds love and respect for life in high regard. Many of the leading healing centers and hospitals are actually White Temples, and most of what one thinks of as traditional "holy men" are servants of White. In addition to their roles as care givers, they also pray over the dead, give spiritual guidance, help to the poor, and sanctuary to the weak.
The Red Temple is concerned with worship of the flesh. Its chief goddess is Aphrodite. The Red Temple provides and controls much of the traffic in prostitution and drugs, although they also encourage free love, gambling, gluttony, excessive drinking, or anything else that one can derive pleasure from. Most reputable citizens publicly repudiate the goings on at the Red Temple, but of course many also secretly join in the activity.
The Blue Temple worships money, and is concerned with finding, acquiring, and possession of it as an end to itself. It hordes up staggering wealth, but never does anything with it. At one point the Blue Temple hoarded four of the Twelve Swords of Power, including Shieldbreaker, which they never used for fear of losing them. The Blue Temple Horde is the famous secret depository of their holdings, and is guarded by dragons, demons, and the finest physical and magic locks that can be obtained or devised. Security is so absolute that only two or three people at one time ever know its location, and Blue Temple recruits that are used to bring new loot to the Vault are executed immediately after their assignment is complete.
Ardneh is apparently a supercomputer formerly known as ARDNEH made self-aware during The Change. It acted to preserve and defend the remanent of humanity (compare to Skynet) from the effects of a global apocalypse that occurred thousands of years ago. Though the original ARDNEH was destroyed thousands of years ago, it lives on in legend, as a benevolent god worshipped by many, most notably the disciples of the White Temple. Ardneh is depicted in art as having an impossibly broad face with a neutral expression, that gives the vague impression of machinery to those looking at it. ARDNEH had a backup version of itself with more limited capacity based on the moon. This computer is the one responsible for keeping the effects of The Change in place during the time of the Swords.
Mark is the son of the blacksmith Jord, one of the conscripted smiths that aided Vulcan in forging the Swords, losing his arm in the process. Jord received Townsaver as "payment" for his services. A decade later, as the rich and powerful become aware of the Swords, a Duke attempts to take Townsaver from Jord by force. Unfortunately, Townsaver was in Mark's older brother's hands, and he was forced to watch as his brother dies in employing it to defend his mother and sister from the Duke and his bandits. Grabbing the Sword, Mark flees for his life, as the vengeful Duke pursues him.
Even from an early age, Mark is tall and has strength of mind and character. He joins the ranks of the Arthurian Sir Andrew as a teenager, and follows him in many battles against the evil warlords bent on controlling the Swords. In one mission, Mark manages to rescue the princess regent of the land of Tasavalta, becoming her consort in the process. This leads to Mark becoming prince and ruler over the small kingdom. Tasavalta becomes home to many of the Swords, where they are heavily guarded and kept out of the hands of evildoers.
Mark eventually finds out that his biological father was not Jord, but that he is one of the many illegitimate children of the Emperor. This gives him several mystical powers in addition to his considerable mundane ones. Mark is the principal protagonist of the series, and probably the single most experienced human in dealing with the Twelve Swords of Power, with the possible exception of Jord.
Ben becomes Mark's best friend after he is forced to flee from the wrath of the Duke. They remain steadfast friends throughout the series. Ben is a heavily-built, powerful, and extremely plain boy, who grows over the course of the series into a stalwart and dependable man. Since Mark is a paragon of virtue and heroism, Ben plays the role of a more believable and emotionally developed character for the reader to identify with. He suffers setbacks, is frequently unlucky in love, is constantly underestimated by foes and under appreciated by friends. Ben has at times been a dragon slayer's apprentice, Blue Temple guard, soldier, and aspiring minstrel.
The Emperor is the most powerful individual in the Swords universe. He is extremely mysterious, and in fact is seen as nothing more than a fairy tale character by many. He has proven himself immune to all forms of magic, and is not affected by the power of the Swords. Though he never takes sides in any battle, it is apparent that no force on Earth or Heaven truly threatens him. He orders about, banishes, and even destroys demonic forces on a whim. Although the Emperor is totally and incorruptibly good, he does seem to tolerate the presence of evil in general, and act in ways that are hard for many to comprehend.
The Emperor is often referred to as the Great Clown because of his penchant for wearing masks and allegedly playing pranks. When unmasked, he appears to be an average middle aged man dressed in plain gray robes. The Emperor has begat many illegitimate children that have a measure of his power over evil, though they are often unaware they possess it. A person with Imperial blood flowing in their veins may banish demons by giving a command in his name. A commonly used phrase is the rhyme "in the Emperor's name, forsake this game, and begone", which is good enough to hurl a demon to the proximity of lunar orbit.
Late in the series the Emperor identifies himself thus: "Some long ago have called me the Sabbath, or the Covenant--Some have called me Wisdom. Some lately have said that I am the Program of Creation." This, along with his apparent omnipotence, lead many to conclude the Emperor is a universal God, or an aspect of such a being (compare to Jesus).
The Dark King, known also as Vilkata, is one of the chief antagonists of the series, and sworn enemy of Mark. Vilkata is a powerful sorcerer and master of many demons. He will do anything to gain an upper hand over his enemies; as a younger man he gouged out his own eyes as a sacrifice in order to gain the power required to get revenge over ones who had wronged him. Since then he uses minor demons kept in thrall to give him a bizarre form of telepathic vision. He traditionally wears black cloaks over stylized armor. He bears a ringlet of gold on his brow that keeps his long silver hair swept back. His eye sockets are empty -- Vilkata wears no patches or blindfold to hide them which many find unnerving. He employs scorched earth, torture, and other deplorable tactics liberally to strike fear in any who would oppose them. Though an accomplished and feared warlock in his own right, what elevates Vilkata to a global threat is his frequent possession of the terrible Mindsword.
Wood, also known as the Ancient One, is an evil wizard of vast power who long ago gave up his humanity, if he ever possessed the quality in the first place. He represents the arch-villian of the Swords series. According to lore, the only living beings older than Wood are the 50,000 year old Draffut, and the Great Worm Yilgarn, who has also existed for many thousands of years. Wood is mostly humanoid in shape, though he sports hair, claws, and horns like a beast, and has small bat-wings sprouting from his back. Wood fears little in life with the exception of the Swords he does not possess and one or two of the most powerful demons left over from the very end of the Old World. His mastery of magic, millennia of experience, and ruthless cunning make him a most implacable foe.
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