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Bored Sword or Absorbed Sword? (try saying that after a few pints)
Sword of God - Chris Kuzneski
Member Name: SWSt
Sword of God - Chris Kuzneski
Advantages: Cut down plot and characters makes for a terrific pace and entertaining read
Disadvantages: Some aspects of Kuzneski's writing style grate
If I were a lazy little bespectacled monkey, this would be an easy review. Sword of God and its predecessor Sign of the Cross have so many similarities that I could almost just copy my earlier review, replace the odd word here and there and present it as a new review. I Promise I won't, though!
Sword of God follows the further adventures of former US Special Ops soldiers Payne and Jackson. Now retired, they are lured back into the army life for one last mission when one of their former comrades goes missing in mysterious circumstances. As they investigate his disappearance, they start to unravel a terrifying terrorist plot linked to an ancient mystery.
Sign of the Cross followed the tried and tested "religious artefact mystery" plotline and produced a simple, but readable book. Sword of God tries to be a little bit more ambitious. The main focus is on Payne and Jackson slowly uncovering the terrorist's plans, whilst a sub-plot relating to a mysterious archaeological dig adds a further, unexpected danger. Sadly, these two elements never quite work together and always come across as two completely separate plots, with no obvious connection. They do eventually come together - right at the end, but even then it's not terribly satisfying or convincing. In fact, the main plot was actually enjoyable enough on its own and didn't need to be burdened down with anything else. Rather than adding to the pace and atmosphere of the book, the sub-plot actually slows things down and provides an unnecessary and unwelcome distraction. It's almost as though Kuzneski felt compelled to cram in a "religious artefact" element into the plot somewhere, as if he doesn't have the courage of his conviction that the main plot is sufficiently strong to stand on its own.
When it comes to plot development, Sword of God doesn't hang around and proceeds at a terrific pace! It might be plotting-by-numbers (clue at one location leads to clue at another location), but it's insanely readable. One or two minor stylistic annoyances aside (more on those in a moment), Kuzneski has a very strong style, well suited to this type of tale. His prose is simple but effective, and draws the reader in. Before long you find yourself devouring page after page, unable to stop. It's not exactly high literature, but it is massively enjoyable.
It's true that Sword of God is very superficial and character development is non-existent, with none really enjoying what you might call fleshed-out personalities. The skills they possess and their outlook on life is basically determined by the needs of the plot. To keep the pace fast, everything is stripped to absolute basics with all extraneous character information ruthlessly excised. Indeed, such is the lack of characterisation that I can't even remember which is Payne and which is Jackson, unless I stop and think about it. Worryingly, they are the two most developed characters (since they have appeared in two previous adventures), so that gives you some idea of the fate of the more incidental ones!
Kuzneski also has a couple of stylistic flourishes which I found annoying. Firstly, whilst his character development is non-existent, he tends to provide too much information on locations (and, of course, with this sort of title, the characters flit between lots of different places). The openings of chapters can sometimes read more like a guide book than a novel, containing an abundance of facts, figures and history, most of which are completely irrelevant and not even that interesting. It's as though Kuzneski has done lots of research and is determined to share it, whether relevant or not.
Kuzneski also has a bit of an obsession with using and explaining the correct terminology. Much of the book is set in the Arab world, and (for various, plot related reasons), there are times when his characters dress up as Arabs. When this happens, Kuzneski takes great delight in telling us the correct Arabic names for all the items of clothing being worn... and then going on to describe them in too much detail. Given the superficial treatment of more important things like characters and plot, this obsession with small, unimportant details is slightly bizarre and becomes annoying by the end.
A further annoying quirk lurks at the end of many chapters, where Kuzneski tries to provide a "trailer" for what is to come. He will end with sentences like "Little did they know, things were about to get a lot worse". Obviously, he is trying to build the tension and excitement and tempt you into reading some more. Yet, it's also very clumsy but it acts as a constant reminder that you are actually just reading a book that's been made up by the author. As a result, it has the opposite effect to the one intended and rather than contributing to a tense atmosphere, it actually subdues it.
Despite these stylistic weaknesses and minor annoyances, Sword of God is a fun read. There is absolutely nothing original about it, and it follows the same path as so many other books within this genre. Still, it is entertaining and one of those perfect airport or pool-side books that will divert you from endless delays/screaming kids, whilst being simple enough that you can put it down at any point and pick it up again with ease. Superficial, but fun, it's exactly like Sign of the Cross and for once, that lack of originality is not a problem.
Sword of God
© Copyright SWSt 2010
Summary: It might not offer anything new, but by 'eck, it's fun.