Many fantasy stories end when the battle is won and order is restored (in some form), leaving what comes next to the imagination.
In Sherwood Smith’s A Sword Named Truth, picking up the pieces after a war creates an entirely new set of challenges for the young heroes (who some readers may recognize from the novel Fleeing Peace); for them, the aftermath of the struggle turns out to be nearly as hard as fighting the war in the first place.
As an overarching series, the Sartorias-deles novels take place in a universe that, as Smith says on her website, has been fifty years in the making. One does need to have read all the earlier books to enjoy A Sword of Truth, but it’s probably best to read Fleeing Peace first—with a narrative spanning multiple kingdoms and populated by a host of primary characters, it’s much easier to sink into the narrative if you have some familiarity with what has gone before.
Alternatively, readers can start at the very beginning and immerses themselves in the entire world that Smith has crafted so well. But, be warned, if you do, you might find yourself wishing you too had the power to transport yourself bodily to Sartorias-deles to befriend these diverse characters—princes, pirates, spies, and magicians. (Inda would make a great starting point.)
Fleeing Peace focused quite a bit on Senrid, who has become king by the start of A Sword Named Truth, and Liere, who has the power to sense thoughts, and an ongoing conflict with Norsunder, a place separate from time and space, where powerful mages are plotting to take over the world. Being separate from time and space allows a convenient avenue enemies from some of the earlier books are able to re-appear in these current stories (set approximately 800 years after the end of Inda). In other words, threats Senrid and the other young leaders triumphed over have only been defeated momentarily; they might be attacked at any time, from nearly any direction, by old foes hiding in Norsunder.
Adding to their difficulties are the more realistic problems of ruling even while they’ve still got a lot of growing up to do.
Senrid, for instance, decides to accept a duel from a military cadet leader—a fight he knows he can’t win—to prove that kings aren’t above the law and that his reign will not be cruel and capricious as the tyrant who came before him:
“This stuff will make me go off my head,” Senrid muttered as the healer lowered him to the pillow. Senrid’s diction was usually crisp, and his speech a headlong reflection of his thoughts, but now his words were slurry and nasal, even plummy. As one would expect from someone whose nose was being held in place by a magic spell.
Meanwhile, another young ruler, one who was thought lost, must deal with a regency council that views her as an innocent annoyance, while others need to develop the maturity to see beyond the traditional enemy and find allies instead. One of these former enemies is a young man, Jilo, who has unknowingly, been enchanted to stifle his potential:
He read the antidote to the spell three times, and then—slowly—performed it. The faint snap made him dizzy and skin-prickly, followed rapidly by a rush of sensation so strong that he stumbled backward… Sensation streamed through his mind, the mental fireflies so plenteous and bright that he became more giddy, not less. He blinked rapidly, then looked around dazed. The dull stone, begrimed by centuries, glinted with thousands of subtle shades.
The moment he regains himself is one of the more powerful in the book. As someone who loves a good redemption story, I was certainly rooting for him.
Be warned: this book is the beginning of a new segment of the stories set in this world, featuring a sprawling cast facing down all the problems of young adulthood, and fantastical threats besides. While there is forward momentum in terms of character development and plot advancement, this is very much a story in progress—though that’s no doubt welcome news to Smith’s readers, who have been exploring this universe across more than a dozen earlier works. Certainly I’m not ready for this story to end.