Book: “The Sword and the Dagger” by Robert Cochran
Publishing Info: Tor Teen, April 2019
Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley
Book Description: During the time of the Crusades, an unlikely trio—a Christian princess, her affianced prince, and a Muslim assassin—embarks on a quest to the court of the most fearsome warrior the world has ever known, Genghis Khan.
A rousing tale of adventure and romance about three young people who must grapple with fundamental issues of loyalty, friendship, faith, honor, and courage against the backdrop of conflicts that still resonate today.
Review: I placed a request for this book based on the strength of its plot description and the beautiful cover. Even though there was a massive red flag telegraphed to me with the love triangle set up, I thought “Sure, why the heck not? Who doesn’t like a good ole fun trip into the time of the Crusades?” Alas, right off the bat I struggled to get into this book, and by the last page I was more confused by the editing (or lack thereof?) of this book than anything else.
The story follows our three intrepid adventureres: Princess Elaine, her betrothed Conrad, and Rashid, an assassin sent to kill Elaine. All three are made up of a complicated mixture of the best and worst aspects of their respective belief systems, be those religious or cultural, as well as a myriad of other aspects that go to prove that no person can be defined so simply. While journeying together through various trials and tribulations, they all must learn that their fellow travelling companions are just as complex as they themselves.
As I said, I didn’t love this book. But before I get into its challenges for me, I want to highlight some aspects of the book that I did enjoy. Firstly, I liked the historical setting and the way that was tied into the book. I also really liked a lot of the broader concepts about prejudice and tolerance that our three main characters explored throughout the story. There were the obvious debates about religious disagreements came to by the Christian Conrad and the Muslim Rashid, but the story also explored gender roles with the limitations placed on Elaine as a woman growing up in a time where very little was expected, or permitted, of women. Overall, there was a nice combination of action and adventure mixed in with these larger debates in a way that allowed the book to explore some pretty big topics without coming across as overly preaching. The fast pace of the story also helped in this regard.
So those are my pros. But mixed within some of those same things that I enjoyed were also the parts of this book that I struggled with. As I said, I liked the historical setting of this book and the fast paced nature of the adventure made for a snappy read. But mixed together, it also left the book feeling oddly light and surface-level as far as its world. Our main characters jump from place to place and action piece to action piece so quickly that I never really felt like I had time to really sit back and examine the intricacies of the setting in which these events were taking place. For a book that covers of settings and ground, I never felt like I was really given any time to appreciate that fact. The plot was too busy getting from point A to point B to allow for this.
The fast paced nature of the story was also fun, but it also felt like it undercut some of the more somber moments in the story and restricted some of the character development. While overall I did like the three main characters, I also never really felt overly attached to any one of them. They often felt like the standard, expected characters for a story like this. So, too, the story they were travelling through also felt pretty expected. There weren’t any big surprises, and the few twists that there were, were exactly the ones you’d come to expect. I don’t need huge surprises around any corner, but at a certain point a sense of newness does help.
But my biggest problem came down to the writing itself and one very specific thing: the POVs would change without any indication or warning. Even in the middle of paragraphs! Even to characters who weren’t one of the main three. In the very first chapter, we’re introduced to Elaine, but then random sentences come through from the perspective of those around her commenting on Elaine herself. There’s no explanation for why we’re suddenly in this new character’s mind and then just as suddenly, we’re back to Elaine. It was incredibly distracting and quickly started to drive me crazy as we went on. I’m not sure what was going on there, but this specific aspect is where I think a good editor was needed. This is the kind of writing tic/flaw that a good editor will flag and help an author work through during the revision process. For some reason that didn’t happen and what could have been a better story suffered for it.
Ultimately, this writing issue was really the nail in the coffin of my enjoyment of this book. There are some good bones here, but for me, I couldn’t get past the distraction of this. That, plus the light descriptions of setting and sometimes too-fast nature of the story, ended up outweighing the parts of the story that I did enjoy. This could be good for fans of historical fiction, especially those interested in this time period. But we warned that if you’re sensitive to writing quirks, this one might be a struggle.
Rating 5: It had some good things to say about prejudices and tolerance, but the weird POV issue was too much for me.
“The Sword and the Dagger” is a newer title so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it is on “2019 YA Historical Fiction.”
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