The obligatory disclaimer: Brian Nelson’s The Last Sword Maker is another book that a publicist sent to me for free in return for an honest review.
This is one of those books where star ratings kind of fail me, because what you get out of The Last Sword Maker is going to be very directly related to what you’re willing to put into it. It is four hundred and sixty-odd pages long, I started it before bed last night, and less than 24 hours later I am typing out this review. That’s a good thing! The book is a hell of a page-turner; it doesn’t quite borrow the Dan Brown trick of ending every single chapter on a cliffhanger so that you’re compelled to keep reading, but it does borrow the classic page-turner move of short chapters– there are 44 of them, plus a prologue, a bunch of interstitial pages, and an epilogue, so you’re never dissuaded from just one more chapter. I mean, it helps that I’m a teacher on summer break during a pandemic; it’s not like other than keeping my son alive and fed I have a lot of other tasks to attend to. But! I have many books, and I did not read all of them in effectively one big gulp overnight. That’s an achievement, and if you are looking for a fast read that will keep your eyes glued to the page, this will absolutely be right up your alley.
Speaking of pandemics, though: The Last Sword Maker is about warfare and nanotech and genetics, about a bunch of very smart people and a bunch of very dangerous people trying to crack a new technology before … well, before China, specifically, because the technological edge granted by achieving self-replicating nanotech will effectively secure the winning nation’s top-of-the-food-chain status for generations to come. There are lots of references to nanobot-driven plagues that are able to target their victims based on their genetic code, and early in the book China tests that capability on a few Tibetan villages. All of the characters are therefore either scientific geniuses or hard-ass military types, and while it kind of seems like cheating to say if you like this kind of thing, this is the kind of thing that you will like, but … yeah. Chances are, you already know, based on what you’ve read, whether you’re going to enjoy this or not.
But to circle back to that star rating thing again: I enjoyed reading this! I read it fast, and I barely put it down once I started it! Those are definitely good things. I am, however, going to try really hard not to think too much about the plot, because while one of the advantages of the page-turner is that they’re very good at hey look over here boom bang zip pow! type of stuff, they don’t always hold up all that well afterwards? And I mentioned Dan Brown earlier, and he’s again the classic example, because his books feel smart while you’re reading them but don’t you dare think about them afterwards or they’ll fall apart.
If you are, and I swear I don’t mean this as an insult, because I am frequently this type of person, particularly with respect to movies, the type of person who does not waste a lot of time poking around for plot holes or thinking too hard about whether the tech described in the book ought to work as described, or if the sudden jump from Development A to Development B might be a bit too abrupt, this may be the book for you. If on the other hand you are the type of person to notice that hey, did that really important guy get kidnapped offscreen, and nobody seems to have noticed in America? then maybe it might not be your type of book.
Also, if repeated use of the phrase the hardness makes you giggle, especially when it is used in concert with phrases such as entered him or filled him, and no it is not in the context you think it is, well … giggling is going to happen. There’s a guy; he has a thing going on. It’s not what you think. You’ll see.
It also leans really hard into the Chinese being the villains, and there are a couple of kinda sketchy ehh moments here and there with some of the minority characters that maybe could have used another pass. I don’t think it quite reaches racism, especially given how it ends and who the big monster of the book ends up being, but it’s possible that it will get to you. Or not! This book is the type of thing I always think of when I hear the phrase beach read; it’s a thriller, and it aims to entertain you while you’re reading it and doesn’t have particularly lofty goals beyond that. If that’s your thing, definitely check it out.
7:51 PM, Monday June 22: 2,306,247 confirmed cases and 120,384 Americans dead.