by Debra Doyle & James D. MacDonald
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Debra Doyle and James D. MacDonaldís Lincolnís Sword is an attempt to imbue the Civil War, and especially Abraham Lincoln, with mythology and magic to make the period and situation into a Matter of America, much as Arthur is the Matter of Britain or Charlemagne forms the basis for the Matter of France. In order to do this, they introduce a mystical sword into the Civil War, as well as time jumpers and sybils.
The titular sword is an artifacts whose importance is kept relatively secret, known, apparently, only to the mysterious Mr. Thomas who appears to Doyle and MacDonald's characters at random intervals and offer them advice, training, and instructions. Thomas's goal seems to be to get the sword into Abraham Lincoln's hands, although to what purpose, he refuses to divulge. His appearances to Cole Younger or Padraich Connor seem, at times, to be working at cross purposes.
Mr. Thomas isn't the only one with occult powers, which he can teach to others. Mary Todd is depicted as a natural sybil, able to see the future in her dreams, as is her close friend, Mercy Levering. Although Mary Todd is kept reasonably sequestered from the other characters, eventually attaching herself to Abraham Lincoln, on whom her strongest visions focus, her friend Mercy will eventually become involved with the mysteries of the sword which Thomas is intent on getting to Lincoln.
While Doyle and McDonald are telling an epic tale of the Civil War, Lincoln's fate, and the salvation of the Union, the story they tell is surprisingly intimate. The characters occasionally come into contact with major historical players (and of course, Lincoln, Mary Todd, and Cole Younger are historical in their own right), but the epic battles and momentous events are kept at a distance. Lincoln's Sword is the story of the individuals who fate, and Mr. Thomas, are using for their own ends. This gives the story, even set against one of the defining periods of American history, a relatability.Although Lincolnís Sword is a relatively short novel, the multiple point of view characters, including Younger, Todd, and Connor, make the bookís narrative structure more complex than perhaps necessary. Adding to the complexity is the multiple timelines and short chapters, which means that action jumps around not only between the characters, but also from antebellum to postbellum periods as well as the period of the Civil War itself. This wouldn't have been as large a problem except chapters have a tendency to be short, only a few pages in length, so by the time the reader is used to the viewpoint of Connor or the chronology of 1881 Stillwater, Minnesota, suddenly the setting is 1841 Springfield, Illinois or the viewpoint is Younger's. At times, this constant shifting creates a difficulty in continuity and a distance from the characters.
Because of the themes Doyle and MacDonald play with in Lincoln's Sword, the book seems to want to be an epic saga of good and evil, power and fate. However, the stylistic choices the authors have made undermines any attempt at being an epic vision of the Matter of America. Mostly following Cole Younger, the parts of the novel following Padraich Connor or Mary Todd come across almost as less important aspects of the story which could have been fused into Younger's story a little more thoroughly.
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