Review: The Swordbearer by Glen Cook

The Swordbearer

by Glen Cook (Wiki)
Night Shade Books
Trade Paperback – $14.95

Genre: High Fantasy

Publisher’s Blurb:
A young man’s dreams of warfare and glory turn into a bitter nightmare when an invading army, led by the Dark Champion Nevenka Nieroda and his twelve Dead Captains, the Toal, besieges his father’s feudal fortress. Nieroda and the Toal demand the surrender of an ancient artifact long-believed to be a myth. With the walls breached and his family slaughtered–or worse–Gathrid flees into the wilderness beyond his familiar castle walls.

Lost and alone in the woods, hounded by the Dead Captains, Gathrid takes refuge in a vast cavern. There he discovers an ancient sword–Daubendiek, the Great Sword of Suchara, the fabled weapon once wielded by the legendary tragic hero of an ancient age, Tureck Aarant. Daubendiek, a restless and thirsty blade, promises Gathrid the ability to claim his vengeance. But as he begins to take that vengeance, Gathrid starts to understand the terrible price that the sword will exact of him. Enemies soon become allies and strange bedfellows abound as the prophesies of an age swirl into chaos.

Reviewed by Superwench83

Afflicted by polio at a young age, Gathrid has never been allowed to play the hero. While his brothers train with weapons and prepare for the glories their prowess will bring, Gathrid watches, and dreams of things that can never be. But when tragedy strikes, destiny calls…in the form of a sentient sword which makes Gathrid its Swordbearer.

Glen Cook’s novel The Swordbearer doesn’t break new ground. It features a magic sword, a dark lord, and a boy thirsty for adventure. But to be fair, these now-cliché elements weren’t so overused when The Sowrdbearer was first published in 1982. Though re-released just last year, this is an early novel from a very respected author known for his gritty high fantasy books. And anyhow, the familiar territory alone shouldn’t deter you. In the hands of a master storyteller, such a tale can be gripping no matter how many times you’ve seen those tropes.


I’ve been a Glen Cook fan ever since my husband introduced me to his Black Company books. And I’ll admit to feeling a bit of déjà vu while reading The Swordbearer. Some of the concepts and twists have strong glimmerings of the Black Company books. Especially regarding the super-magical bad guys and their bickering. It was like meeting the Lady, the Limper, and Soulcatcher all over again. The characterization, though, was very different. The characters in the Black Company books were vivid. The ones in The Swordbearer were flat. Cook writes action and battle and adventure that make you breathless, but what does that matter when you’re not passionate about the characters? It’s mystifying because in his other novels, his characters are deep and living. I think he hadn’t really come into his own as an author yet when he wrote this one. The makings of a great author were there, but he hadn’t developed that skill with creating unforgettable characters yet.

But the signs of what a master storyteller Glen Cook would become are apparent in this novel. Yes, the characterization issues make the book forgettable in the end, but it’s hard to put down nonetheless. You’re in the moment as you read. The action and magic—some of which was explained inadequately, I admit—propel you through the book, compel you to keep reading. Gathrid, while not vivid, is still sympathetic, and you want to see him find a measure of peace.

Ultimately, I felt like this book had great potential, potential which is fulfilled in the Black Company books. (Though I wouldn’t mind seeing The Swordbearer rewritten with more attention to characterization.) If you want to read a Glen Cook novel for the first time, I’d definitely recommend The Black Company. But unless you’re already a Glen Cook fan who’s curious about his other works, I would leave The Swordbearer be.

6 Thoughts to “Review: The Swordbearer by Glen Cook”

  1. David H.

    I agree. I appreciate The Swordbearer for what it is, which is an early work of fantasy by an author I love. It’s such a short novel, so it takes no time at all to get through it, but I left it feeling rather disappointed, and I gave away my copy as soon as I could.

  2. Tia Nevitt

    This was one of a stack of books — mostly reprints like this — that arrived in the mail from Night Shade Books. We are slowly working our way through the stack. This one looked promising to me but I knew that Superwench was a Glen Cook fan, so I gave her the opportunity to read it.

  3. The premise sounds interesting, but since I haven’t read any Glen Cook yet, I guess I should start with the Black Company books instead.

  4. Chicory

    When I first read the blurb, I kept misreading the villain’s name as Total. 🙂

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  6. Aaron Kelley

    I first read this book when I pick it up as a teenager in the mid eighties. It was at the library sale and I suppose I should have guessed that it was not 1 of the best books in the world because it was being sold. Still I picked it up and read it and found it very difficult to get through in my immature mind of the time. The book did leave me wanting more. I want to know more about the characters. I want to know more of the story. I wanted to continue on. Instead I ended up reading it and rereading it on multiple occasions throughout my adult life. Strange as this may seem it’s become 1 of my favorite books. I was very pleased to see it republished a couple years ago although I’m still very fond of my original hardcover library edition. I still hope that plane will 1 day see clear to expanding the life of Gathrid and Theis Rogalla telling us more of their stories.

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