The Harp and the Blade — Review

Science Fiction & Fantasy Review, No. 10, December 1982, p. 34.

Myers, John Myers. The Harp and the Blade. Starblaze/Donning, Virginia Beach, VA, August 1982. 223 p. $5.95, paper. ISBN 0-89865-193-X.

Donning has responded to the current fantasy craze by reprinting a 1941 Dutton novel best described as “rational fantasy.” Finnian, an Irish bard, laments the fall of civilization after Charlemagne’s death, but otherwise has no strong feelings about anything other than music and literature. Angered by Finnian’s lack of commitment, a Pict holy man places an unusual curse on Finnian: he must help others in need. Though Finnian doesn’t quite believe in the curse, he soon finds himself rescuing people in distress (including, naturally, a maiden), and eventually teams up with Conan, the local chieftain, to fight off bandits and a ruthless warlord. Set in France somewhere around the time of Ortho (Otto the Great, crowned 962 A.D.), the only clearly false note is the emphasis Finnian places on personal cleanliness–not a great medieval concern.

There are several elements that make The Harp and the Blade worthwhile. Finnian is not particularly spiritual, yet he resents the Pict’s curse, and cannot bring himself to ignore it. Even though one character is named Conan, sex and violence play a minimal role. Instead, the major conflict centers on Finnian’s self-proclaimed lack of commitment and his growing concern–and even love — for others. Not entirely fantasy or historical fiction, the novel is an excellent, literate blend of both.

Either because of a “timeless” writing style or through revision, the narrative is not at all dated. On the other hand, it does suffer from numerous typesetting errors, far more than a “quality” paperback should merit. At one point an order to “feed me” is printed as “feel me” — potentially more interesting, but not what the author had in mind. The four black and white illustrations, by Charles Vess, are not exceptional, but they aren’t distracting, either. Recommended, even for those who don’t normally read fantasy. — Lawrence I. Charters

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