Swords Versus Tanks
M. Harold Page
Review by Elsa Bouet
This is a fast paced novel and, and as expected from the title, full of battles. The title could suggest that the wielded swords might seem archaic and would easily be obliterated by those who hold the tanks, but swords imbued with magic provide more than adequate resistance to the technologically advanced onslaught.
This novel presents three different factions at war. Taking place in the middle ages, the novel introduces us to Sir Ranulph Dacre, a knight and blood brother of the High King of the Runes Isles. His enemy is Duke John Clifford, who wants to take Ranulph’s castle, lands and title. Clifford is also the nephew of the King of Westerland, whom Clifford wants to murder as he wants to accede to the throne. To further complicate the situation of this already troubled and unstable land, another force named Egality, led by a commander named Jasmine, arrives from the future. The Egality is an intergalactic force in charge of delivering freedom to all nations and end the reign of the Elitists, a group we never really meet but said to enslave the planets or nations it conquers. Each of the three sides has specific beliefs which they will use to fight those they wish to conquer. Sir Ranulph uses the magical power of runes, Clifford bases his strength on faith and his being blessed by his priests, and the Egality uses advanced machinery and engineering. The novel therefore places what could be regarded as different levels of advancement side by side in the same historical period, annulling historical continuity to interrogate and challenge the conception of historical progress.
The narrative should not necessarily be judged by its catchy title, as there is more to it than just simple fighting. I found the first three chapters a little difficult to get into precisely because the novel throws the reader straight into descriptions of battle and because some of the descriptions in these chapters are a little repetitive—for example the insistence on Ranulph’s armour and weapons being ‘rune-etched’—and feel a little contrived. This focus on the battle does not provide much room for the reader to get attached to a character or to a faction. While this might potentially be a deterrent to keep on reading the rest of the novel, I think this indifference I felt for the factions or the characters provides an impartiality necessary to assess the politics at play in the novel. The story is not about the characters themselves, as they are mere political pawns. Once the novel reveals the flaws of each ideology, the imperialist attitudes, the hypocrisy, the corruption and the hunger for power of each side, the novel becomes a compelling read. I kept on asking myself which side I thought was worse and kept on reading in quest of redeeming qualities in one of the factions.
As with other alternative history narratives, such as Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle or Ward Moore Bring the Jubilee, the novel begs the reader to investigate the depicted politics, to challenge the idea of progress, to questions the ways in which we represent the past as uncivilised while mistakenly considering our present enlightened.
The novel’s greatest strength lies in its engaging the reader to assess each side and raising questions. It is also a great page turner filled with secrets being revealed, plot twists and cliff-hangers, the main one occurring at the end and making me want to read the second book of Swords Versus Tanks very soon.
This review was first published in Shoreline of Infinity 2.