Medieval times in the future? That is the premise of The Sword, a novel by Bryan Litfin in the fantasy/adventure genre and the first book in The Chiveis Trilogy. In the year 2042, a virus makes an interspecies jump between simians and humans. As the disease spreads around the planet, untold millions die. Societies begin to fall apart. Ultimately, nuclear war ravages the planet. The few survivors scratch out an existence as best they can. As centuries goes by, societies begin to develop again. However, the world reverts to medieval-style cultures as all modern technology is lost. Historical knowledge is also lost and little is known of “the ancients” who lived four hundred years earlier in the 21st century.
The kingdom of Chiveis is located in south central Europe, isolated from other peoples by the rugged Alps. The prevailing religion is a pagan cult headed by a high priestess who learns that an ancient religion will soon be encroaching on her religious monopoly. Teo and Ana are among those who are beginning to view the Chiveisian gods as evil. As providence would have it, they are swept off in adventure outside of Chiveis where they discover part of an ancient religious book. Teo, both a soldier and a scholar, is able to translate the book from “the Fluid Tongue” (presumably, French) into the language of the Chiveisi. He learns of the One True God and a small community of believers seeks to revive the faith in “the god of the cross.”
The book tries to set a stage where Christianity has been completely lost. What would it be like if God wanted to make himself known again in such a society? What trials and difficulties would the first proponents of the faith in that setting encounter? How would they acquaint themselves with their new-found truth and learn its teachings? Will the masses of such a culture accept the new god?
The Sword is unique in that, while most fantasies are set in the past or in a completely fictitious land, it plays out in the future of our real world, albeit, a world reverted back to a simpler time. The writing is adequate and the story is enough to compel you along. There is plenty of action although some of it is not woven well into the story.
Regarding character development, I found myself wishing for a little more complexity. Teo is a man’s man who can always find his way out of any jam. In this sense, his character is too predictable. He seems to have only one area of genuine struggle. Although he is the scholar who translates the sacred writing, he has the most difficulty embracing the new faith. He cannot seem to distinguish between the words on the page and the God they speak of; between a body of knowledge and the true and living God it speaks of. This struggle should have been fleshed out more; it is resolved too quickly and too easily. Ana, our heroine, seems to have no character flaws at all. And, of course, she is the most beautiful woman in all the kingdom.
There are some interesting characters in the supporting cast. The high priestess is pure evil. I find myself wishing for a bad character that is a little more conflicted instead of being so completely convinced that she is right and her religion is the one the people should continue to embrace when it is so obviously manipulative and contrived.
Nevertheless, the book does a decent job of examining what it might be like for Christianity to try to regain a foothold in an area where it once dominated but eventually became completely lost. It forces the reader to examine with fresh eyes how the god of the cross might again make himself known. Worth the read.