Literature: Book of Swords

A series of fantasy novels written by Fred Saberhagen between 1984 and 1999. A distant sequel to his Empire Of The East trilogy. The novels are as follows:

  • 1st Book of Swords, 1984
  • 2nd Book of Swords, 1985
  • 3rd Book of Swords, 1985
    • Each of these were complied into the Complete Book of Swords, 1985.

  • 1st Book of Lost Swords: Woundhealer's Story, 1988
  • 2nd Book of Lost Swords: Sightblinder's Story, 1988
  • 3rd Book of Lost Swords: Stonecutter's Story, 1988
  • 4th Book of Lost Swords: Farslayer's Story, 1989
  • 5th Book of Lost Swords: Coinspinner's Story, 1989
  • 6th Book of Lost Swords: Mindsword's Story, 1990
  • 7th Book of Lost Swords: Wayfinder's Story, 1992
  • Last Book of Lost Swords: Shieldbreaker's Story, 1993

The Gods decide to have a game. The playing pieces are humans, armed with 12 nigh-indestructible swords forged by Vulcan, imbued with unique powers.

Each sword is surgically sharp, perfectly crafted, and, as mentioned, nigh-invulnerable. Each also possesses a special ability unique to the sword. They may be identified by a symbol engraved in white upon their otherwise black hilt, or in the case of Soulcutter, a lack thereof.
    The Swords 

  • Coinspinner, the Sword of Chance.
    • Symbol: A pair of dice.
    • Pros: Provides unnaturally good luck to its bearer, and bad luck to his or her foes. Can also be used as a less-powerful version of Wayfinder (presumably by steering its bearer away from "unlucky" routes).
    • Cons: If the bearer takes his eyes off Coinspinner, even for one second, it can disappear and reappear anywhere in the world, even into a rival's hands. It often inflicts bad luck on the former bearer before it goes, especially if the bearer tried to keep the sword from leaving.
  • Doomgiver, the Sword of Justice.
    • Symbol: A hollow circle.
    • Pros: Turns any attack upon its bearer back onto the attacker - to include attacks that do not necessarily damage the bearer. (e.g. one of the Goddesses attempted to use magic to make a bearer fall in love with her to the point of being her slave - and ended up enslaved herself).
    • Cons: Doesn't protect against self-inflicted wounds.
  • Dragonslicer, the Sword of Heroes.
  • Farslayer, the Sword of Vengeance.
    • Symbol: Concentric circles, similar to a bulls-eye.
    • Pros: Swing the blade in a circle and wish to kill someone and the sword will shriek through the air, sending a rainbow trail behind, on a direct and unstoppable journey straight into its target's heart (or its equivalent).
    • Cons: ...where it will stay. Which means that anyone nearby, say a distraught loved one, can use it. Against the person who used it last.
  • Mindsword, the Sword of Glory (Or, pejoratively, "Skulltwister, the Sword of Madness")
    • Symbol: A flying banner. The blade itself is impossibly beautiful.
    • Pros: Unsheathed, it emits the sound of a cheering crowd, and compels fanatical devotion toward its bearer upon all who can see or hear it. The effects start wearing off after three days. Even sheathed, it works on some level. Wounds caused by its edge also fester horribly.
    • Cons: This devotion can go to the user's head.
  • Shieldbreaker, the Sword of Force (also, "The Widowmaker").
    • Symbol: A hammer.
    • Pros: Confers immunity to all armed attacks (claws and teeth count), including the other Swords. Substitutes its own abilities for the bearer's skill, blocking attacks and striking with superhuman strength and speed. Any weapon (or equivalent) blocked or struck by Shieldbreaker will explode, generally severely harming or killing the opponent. This is the only way to destroy another Sword. Any opposing magic is negated harmlessly.
    • Cons: It's said that "no weapon" can stand up to it, and this is literally true; Shieldbreaker can't harm unarmed opponents, or protect against any type of unarmed attack. Once drawn, it is nigh impossible to let go of Shieldbreaker as long as there are enemies present, whom it will kill even if the user wants to show mercy. Also, it draws strength from its wielder to operate; a long-enough fight can cause its owner to die of exhaustion, and the user has barely any strength left to fight unarmed attackers. note .
  • Sightblinder, the Sword of Stealth (or Deception).
    • Symbol: A stylized human eye.
    • Pros: People perceive the bearer as the person or entity they love and trust the most, or as the one they fear the most. The bearer's senses are sharpened, and they gain the ability to see through illusions (providing some protection from the Mindsword and Soulcutter).
    • Cons: The bearer has no control over how he appears, and since he often appears to be something fearsome or wonderful, the sword is not particularly stealthy; its wielder is better off trying to brazen it out.
  • Soulcutter, the Sword of Despair (also, the Tyrant's Blade)
    • Symbol: None. The blade lacks any luster.
    • Pros: When unsheathed, the sword projects a field of total despair and apathy so pervasive that anything caught in its range can do nothing except lie down and wait to die...
    • Cons: ...including the bearer. Therefore, drawing the sword is generally the last decision anyone makes, and the mere threat of someone possessing it is often a big deal. Also causes Rapid Aging in its wielder.
  • Stonecutter, the Sword of Siege.
  • Townsaver, the Sword of Fury.
    • Symbol: A sword raised a stylized segment of castle wall.
    • Pros: When defending unarmed people in a fixed position, Townsaver turns its bearer into a One-Man Army, striking with inhuman strength and speed, and keeps him from succumbing to his wounds until the end of battle.
    • Cons: Besides that last bit, Townsaver does nothing to protect its bearer. It will even place its bearer between an attack and the people he's protecting. As with Shieldbreaker, the user is also compelled to finish a battle once entered, and will ignore any wound other than a killing blow. With all of this, it's not uncommon for the wielder to draw it, fight off an army single-handedly, and then instantly die of exhaustion or their wounds once the battle is over.
  • Wayfinder, the Sword of Wisdom.
    • Symbol: Arrow.
    • Pros: Wayfinder may guide its bearer to any goal they want, and takes into account anything they need to reach it. It may also be used for divinatory purposes (e.g. "Which person is lying to me?").
    • Cons: Wayfinder picks the swiftest path... but the swiftest is not the safest. In fact it seems to deliberately choose the worst and riskiest way possible to get there.
  • Woundhealer, the Sword of Mercy (Or Love, or Healing).

Vulcan enlists a few humans to help with his creating, and when he's done, he uses the bodies of all his helpers, save one, to quench the blades. The one he spares, he cuts off his arm and leaves him with Townsaver. Life proceeds as normal, until the local lord decides he wants to have a look at this commoner's God-Forged sword.

At this point, the War for the Swords begins in earnest. All the high and mighty, rich and powerful people seek the various swords for themselves.

A commonly-known song describes the Swords, providing hints as to their powers and weaknesses, and goes thus:

THE SONG OF SWORDS

Who holds Coinspinner knows good odds
Whichever move he make
But the Sword of Chance, to please the gods
Slips from him like a snake.

The Sword of Justice balances the pans
Of right and wrong, and foul and fair.
Eye for an eye, Doomgiver scans
The fate of all folk everywhere.

Dragonslicer, Dragonslicer, how d'you slay?
Reaching for the heart in behind the scales.
Dragonslicer, Dragonslicer, where do you stay?
In the belly of the giant that my blade impales.

Farslayer howls across the world
For thy heart, for thy heart, who hast wronged me!
Vengeance is his who casts the blade
Yet he will in the end no triumph see.

Whose flesh the Sword of Mercy hurts has drawn no breath;
Whose soul it heals has wandered in the night,
Has paid the summing of all debts in death
Has turned to see returning light.

The Mindsword spun in the dawn's gray light
And men and demons knelt down before.
The Mindsword flashed in the midday bright
Gods joined the dance, and the march to war.
It spun in the twilight dim as well
And gods and men marched off to hell.

I shatter Swords and splinter spears;
None stands to Shieldbreaker.
My point's the fount of orphans' tears
My edge the widowmaker.

The Sword of Stealth is given to
One lonely and despised.
Sightblinder's gifts: his eyes are keen
His nature is disguised.

The Tyrant's Blade no blood hath spilled
But doth the spirit carve
Soulcutter hath no body killed
But many left to starve.

The Sword of Siege struck a hammer's blow
With a crash, and a smash, and a tumbled wall.
Stonecutter laid a castle low
With a groan, and a roar, and a tower's fall.

Long roads the Sword of Fury makes
Hard walls it builds around the soft
The fighter who Townsaver takes
Can bid farewell to home and croft.

Who holds Wayfinder finds good roads
Its master's step is brisk.
The Sword of Wisdom lightens loads
But adds unto their risk.


This series provides examples of:

  • Absurdly Sharp Blade - Several of the Swords inside their specialties and to a lesser degree outside of them, with the sole exception of Woundhealer, which is a Healing Shiv, and cannot harm a living creature. Bear in mind that Woundhealer is still very sharp, and will cut through non-living matter just fine.
  • After the End
  • A God Am I - Anyone who uses the Mindsword. Its ability is to turn everyone within a couple hundred yards into mindlessly devoted slaves to the wielder. A few days with the hangers-on, and the wielder starts to believe the hype.
    • Baron Doon, when he finds a cache of four swords. Given that it included both Doomgiver and Shieldbreaker, the Infinity Plus One Swords even among the twelve, he may have had a point.
  • Aerith and Bob - Main characters include Mark, Ben, Vilkata, Yambu...
  • Artifact of Doom - the whole purpose of Soulcutter, and the other swords have traits of this. Mark in particular has a few choice things to say about Townsaver shortly after he gets it.
  • Attack Reflector - Doomgiver. It understands the attacker's intent and will reflect any threat. A dropped boulder? Doomgiver will send it flying right back up to hit the dropper, even if it has to turn corners. A demon threatens to turn your body inside out, eat you, and digest you for a million years? We'll just say that being turned inside out and forced into your own stomach is not comfortable. A succubus tries to make you fall in love with her? She falls in love with you. A few Gods are planning to deprive you of your Sword? They lose theirs.
  • Badass Boast Shieldbreaker's verse in the Song of Swords above
  • Big Bad - Several - Vilkata and Yambu in the first trilogy, the immortal wizard Wood for most of the Lost Swords iterations.
  • Black Magic
  • The Blacksmith
  • Blatant Lies - The name of the country of Tasavalta literally means "republic" in Finnish. Tasavalta is a hereditary monarchy, the exact opposite of a republic.
  • Blessed with Suck - Most people who get one of these swords. Sure, they are awesome, but they have cons and so many other people want to take it away from you.
  • Book Ends - The main story begins and ends with Vulcan crawling along the same mountainside looking for fire.
  • Born Lucky: Whoever holds Coinspinner, obviously.
  • The Caper
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp" - Ridingbeasts, woolbeasts, milkbeasts, etc. Are they horses/sheep/cows?
  • Catch Phrase - Whenever someone uses Farslayer, they recite the second line of its verse in the poem. Since the water sprite in Farslayer's Story simply threw it and it worked anyway to kill a demon, the catch phrase doesn't appear to be more than a tradition.
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe: The source of the Gods' power, much to their surprise.
  • Clingy MacGuffin - Once the battle starts, the wielder of Shieldbreaker can not let it go. And it can only harm armed opponents. So, one man can take on an army of soldiers armed to the teeth, demons, even the Gods themselves, but don't let the unarmed man get a stranglehold. Townsaver and Dragonslicer exhibit similar clinginess to a slightly lesser degree.
  • Cool Mask - The Emperor is said to wear masks from time to time.
  • Cool Sword - All over the place.
  • The Dark Side
  • Deal with the Devil - Vilkata. He cuts out his own eyes as a sacrifice in order to curse an enemy. Thereafter, various demons provide vision for him. Vilkata throws his pet demons a bone every now and then in fresh human flesh to torture.
  • Deus ex Machina - Swords just randomly appear in the weirdest places...
    • Justified since the whole thing is a game run by the gods anyway.
      • It's also Coinspinners stated power.
  • Determinator - Baron Doon, who goes three rounds against Shieldbreaker by using sheer cussedness (and dropping his destroyed weapons before the Sword can finish the job).
  • Dual Wielding - Difficult for most people to do with Swords. Causes intense nausea, but some people can handle it. However, the major drawback is that this significantly amplifies the stamina drain of wielding just one Sword, causing even people that can pull it off to tire very quickly.
  • Dude, She's Like, in a Coma!: Gender-flipped. Kristin has sex with Mark while he's unconscious with fever in order to summon Aphrodite and save him.
  • Earth All Along
  • Elaborate Underground Base - The Blue Temple's underground vault complex
  • Everything's Better with Princesses - Kristin
  • Empathic Weapon - Coinspinner, arguably.
  • Evil Albino - Vilkata.
  • Evil Versus Evil - Yambu, the Silver Queen, is the Big Bad of the first two books. Then Vilkata, the Dark King, shows up in the third book, and Yambu makes an alliance with her former enemies against him.
  • Flaming Sword - Vilkata's demonic eyesight presents the Mindsword as a spear of fire.
  • Forged by the Gods
  • Fourth Date Marriage: Mark and Kristin, courtesy of being simultaneously Impaled with Extreme Prejudice by Woundhealer. The actual marriage is delayed a bit, though, until Mark becomes a Suddenly Suitable Suitor.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!
  • Gods
  • Gods Need Prayer Badly: As a result of changing human opinions about them they start to actually change.
  • Gold Fever
  • Happily Married - Played straight and averted. Mark and Kristin are happily married, except when she is under the spell of the Mindsword. In the latter half of the series, Ben spends most of his time adventuring specifically to avoid his wife and child. Jord and Mala seem to get along well despite their marriage having been arranged without much input by them.
  • Healing Shiv - Woundhealer is their king.
  • Heart Is an Awesome Power: The power of the human heart combined with Woundhealer destroys Shieldbreaker.
  • Here There Were Dragons - By the end of the series, Dragonslicer has almost made itself obsolete.
  • Heroic Bastard: Mark.
  • High Heel-Face Turn - Queen Yambu
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Several times, most notably the gods getting brainwashed, cursed and/or killed by the swords they had Vulcan create.
  • Holding Back the Phlebotinum: Doomgiver renders its user practically invulnerable to anyone or anything not called Shieldbreaker, but the characters who get it rarely seem to realize how useful it is.
  • Implausible Fencing Powers - Certain Swords grant their users this ability.
  • Infinity+1 Sword: All of them. Shieldbreaker, Doomgiver, and the Mindsword especially.
  • Instant Messenger Pigeon - and Instant Messenger Lizard
  • Intimate Healing - Kristin gives Mark her virginity in order to summon Aphrodite, in the hopes that the goddess can heal the poisoned wound Mark had received from the Mindsword. It works.
  • Kill It Through Its Stomach: In Woundhealer's Story, an enormous dragon swallows Zoltan whole. Fortunately, Zoltan has Dragonslicer with him, and is able to cut his way out with it.
  • Large Ham: A Large Ham?! Hahaha!!! Ask the mighty Mars, the War God, and none other, why this trope appears here!!! And gods and demons, Baron Doon as well, who will defy all the gods to be named the true god of ham! Kneel down and acknowledge him now, demons blast you, or he'll spit you on the end of a meter of god-forged steel, which is doubly magic!
  • Last of His Kind - By the end of the Last Book, Woundhealer is the last Sword left.
  • Lost Technology - Earth, 50,000 years in the future. Technology is replaced by magic. Nuclear explosions have become demons. ARDNEH = God = A computer program designed by the United States.
  • Luke Nounverber: All of the Swords, with the exception of the Mindsword. Of course, its alternate name, "Skulltwister" does fit the pattern.
  • Mermaid Problem
  • The Metric System Is Here to Stay : The Swords are "a full meter of god-forged steel".
  • Mutually Assured Destruction: Soulcutter is roughly as dangerous as a nuclear weapon that you have to detonate by hand, as an Emotion Bomb.
  • Naked First Impression: Mark's first encounter with Kristin. Given the circumstances—that they were in the middle of an enemy camp, that Mark needed all of his willpower even with Sightblinder not to give in to the Mindsword, and that Kristin was going to be tortured to death if he didn't get her out quickly—Mark paid hardly any attention to her nudity, save for grabbing an extra cloak on the way out.
  • Named Weapons
  • Our Demons Are Different: These ones were somehow formed from nuclear explosions and for Shieldbreaker's purposes every demon counts as a weapon.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: Their growth is actually a bit like tadpoles.
  • Penultimate Weapon
  • Poisoned Weapons - The Mindsword.
  • Puff of Logic: Pretty much how Shieldbreaker is destroyed. The main character is stabbed by Shieldbreaker while Woundhealer is jammed through his heart. Shieldbreaker doesn't regard Woundhealer as a weapon since it's a Healing Shiv, but he grabs at Shieldbreaker as he's hit, so he is armed- with Shieldbreaker. And Shieldbreaker destroys any weapon its target is armed with.
  • Rapid Aging: When Soulcutter is drawn it causes its wielder to age at a highly accelerated rate.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Sir Andrew. He even has the word 'kind' usually added to his name. Unfortunately he's a relatively small fish surrounded by unpleasant and powerful nobles.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something
  • Soul Jar - Demons souls are tied to mundane objects.
  • Stout Strength — Ben, one of the main characters, is a tall, broad guy with a stupid-looking face. If he's wearing something that shows his general outline, he looks fat, and his arms and legs are so thick in proportion to their length they look stubby. Almost none of it is fat, though; Ben is much, much stronger than carnival strongmen, and gifted with above-average intelligence to boot.
  • Suddenly Suitable Suitor: Mark for Kristin, once the identity of his father is revealed.
  • Sword Fight
  • Sword of Plot Advancement - All of the 12 Swords, even in universe. They were made by the Gods to facilitate the Game.
  • Thunderbolt Iron: Vulcan used a highly magical form of this material as the first ingredient in all of the swords.
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works - This is Farslayer's power, and we mean it always works. Even if the target is halfway around the world, underground, defended by powerful magic, and one of the Gods.
    • The difficulty being that it's not Mjolnir, it doesn't come back and it has no particular loyalty to the thrower. Meaning that the magical sniper sword is now sitting in your enemy's camp, through your enemy's heart yes, but also in easy reach of any of his allies (Or grief-stricken family members with a motive to avenge their fallen loved one)...
  • Treacherous Spirit Chase - In Woundhealer's Story, one of the main characters keeps seeing tantalizing hints of a specific girl he vaguely recognizes. Every time he comes across evidence of her, it mysteriously turns into a mundane material that has reason to be there already. Hair caught in a rough bush turns to spiderweb in his hands, fabric turns to moss, etc, and each time he is drawn further into the forest. Only after he's magically paralyzed by an enemy does he realize the entire thing had been an evil enchantment designed to lure him there.
  • Turned Against Their Masters - The Swords work against the Gods, too. By the end of the third book, all the gods have either been killed, or faded away from lack of belief.
  • Unbreakable Weapons - The Swords are invulnerable to everything except each other.
  • Ultimate Blacksmith: Vulcan, who made the Swords. Played with, however, in that he could only do it once and came to forget how he did it.
  • Virgin Power
  • Virgin Sacrifice: Baron Doon attempts to do this out of desperation when cornered by a demon, but thankfully, he's interrupted before he can go through with it. Kristin, meanwhile, makes use of a different sort of sacrifice in a situation that's almost as bad.

Alternative Title(s):

Book Of Swords, Books Of Swords