A different version of this review was posted 10/12/09 in my meta/review blog
The Sword of the Lady continues the quest of Rudi and friends for the mysterious, apparently “magical” sword which is essential to winning the war against the CUT, a religious cult that is literally in league with the devil. At the end of the previous book, Rudi had been sent on a side-quest by the Bossman of Iowa. This quest is to recover treasure from a caravan that had been attacked with no survivors in an area infested with cannibals. This quest turns out to extremely simple for Rudi however, who ends up adopting an entire tribe of half-feral teenagers. The kids turn out to be very helpful when representatives from the CUT decide to arrange a coup.
In addition to the action and adventure of the quest, there is a great deal of camaraderie and even romance, but the only romantic relationship that does not seem too contrived is the one between Frederick Thurston and Virginia Kane. The other major romantic relationship, the one between Rudi and Mathilda is extremely predictable, right down to the Classic Misunderstanding of Something Relatively Innocent on Mathilda’s part.
Our Heroes decide to hail Rudi as High King despite various political obstacles (that magically disappear despite being major concerns in previous books The Sunrise Lands and The Scourge of God). Rudi accepts under protest. (And no one back home raises a fuss about it either for the most part except for poor Signe Havel who has been cast into the role of Jealous Ice Queen.)
I did like this over all, though with a few reservations. For instance, I am not very fond of the various “plot anvils” that have been dropped on my head since Rudi was introduced. Stirling has thrown every Great and Mighty King symbol at the poor kid since he was a baby.
I liked the “family reunion” between Ingolf and his brother (and his brother’s family) and the encounter with the Neo-Vikings, but could have done without the Moorish Pirates. (This is mostly because the Moorish Pirates were apparently easily fooled into thinking a priest of the CUT was actually a Muslim imam despite some pretty good evidence to the contrary. Of course, it was pretty clear that the pirates were motivated more by profit than the Prophet, and the CUT priest was definitely a Sith Lord, so they are provisionally excused for being stupid.) Enlisting the aid of a pirate whom they have captured and convinced that the CUT priest was one of the bad guys, Rudi and his friends make it to Nantucket and the Sword.
And this is the point where it becomes necessary to have read the Nantucket sequence of this series, for reasons that may or may not cause you to beat your head against the nearest flat surface. (On the other hand, it was nice to have my suspicions confirmed about who created caused the anomaly that created the Change.) If you are a longtime fan of Stirling, or just a casual reader, do check this book and this series out. There are some great in-jokes in here, and the action is fast paced and fun.