Book Review: “Have Sword, Will Travel” by Garth Nix and Sean Williams

October 30, 2017

Best friends Odo and Eleanor didn’t know what to expect when they saw a bit of metal glinting at the bottom of the river near their home, but they definitely didn’t expect an enchanting talking sword named Hildebrand Shining Foebiter – or for said sword to declare Odo a knight and Eleanor his squire. Odo isn’t sure he wants to be a knight at all, and Eleanor is irked that “Biter” didn’t choose her to be a knight instead, but before long the duo is forced to set out on a quest anyway. The river near their village of Lenburh is drying up, and if Odo and Eleanor don’t find out why, their village won’t survive the lack of water.

Authors Garth Nix and Sean Williams, who have paired up before on the middle-grade Troubletwister series, have crafted a silly fantasy that’s likely to entertain fans of How to Train Your Dragon. Have Sword, Will Travel has a similar Nordic-esque vibe, and while there aren’t any dragons (okay, maybe one dragon), Odo and Eleanor’s relationship with Biter is a satisfying substitution. All of Biter’s dialogue in the text is rendered in bold gothic font, and I’m not sure why that made me find everything it said even funnier, but it did. The novel has just the right amount of adventure and humor to please young readers obsessed with swords and knights.

Garth Nix is well-known for writing awesome female heroines – like Sabriel and Lirael from his Old Kingdom novels or Anya from Frogkisser – and I appreciate that he and Williams have kept that tradition alive in Eleanor. In this world, it’s just as common for women to be knights as men (Eleanor’s mother was one), and both Eleanor and Odo think their roles should have been switched. In the course of the story, Eleanor gets the chance to prove herself, and she and Odo are always presented as part of a team – neither is sidekick to the other’s “chosen one.”

Still, I was a little disappointed that though the book takes its name (I presume) from the well-known 1969 wuxia film by the same name, the story seems solidly European and all of the main characters are white (or they are… swords). I think it’s meant to be an homage, but it still feels off to me. While it would likely have been worse for two white authors to try to write in the same tradition as the film, I think the story definitely needs more characters of color.

Have Sword, Will Travel is projected to be the first installment in a new series for the pair of writers – so there are more adventures in store for Odo and Eleanor!

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review.