________________ CM . . . . Volume XX Number 27. . . .March 14, 2014


The Paper Sword.

Robert Priest.
Toronto, ON: Dundurn, 2014.
222 pp., trade pbk., ePub & PDF, $12.99 (pbk.), $8.99 (ePub), $12.99 (PDF).
ISBN 978-1-4597-0826-6 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4597-0828-0 (ePub) ISBN 978-1-4597-0827-3 (PDF).

Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.

Review by Andrew Laudicina.

***˝ /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



Xemion stood up and opened his mouth to call out to his friends, but stopped. Something was creeping through the undergrowth toward him. Briefly, he caught sight of one famished eye and braced himself for the worst. His hand darted to the hilt of the painted sword at his hip but then came a snort from the other side of him so loud it seemed to shake the ground. Xemion froze…. At first he couldn’t even move to look around, but then a wisp of smoke wafted before his eyes and with it he smelled phosphorous. He turned frantically and gasped: he was face-to-face with a dragon.

…He had never felt such fear. But his hand was only inches from the hilt of the blade. Slowly, he drew it out and held the hilt at his breastbone, cupped in both hands, the point up. A stem unto the sun. The dragon’s lips lifted in a sneer; its pupils contracted to two tight, black dots as it took in a deep, long breath. Xemion, in his most spell-binding voice, intoned “Poltorir!”, the name of the dragon in the saga of Amphion. He went down on one knee in the way proscribed in The Manual of Phaer Swordsmanship. He felt the air rush by him as the dragon filled her mighty lungs. A red glow welled up round the rims of her gold-green eyes. He heard a clicking sound. A spark ignited deep in her throat and then…


Although the Great Kone, the source of all spell-craft, has long stopped turning, young Xemion still holds fast to the ways of old Phaer lore and his dream of one day becoming a great swordsman. Though such traditions are prohibited by the Pathan authorities who rule over his island home, Xemioin cannot resist the temptation to perform in an ancient Phaer ritual after he discovers a piece of driftwood resembling a sword. While he was careful not to draw attention to himself, he is found out and ruthlessly pursued as an outlaw. Forced from his home, Xemion, along with his friend Saheli, flees to the sanctuary of the ancient city of Ulde where, according to an Elphaerean leader who observed Xemion performing, a great rebel army is assembling as a show of force against their Pathan masters. The journey is treacherous, with perils at every turn, but Xemion is happy to make it if it means that it brings him closer to becoming a great Elphaerean swordsman. His arrival, however, brings forth a loss he is unprepared for and a terrifying new fate, the product of a crossed spell, he cannot hope to face alone.

      Robert Priest, in writing his second fantasy book for young readers, has crafted a great adventure-fantasy tale in the tradition of the classics. However, in following the familiar formula of quest and tests, Priest has succeeded in creating a highly original tale. Instead of the typical cast of elves, trolls, dwarves, and goblins, there exist thralls, triplicants, and wraiths of various kinds, as well as countless other beasts and beings who are all as strangely beautiful and bizarre as the spells that created them. In moving beyond the trope, Priest also employs stylized language and vernacular throughout. Seemingly, every character, place, and ritual, and even most normal everyday objects are given unique names. While these flourishes add richness and a sense of depth and atmosphere to the story and the world that has been created, they also, at times, cause confusion which may be a barrier for certain young readers who read with speed. That the book contains a lexicon of pertinent names and terms is proof of the (sometime) challenging nature of the language used.

      An abrupt ending to the story precludes The Paper Sword from being that illusive standalone fantasy novel that everyone covets; it is, nevertheless, a remarkable first book to a promising series which will surely entertain and fascinate readers of every age.

Highly Recommended.

Andrew Laudicina, a MLIS graduate from the University of Western Ontario in London, ON, currently resides in Windsor, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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