Going back to a favorite of years past is always a risky exercise. Will that treasured classic stand up to the scrutiny of older, more modern eyes, or will its flaws and weaknesses overcome nostalgia? I’m happy to say that for Sword of the Lamb, the first book of the sweeping Phoenix Legacy, the former is very much the case.
When I picked this book up recently to re-read, I got a little worried. It’s dense and the start is dry. What if I didn’t like it anymore? But just a few pages in, I was fully back in gear, and, far from dry, it was one of the books I was eager to pick up and keep on with. I read the 430 pages of this in far less time than it’s taken me to work through another, much slower book.
I’ve always argued that in The Phoenix Legacy, M. K. Wren made herself the Mary Stewart of science fiction, but I haven’t re-read the series for many years now. Now, with more analytical eyes, I can see more clearly the inspirations (or at least similarities) showing through, but the Stewart analogy still holds. This first book is an amalgam of the romance of The Crystal Cave, the socio-politico-religious societies of Dune, and the long-reach psychohistorical planning of Foundation. That sounds like quite a lot, but Wren, whose masterpiece these books are, does an excellent job of bringing it all together and – told through the eyes of a few key players much like Dune and Foundation – humanizing it all.
That’s not to say the books are perfect – times have changed, and there are things to criticize about the rigid throwback gender roles, the lack of individuality of the working classes the heroes are trying to save, the clear-cut villains and heroes, etc. Writing in the late 70s/early 80s, Wren could have done better. But beyond those imperfections, there’s a truly moving, romantic space opera about people and sacrifice.
As it happens, Wren lived (by rural standards), just down the road from me, and I wish I’d known it. Unfortunately, by the time I recognized it and started trying to dig up contact info for an interview, she’d already died, so I missed that chance. But I have the main thing – these books, which are just as good now as when I first read them. Maybe better. (At least, this first one is). Strongly recommended. And it’s an e-book now, and you can buy the whole series at once for just a few dollars.