I realized what was bothering me about Sword of the Lady by the time the endless series (now on its third book in the second chapter of the sprawling Emberverse series) reached Maine, populated by Vikings. Stirling’s original idea for Dies for the Fire was a good one. Tolkien and many fantasy writers have tried to reach back to reconstruct a fantasy pre-history for Europe, Stirling reversed that by constructing a fantasy post-apocalyptic history based on the heritage of the different peoples who make up America. It’s interesting in theory, but it’s also impoverished in practice.
Stirling’s Viking Disneyland Maine is not only implausible, it’s less interesting than the actual Maine. Much less. And that follows true for most of his America or Montival. At every turn, Stirling gleefully tears down every element of the old America, replacing it with a dim feudal society where everyone can only belong to one culture. If you live in Maine, you better be Swedish or learn to pretend. If the Mackenzies were just trying to survive in the first chapter, by Sword of the Lady, Rudi and Mathilda are openly talking about how loyal a vassal Fred will be for their children’s inheritance. Is there anything admirable about that? Only if you contrast it with the sociopathic Cutters who just kill or rape everyone outright. A typical example of Stirling’s subtle touch.
There’s not much to say about Sword of the Lady. This series has gone on too long and it spills into still another book. Sword of the Lady should have been incorporated into Scourge of God. Instead it ends with yet another cliffhanger. Along the way Rudi and Mathilda turn Boise into another feudal kingdom, spend time eating and hanging out in a Swedish household in Wisconsin and then go on to Maine and do the same thing, battle corsairs and finally land on Nantucket, before receiving a vision that the extra-dimensional aliens they call gods, took away human technology to save us from ourselves.