Book Review: Altdorf by J. K. Swift (Two Stars)

Book Review: Altdorf by J. K. Swift

Two Stars out of Five

Interesting story with a good sense of place, marred by amateurish storytelling and many anachronisms. Think of it as historical fantasy. Set in medieval Switzerland Altdorf proposes to tell the—or a—story behind the legend of William Tell. So far as it goes, the story itself is plausible.

Apparently meant to be historical fiction, it’s more historical fantasy. While bashing Christianity and praising all other religions is de rigueur for modern novels, this version of druidism exists only in epic fantasy. The reader finds himself in “a galaxy far, far away” as the Weave so resembles the Force.

Everything is slightly over the top. The hero is stalwart, the heroine a mystic who feels a saddening in the Weave (“There’s a great disturbance in the Force.”), the buddy is a seven-foot gentle giant, the villains are doubly evil because they are Christians. Another buddy manages an impossible crossbow shot: 300 yards through the neck of a man sitting on a sailboat underway, and the bolt retains enough power to pass entirely through the neck (horizontally). The hero’s “conversion” is unconvincing, though he has reason enough to abandon his allegiances.

The storytelling suffers from many verbal anachronisms. References to adrenaline, penicillin, catalysts and connections are either improbable or simply jar the reader out of the spell of the story. (If you slap moldy bread on a wound, you’re more likely to kill than save the patient.) Many readers will skip over the modernisms; students of history will shudder.

Awkward punctuation throughout. A good editing would save the reader much confusion. “Why so negative brother?” can mean several things. Yes, modern writer eschew commas. but they serve a purpose. If the reader must stop to figure it out, you’ve betrayed him or her.

The cover art must have been drawn by a friend of the author. Why else hobble your book with such a poor image?

Good ending. Draws together the threads of this story while drawing the reader into the sequel.

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