Elizabeth Boyer,
The Sword & the Satchel
(Del Rey, 1980)

Many years ago, I devoured high fantasy novels like potato chips. After a while, I wearied of their sameness -- works derivative of Tolkien or, worse, books seemingly devised simply by playing a game of Dungeons & Dragons and writing down the results.

Some books stood above the rest, however, and some linger in my memory even after all these years. It was time to sample a few of the highlights again, and a good place to start was The Sword & the Satchel by Elizabeth Boyer.

Rich in Scandinavian folklore, the novel -- Boyer's first -- certainly borrows a few pages from Tolkien's playbook. But it seems like many of the similarities -- the unlikely hero, the wise and irascible wizard, the companions found along the way, the magical weapons and the all-powerful foe -- stem less from Tolkien himself and more from the same source material that Tolkien delved so thoroughly.

Boyer obviously has a passion for and exhaustive knowledge of the Norse mythologies, and she draws from them enthusiastically -- from the Volsung sword stuck in a tree to the illusory trials that Thor and Loki faced among the giants. Her hero, the aimless lad Kilgore, is thrust into great matters when the magical Alfar (elven) sword Kildurin appears stuck in the tree in his father's hall. No one can draw it but Kilgore, of course, and that launches an adventure that will carry him north to face the mightiest of evils. Along the way, he will deal with wizards, an enchanted princess, elves, trolls, barrow ghosts and ensorceled wolf-men.

The story is a bit formulaic, but sometimes the formula works. It does so here, because of the richness of Boyer's myth-building and the layered world she creates. I am very glad I read this book again, and I plan to tackle more of Boyer's work soon.

book review by
Tom Knapp

8 April 2017

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