THE WORDSMITHS AND THE WARGUILD (CHRONICLES OF AN AGE OF DARKNESS S - VOLUME 2.) Paperback – 1987
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
ps. hugh cook... if your out there email me please..are a medical man ?. You certainly describe, with relish, many of the more unpleasant medical afflictions out there..
One might view most of the story elements in this book as classis fantasy. Hugh Cook sets himself apart in two ways. First, he has attitude. "The Wordsmiths and the Warguild" is ribald, funny, gleefully offensive and at times almost abusive to its hero, who just can't catch a break. Moreover, Cook has inverted the standard fantasy hero. Togura is neither particularly strong nor smart nor brave. When danger emerges, he screams and runs away if he can. Even his loyalty to his true love wavers at times. In a strange way, though, these flaws make him more likable than standard fantasy drones, and you'll be cheering for him all the louder by the end of the book.
Adding to the flavor of the book is a surprising attachment to grit and realism. These qualities seem largely to have been abandoned by most of today's fantasy authors. Hugh Cook evidently did his homework; "The Wordsmiths and the Warguild" keenly brings up a number of the harsher realities of mideival life, such as:
1. There was not always a road or trail leading from point A to point B. Even when there is a trail it could be overgrown, or washed away by bad weather. Travel was extremely difficult and often dangerous.
2. Sickness and injury. There was no hospitals during the Middle Ages, no doctors, and few medicines. Plagues and epidemics were common. If you were ill or hurt, you might well simply be abandoned to die. If you did manage to survive, recoveries were generally long and painful.
3. Food. Ever find it amazing that some fantasy heroes can carry enough food for a six-month quest? In "The Wordsmiths and the Warguild", food is often scarce. You cannot simply go into the woods and hunt or gather up dinner. Cook is brutally honest about the effects of starvation, and that, in fact, makes some of the book's most effective scenes.
4. Sex. Yes, sex exists in this book. Togura goes through as much sexual embarrassment as any teenage male, as he stumbles through several awkward moments.
No one will ever accuse Hugh Cook of literary brilliance. But despite his undeniable pulp qualities, "The Wordsmiths and the Warguild" is readable, entertaining and at times strangely compelling. Hugh Cook stands out for his observation that the mideival world was harsh, cruel, and frequently very painful. He is obviously driving at a belief that most of the human race is selfish and small-minded. But (with one unfortunate exception) he never delves into political lectures or monologing. Thus I give this book a whole-hearted recommendation. If you're getting tired of the piles and bland and syrupy drivel on bookstore shelves (and I'm not pointing any fingers, but two authors with first name 'Terry' are surfacing in my mind), this might be just the cure for what ails you.
But ... nice, relatively original broad approach, in two ways.
1) The hero just gets buffeted about, little or no control, and definitely little help from the author to propel him onto steadily greater conquests; indeed, he often has no idea what's going on;
2) I didn?t actually realise I'd read the first book in the series (The Wizards and the Warlords) until more than half way in. The only way this book integrates is that instead of it being from the view of people making wars and changing events, it's from the view of someone just bowled along beside and in them, generally with no idea what's going on. Eventually you realise the events are the ones you read about in book one, but you, like the central character, also have no idea and are just getting through trying to survive. One chapter foregrounds this, the narrator saying that, were the protagonist more articulate, in addressing the role of the individual in history he?d state:
'History is what we understand. The rest is a waking nightmare. History is the explanation of who holds the knife. Without that explanation, all we understand is the pain.'
I remember being annoyed at the beginning of the first book at the way Cook blithely has a 3000 year old wizard die because he does some stupid things - that anyone who'd survived for a fraction of that time would have the nous not to do. But he's all about demystifying heroes, saying they do do stupid things at times.
He gets better once he gets into a book. His strengths are escaping the formula success story plots, and rare things like the last quote have some profundity, particularly in the context. In 'A Game of Thrones' George R.R. Martin was likewise willing to let his heroes unexpectedly suffer or even die, but he also built a grand, unified mythology/realm with some cohesive history (as opposed to random ideas), and created some decent characters.
My suggestion - skip this one, save your money and move on to the rest of the series.
Hugh Cook wrote this book as an afterthought, on the recommendation of his publisher. He had already plotted the whole series out, but the publisher didn't think the next book in the series - starring a woman "The Women and the Warlords" - would play well commercially. So this book was written up and quickly published in between, apparently to appeal to immature teenage boys.
It's rather repetitive, doesn't advance the plot much and only touches tangentially on the interesting characters and political developments of the first book in the series. I read it all the way through because I was convinced it was important, somewhere, something would matter. But Togura Poulaan, the hapless hero, doesn't do anything much of consequence and ultimately doesn't even improve his own life. A snore. A friend of mine who is a bigger fan of fantasy generally couldn't even finish it.
It doesn't compare in depth, interest or quality, or any way at all, with Book 1 or Book 3. Skip it.