stormin's Reviews > Son of the Black Sword

Son of the Black Sword by Larry Correia
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it was amazing
bookshelves: fantasy, mormon

So this review has basically two parts. Part 1: Why Son of the Black Sword is Amazingly Awesome. Part 2: Why Son of the Black Sword is Astonishingly Mormon. I'll put Part 1 first, since it should interest more people.

Larry Correia is first and foremost famous for his Monster Hunter International series, starting with the eponymous Monster Hunter International. I thought the book was OK, but I wasn't the biggest fan. It was a little too obsessed with the specifics of gun-fighting and (to me at least) read like the first novel it was. I couldn't get into the sequel. (I also really don't like the narrator for those two books on Audible. He sounds like he's trying out for a testosterone supplement infomercial.)

Luckily, my first intro to Correia was with his other series, starting with Hard Magic. Alt-history urban-fantasy? Yes, please. One of my all-time favorite fight scenes from any book was in the story, and the entire trilogy was amazing. The multiple perspectives and alt-history world-building really showed Correia's potential in much more impressive ways (to my mind) than the MHI series.

Still, fantasy is not my thing so I wasn't necessarily going to jump all over Son of the Black Sword when it came out, until I heard it got a starred review at Locus and started hearing some really good buzz. Then I was intrigued. So I picked up, and from that point on could not put it down.

It's just good. A lot of the plot isn't really novel, but that's OK for me. I will always pick elegant execution over rank novelty any time. So we've got the kind of fairly post-apocalyptic science-so-advanced-it's-magic setting going on here, something that Correia doesn't try to hide, but does reveal with relaxes pacing as you go through the book. (Looks like the "magic" is based on forgotten nano-technology.) The world building is very fresh, however, with an interesting caste system that ties into some really great historical back-story. It's also thematically mature (meaning: interesting and complex, not meaning full of sex and gore) with an interesting blend of villains, heroes, and folks who fall realistically and intriguingly in between. The plot is fairly straightforward, as far as the main action goes, but Correia does an unusually deft job of weaving the big picture plot in with the story of his front-and-center characters. This is just one of those work-a-day tasks that writers aren't always really proficient at: can you move the big plot (empire in danger, awakening ancient evil, etc.) without jerking your characters around like marionettes? When it's done well, you don't even really notice it unless you're looking for it, and Correia does it very, very well.

But first and foremost the book was just FUN. Great characters, good dialogue, fast pacing, great action (maybe just a bit too much hack-and-slash at times, but only a bit), and all while you feel like there are things going on that are worth caring about.

The book doesn't end with a cliff hanger, but it does end with a great, great set up for the next one. I can't wait. Definitely will read that as soon as it comes out.

In the meantime, I'm going to put this one in the running for my own personal consideration for 2015 Hugo. (Won't happen cause of politics, but based strictly on quality, the book is that good.)

Now, part 2.

Correia is Mormon. And I don't know what it is about Mormons and fantasy, but it seems to be our literary home. Just ask Brandon Sanderson. And when we're not writing fantasy, we're doing sci-fi. Just ask Orson Scott Card or Brad Torgersen. (And there are lots more.)

What's really fun, as a fellow Mormon, is to see how much Mormonism (either our actual doctrine or just our culture and folklore) influence their worldbuilding. There are folklorish elements of pansychism in Mormon folklore, for example, that showed up quite a lot in Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game series. (Of course, he also retold the Book of Mormon in the Ships of Earth, the origin of Joseph Smith in Alvin Maker, more Mormon theology in the Worthing Saga, and then just wrote explicitly about Mormons in The Folk of the Fringe as well. OSC is all about Mormonism.)

Sanderson's influences aren't as obvious, but they're definitely there. Culturally, his treatment of love and romance is saturated with the marriage-centric and family-centric culture of Mormon Utah in general and BYU in particular. You can tell in several of his books that talking about relationships--especially with an investment / assumption that you should make them work even when compatibility might seem to fade--is in his background. There's this odd simultaneously romantic and pragmatic view of the whole thing that is distinctly Mormon, and he's definitely got it.

There are also echoes and reflections of contemporary discussion of faith as well. Mormons are unusually sensitive to the interface of religious culture and secular society, since we have always tended to stick out as very religious but are also encouraged to be proactively engaged in the world. We have no tradition of monasticism or ascetism. And so, even though this is common to all faith traditions in our secular age, Mormons are thinking a lot about faith and doubt these days, and that came through particularly clearly in Sanderson's Mistborn series. (That, and Alloy of Law, are also where a lot of his relationship stuff comes through.)

OK, back to Son of the Black Sword: Larry Correia's Mormon influences are more pervasive and specific than any other since OSC. [MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD!!!]

In Correia's world, water is impure and specifically salt water. It's not 100% sure why this is, but one thing is certain: no one is safe near the ocean. Only the lowest caste eat fish or live near the shore, any vessel that tries to sail over the seas is attacked and destroyed by demons, and every now and then demons come up out of the water and go on a murderous rampage. You might be thinking Godzilla, but here's a few verses from the Doctrine and Covenants to show how this resonates with Mormons:

D&C 61:13-15
13 And now, behold, for your good I gave unto you a commandment concerning these things; and I, the Lord, will reason with you as with men in days of old.
14 Behold, I, the Lord, in the beginning blessed the waters; but in the last days, by the mouth of my servant John, I cursed the waters.
15 Wherefore, the days will come that no flesh shall be safe upon the waters.

This might sound weird out of context, and I don't want to misrepresent my own faith. If you're curious what Mormons actually believe about this, read here. The point is that there is a folklore about Satan having power over oceans in Mormonism. It is actually wrong (see the link I posted), but it's basically the equivalent of an urban legend: and here we have a world where no one can go in the ocean because it is infested with man-eating demons. Hmm...

Correia's main theme for the book is also one of justice / law, and it closely parallels the way Mormons talk about the Atonement of Jesus Christ. There are too many verses to note here, but the Book of Mormon in particular is full of this idea that you've got a central conflict between the law--which is pitiless and condemns us all--and mercy. How can mercy overcome justice without creating a world of chaos and unfairness? That seems like the central question in the book so far. And no, of course that's not uniquely Mormon. All Christians have theology along these lines, but Correia's take on it seems particularly influenced by the penal substitution variant of the theology that is prevalent in contemporary Mormon teaching about this issue.

And finally, there a few little phrases that have really specific context for Mormons. It's always interesting to hear Mormons use them in unusual ways and settings, and it seems as though convert Mormons are more prone to do it. (Might be my imagination.) One that comes to mind is Glenn Beck, who converted to Mormonism and occasionally uses Mormon phrases on his radio show in ways that I think might confuse his non-Mormon audience a bit. Correia is also a convert to his faith, and he uses the phrase "fulfilled the measure of its creation" which is a very Mormon phrase. (Just Google it and see how many references point back speeches or articles hosted at or domains.)

None of this makes the book better or worse. I don't think it's really intentional. It has nothing to do with trying to preach Mormonism or anything like that. It's just an interesting example of how a writer's background shapes their creative process.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
November 1, 2015 – Finished Reading
November 4, 2015 – Shelved
November 4, 2015 – Shelved as: fantasy
November 4, 2015 – Shelved as: mormon

Comments Showing 1-12 of 12 (12 new)

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Wdmoor Thanks for bringing up the Mormon angle. I know very little about it and it's fun to have some background on Mr Correia's story building process.

message 2: by spikeINflorida (new)

spikeINflorida A interesting and educational review for us non-LDS folk. Thanks Nathaniel!

message 3: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim I noticed LDS elements in this book as well. There's almost an antedeluvian feel to the world he describes before the castes, before the demons in the waters. I'm very interested to see where Correia takes the series.

Mari This is true of nearly all writers. JD Rawlings socialism, CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien's Cathoplicism all make a bit showing. SO the F what?

Mari I'm sorry, and I know you mean well, and this point has a place in an id depth analysis of literature. But I am really fed up with people doing this to Mormon writers only. Yes, of course EVERY writers background informs their writing. But I don't hear people say this first thing about any other religious group. I am not Mormon, so I am not offended for myself, but It bothers me that no one goes Oh, wow, its amazing how Lapsed Anglican elements show up in Harry Potter. And yes, there are those elements in there.

stormin Mari wrote: "SO the F what?"

Sorry, Mari. It's just something I'm interested in, so I wrote about it.

Zacaro Caro I really enjoyed your review. I'm a big Card and Sanderson fan and had a feeling Correia might be Mormon as well, but didn't know until I read this review. I really liked the book, and it was my first exposure to this author. But I wanted to comment that what you said about fantasy being the literary home of Mormon authors is one I've commented on as well. I'm not sure why the LDS culture, folklore, theology, or whatever lends itself to such good fantasy authors but there has to be some truth to that. Thanks for your review I appreciated your quotes of the doctrine and covenants, and explanations and insights.

message 8: by Johan (new) - added it

Johan Israelsson Thanks you. I'm not a fan of Sanderson's incorporation of Mormonism, nor Card's, so I'll start away from this one. Respectfully.

stormin Johan wrote: "Thanks you. I'm not a fan of Sanderson's incorporation of Mormonism, nor Card's, so I'll start away from this one. Respectfully."

Unless you actually are a Latter-day Saint, Johan, I think you'll easily be able to read this book without ever noticing a single thing. The influences are tangential and subtle. Much, much less than Card (who just flat-out rewrites parts of Mormon scripture in multiple series). More subtle than Sanderson's, too, but not by as much. If you're bothered by it in Sanderson, you might be bothered by it in this one too. I'd still give it a try, though. I only noticed the Mormon connections because I am always looking for those as a hobby.

message 10: by Johan (new) - added it

Johan Israelsson Roger that, and thank (phone auto-correct typo in my original post) you for taking the time to clarify, Nathaniel. I will read a few other reviews and make up my mind.

Wdmoor That's too bad. You're going to miss a highly entertaining book...and the sequel is excellent

message 12: by Johan (new) - added it

Johan Israelsson I said I'd read a few more reviews before making up my mind, so we'll see. Thanks though. It's on my radar.

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