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Forever and a Day

The Misenchanted Sword  (Legends of Ethshar, volume 1)

By Lawrence Watt-Evans 

15 Feb, 2024

Big Hair, Big Guns!


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Lawrence Watt-Evans’s 1985 The Misenchanted Sword is the first in a series of secondary-universe fantasy novels set in Watt-Evans’ Ethshar.

Cut off from his fellow Ethsharite soldiers by an unexpected northern empire attack, Valder flees enemy soldiers determined to kill him. In his panic, Valder does something that will shape the rest of his quite possibly short life: he annoys a wizard.

The hermit wizard settled in the marsh so that he could focus on research without the bother of ephemeral politics and war. The wizard does not appreciate having a fleeing soldier intrude into his splendid isolation. The wizard particularly resents having his home burnt down by the northern empire soldiers.

The wizard sends the soldiers on their way with a convincing illusion and then turns to dealing with Valder. The wizard bears a grudge against the hapless fellow who led an enemy to his door. One arcane ritual later and Valder is armed with a magic sword named Wirikidor. Exactly what the spell might be, Valder does not know. However, the fact that Wirikidor translates as “slayer of warriors” and the wizard’s insistence that Valder leave the sword sheathed until the wizard is far away suggests the spell is nothing good.

Once the wizard is gone, Valder experiments with Wirikidor. The means at his disposal permit him to discover that once drawn, the sword is magically animated. The sword cannot be sheathed until it has taken a life. Once it has slain, the animation spell is quiescent until the next time it has been drawn.

Once Valder rejoins the Ethsharite army, its wizards explain the rules of the spell. The hermit wizard had fumbled the spell, it seems, so while it is powerful, it is also flawed. The re-enchanted sword will kill enemies one hundred times, plus or minus, then it will kill Valder. Until Wirikidor has slain its allotment of enemies, Valder cannot be killed. No, Valder cannot give away the sword; it can only pass to a new user once Valder is dead.

It is decided that Valder is best used as an assassin. Valder is quite unhappy with this new assignment. Not only does Valder dislike killing, he is painfully aware that he is quickly approaching the point at which Wirikidor will turn on him. Luckily for the assassin, he is saved by the northern empire’s latest bold gambit, which brings the fury of the gods down on the empire and ends the war.

Hoping never to draw the sword again, Valder settles down as an innkeeper. It’s pleasant enough life but after some decades, Valder discovers another small flaw in the spell. Valder cannot die unless Wirikidor kills him. But he does age.

Unhappy with the possibility that he might one day be a wizened near-corpse, unable to move or think, but unable to die, Valder sets out to find an escape from his predicament… even if it kills him.


This novel has two positive qualities Watt-Evans could not have foreseen in 1985: his name is easy to search for on bookseller websites and so is the title of this book. At no point did I have to poke through pages of results looking for the specific one I wanted.

Full disclosure: the talk page on my Wikipedia entry asserts

Isn't Nicoll responsible for the existence of Lawrence Watt-Evans's most recent Ethshar novels? By saying that he would pay good money for LWE to write new Ethshar novels, this led so many other people to agree with him that LWE offered to write The Spriggan Mirror according to the Street Performer Protocol... and this worked so well that LWE has now written a second novel this way, and is preparing a third one.

If so, I don’t remember playing this role. Thanks to Google’s mismanagement of the DejaNews archives, I don’t suppose we can find out one way or the other.

Update: Watt-Evans rules out my involvement in comments below. Whoever it was, it was not me.

I had not read this book for about forty years. It seems I missed a number of things the first time round. Notable: not many authors would set up a seemingly endless war between the forces of Us Guys Here and the forces of Those Guys Over There, and then have off-stage events end the war part way through the book. Also notable: there aren’t all that many fantasy settings that go into as much detail on what happens after the war ends.

I tend to think of Watt-Evans as an author like Dave Duncan and Brandon Sanderson: he likes to create coherent, concrete magical rules for his universes and then starts examining the emergent properties of this rules. Much of the plot in this novel, for example, involves figuring out how Wirikidor works so that Valder can look for loopholes1.

Watt-Evans’ approach would lend itself to a roleplaying supplement—maybe Basic Roleplaying, GURPS, or Drakar och Demoner, not D&D—but no such supplement exists. Watt-Evans explains why here.

One aspect of this novel that I overlooked way back then is how L. Sprague de Camp-ian Valder’s adventures are. There may be a fellowship saving the world, but they are off-stage and Valder is not part of it. Instead, he’s a pragmatist doing his best to survive. Valder is no Vancian sociopath, but he is as morally flexible2 as he needs to be to survive both an all-out war and the attention of senior staff. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that writing a de Camp homage was exactly what Watt-Evans was going for.

This was an enjoyable revisit to a novel written in a mode not often seen these days. Good news for me, as my stack of commissioned reviews features a stack of Watt-Evans books.

The Misenchanted Sword is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Apple Books), here (Barnes & Noble), here (Chapters-Indigo), and here (Words Worth Books).

1: Some of the spell’s properties seem designed by the author to avoid easy solutions. Since only Wirikidor may slay Valder and Wirikidor is very thorough about killing, Valder cannot have a wizard technically kill him, then bring him back with magical CPR

Has any fantasy novel ever had resurrections work as well as CPR, which is to say not very well at all?

2: Although not so flexible that he will ignore a person in need, which by a huge coincidence is the first step on his path to a solution to his problem.