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Swords for Hire
Will Allen
CenterPunch Press, 168 pages

David Michael Beck
Swords for Hire
Will Allen
Will Allen grew up in Kettering, Ohio. At Ohio University in the late 70s, he conceived Campus, a comedy radio show, and personally wrote and directed each of the 102 episodes. He was diagnosed with melanoma, a form of cancer, in the spring of 1978. He fought the disease but he died in early 1980, just a few weeks before his 23rd birthday.

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CenterPunch Press

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Cindy Lynn Speer

King Olive is rotting away in a dark, dank dungeon. His only hope is a message that he has managed to smuggle out, written in his own blood. A prisoner of the Boneman, betrayed by his brother who is now the king, he has little hope. King Boonder, a greasy, disgusting creature with a fixation with worms, is content until he hears of this note, and of the unusual heroes who may have gotten it.

Sam Hatcher is a farm boy whose father has realized that farming isn't what the boy wants to do with his life. So, he sends his son to join the Royal Guard, hoping that they will train him to be one of the elite fighters in charge of protecting the king. Unfortunately, he doesn't quite fit. But Captain Clerret isn't willing to give up too easily on the son of an old friend. So he sends him to seek out Rigby Skeet, whose prowess once saved the life of King Olive, but whose independence and strange way of looking at things kept him from becoming a full member of the guard. Sam finds him, the two become a team, and, as the book says, "Two of the most unlikely heroes you'll ever meet."

I found Swords for Hire to be a smart read that doesn't take itself seriously, filled with great characterization, quirky and funny dialogue, and a sense of irreverence that will make it a fun read for kids and adults. It is a very straight forward story, the writer plays with the conventions of the genre, poking fun at it, while telling a strong tale that will keep you reading. The Princess Bride by William Goldman is cited as one of the author's favorite books, and you can see that Will Allen does tip his hat to that work, the influences are strong without making this story any less original.

The characters are wonderful. The good guys are admirable, the bad guys are icky, and even the sole female of the book plays a wonderful and brave role.

The story of the book's production, itself, is quite sad and remarkable. Allen, a college student, twenty two years old and terminally ill, wrote Swords for Hire as a present for his friends and family. Years later, his brother Paul took the manuscript out of hiding, sending it to the Writer's Digest National Book Competition, where it won an award in August 2002, twenty-two years later. I think it's wonderful to see that Allen's brother has brought this present out to the world, both because we can admire a talent tragically -- for all of us who need a good book to escape into, not just his friends and family -- cut short.

I read it in a little under two hours, so I think that even bright kids under nine would love this book. It could also make a great read to the kids, because the characters are well drawn out, each with their own vocal nuances. People will love Sam's common sense, Rigby's oddball wit, and the Boneman's creepy omniscience.

Copyright © 2003 Cindy Lynn Speer

Cindy Lynn Speer loves books so much that she's designed most of her life around them, both as a librarian and a writer. Her books aren't due out anywhere soon, but she's trying. You can find her site at

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