Andrew Klavan’s novel The Emperor’s Sword completes the trilogy begun two years ago with Another Kingdom and continued last year with The Nightmare Feast. You may recall that in a previous column I suggested a connection between the trilogy and the YA fiction Klavan wrote some years ago, aimed primarily though not exclusively at boys. If those boys were now grown up, they’d be more or less the same age as Austin Lively, the protagonist of the trilogy, who is thirty years old when the first book begins:
Such readers . . . are the ones Klavan has most immediately in mind for this project: not all young men, of course, but the many who seem to be drifting, seem to have lost their way. And this in no way implies that other readers (seventy-plus old men like me, for instance, not to mention women of all ages) will find nothing of interest here. In fact, the “lostness” of many young men these days, much analyzed in various sharply differing contexts, is a particular case of the lostness, the fallenness, that all humans share.
A preoccupation with fallenness runs through all three books, but it is most intense in this concluding volume. The Emperor’s Sword begins with a surprise. Six months have passed, during which Austin has written a screenplay that’s been greenlighted by Solomon Vine (“the closest thing to God we had here in Los Angeles”), but he seems not to remember all that has happened to him, including his time in the parallel world described in the two previous books in the trilogy, though those experiences have clearly inspired his screenplay. He’s also acting like a repulsive jerk, but his complacence isn’t allowed to last even for ten pages before it gives way to fear and confusion, dawning awareness, and profound self-disgust. The deep fallibility of the hero keeps the trilogy from seeming morally simplistic and self-satisfied—that and the humor that runs through all three books, about as subtle as a punch in the gut but effective nonetheless.
Here I must issue what used to be called a trigger warning (that phrase seems so old hat in 2021). While I was reading The Emperor’s Sword and refreshing my memory of the two preceding volumes, I was reminded several times of comments about QAnon that I’ve encountered here and there. A suave international figure, clearly up to no good, with a strong Soros vibe? Check. (Here his name is Serge Orosgo.) Contempt for “the media”? Check. Widespread sexual abuse of children by the rich and powerful? Check. And so on. Maybe one of those enterprising journalists brooding over the fate of American democracy and our “epistemological crisis” should investigate Andrew Klavan. Consider the epigraph to The Emperor’s Sword, Ephesians 6:12: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Talk about a conspiracy theory!
I mentioned the humor of the trilogy, but I didn’t give any examples—Maud, for instance, the “giant rodent” with the face of a woman, who is often justly reproaching Austin. There’s a scene in which a group of yetis (yes) are observing a meeting between Maud (on horseback) and Austin:
All around us, the waking yetis gathered to watch our meeting. I could hear their growly voices murmuring to one another.
“That looks tasty.”
“Yes, I’ve had horse. It’s quite good.”
“I meant the rodent. Her face alone looks like a delicacy.”
That’s the sort of thing that goes with my sense of the target audience; it’s also designed to ward off readers of a certain type. And it fits with the original format of this enterprise, which was a podcast before it became a trilogy of novels.
What an absurdly fertile imagination Andrew Klavan possesses. I have no idea what his next book will be, but I am very much looking forward to it!
John Wilson is a contributing editor for The Englewood Review of Books and senior editor at The Marginalia Review of Books.
First Things depends on its subscribers and supporters. Join the conversation and make a contribution today.
Click here to make a donation.
Click here to subscribe to First Things.
We launched the First Things 2023 Year-End Campaign to keep articles like the one you just read free of charge to everyone.
Measured in dollars and cents, this doesn't make sense. But consider who is able to read First Things: pastors and priests, college students and professors, young professionals and families. Last year, we had more than three million unique readers on firstthings.com.
Informing and inspiring these people is why First Things doesn't only think in terms of dollars and cents. And it's why we urgently need your year-end support.
Will you give today?