Cover image for The saints of the sword
The saints of the sword
Marco, John.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Bantam Books, 2001.
Physical Description:
545 pages : 1 map ; 24 cm.
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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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John Marco presents the riveting continuation of the great fantasy saga begun inThe Jackal of NarandThe Grand Design-- in which a young prince and a tyrant form a daring alliance with a band of rebels ... against a terrifying crisis that threatens to devastate a world. Biagio, Emperor of Nar, was once a madman and a tyrant. Now he wants peace. The irony is that no one believes him. Instead, the cruelest of his minions -- Elrad Leth, Governor of Aramoor, and King Tassis Gayle of Talistan -- are amassing an army to usurp his throne, bringing a new scourge of death to a battle-scarred world. But the wily Biagio, still a brilliantly devious leader, has one more desperate plan. At the heart of the scheme is Alazrian Leth, bastard son of Aramoor's governor. Barely sixteen, bookish and untrained, this young prince secretly possesses rare magical talents. Biagio sends Alazrian on a near-impossible mission: to convince outlawed priest Jahl Rob and his followers -- the fearless Saints of the Sword -- to search for the exiled ruler of Aramoor and the mysterious people called the Triin. If these ancient enemies can unite into one great army, a boy's strange and wonderful magic may be the spark to heal a wounded world ... or set in motion an unimaginable betrayal.

Author Notes

John Marco lives with his wife in King's Point, New York.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

In the third volume of Tyrants and Kings, Emperor Biagio of Nar is only slightly less ruthless than before, yet now he is intriguing and scheming for peace! Indeed, he is willing to betray his own fleet to make peace with the sorely tried seafarers of Liss, and he taps Alazrian Leth, bastard son of the governor of Aramoor, for a secret mission to Lucel-Lor. The core of the novel is Alazrian's coming-of-age on this mission as he meets most of the many characters introduced in this book's two predecessors, develops magical powers (including healing and mind reading), and participates in the climactic battle against his own grandfather, Tassis Gayle, the mad ruler of the Eastern Highlands. Tyrants and Kings is more a tribute to Marco's fertile imagination than to his narrative technique, and Tassis Gayle isn't a sufficiently formidable opponent. But readers who relished what has gone before won't be unhappy with this continuation, which may be the series' conclusion. --Roland Green

Publisher's Weekly Review

Finely crafted, fluid writing and fully rendered characters lift the third and concluding volume in Marco's Tyrants and Kings series, his epic militaristic fantasy about the warring continents of Nar and Lucel-Lor. In the series' debut novel, The Jackal of Nar (1999), Aramoor heir and reluctant warrior Richius Vantran (aka the Jackal) experienced magic and culture shock in Lucel-Lor. In The Grand Design (a B&N "Best of 2000" selection) the slaughter escalated as Nar's Emperor Biagio struggled for power and the exiled Vantran was drawn into the conflict. Complexities of political intrigue, rivalries and revenge erupt in the newest novel, with the focus on 16-year-old Alazrian Leth, a prince with secret magical powers. In need of allies to oppose gathering enemy armies, Biagio sends the young prince on a mission to find Vantran and ultimately raise a massive militia force. In this richly detailed world, the panoramic ocean battle scenes are particularly vivid. Avoiding cliffhanger climaxes, Marco has wisely injected a feeling of closure so that each book in the series can stand alone. Some readers, however, may be disappointed to find minimal fantasy elements. (Feb. 6)Forecast: The Jackal of Nar won a Barnes & Noble Reader's Choice award. At his best, Marco can hold his own as a writer with other major fantasists, including Stephen Donaldson and Terry Brooks; his sales should continue to climb. The superb series cover art by fantasy artist Doug Beekman is a major plus. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved All rights reserved.



One Dakel the Inquisitor danced across the marble floor, his satin robes alive with candlelight. A dozen candelabra tossed shadows around him, making him look taller than his six feet. In his hand was a gilded scroll, which he declined to read until the most dramatic moment. His ebony hair writhed around his shoulders as he moved with practiced grace before the hundred gathered eyes, and his voice filled the chamber. The crowd was silent as he spoke, their gazes alternating between his compelling countenance and the man on the dais. Dakel pointed an accusing finger at the man as he spoke. "I have charges, citizens of Nar," he declared. "Appalling evidence of the duke's crimes." He held up the scroll for effect. "Enough to shock you good people, I'm sure." From his chair atop the marble dais, Duke Angoris of Dragon's Beak stared in horror at the Inquisitor, his face a sickly white. He had already endured half an hour of Dakel's rhetoric, and the barrage was taking its toll. He licked his lips constantly, anxious for a glass of water that was conspicuously kept from him. He looked about to faint. "Now, I'm not a man of vendettas," the Inquisitor declared. "You all know me. I'm a humble servant of the emperor. All I seek is justice." There was skeptical chuckling from the crowd. Dakel took it good-naturedly. "'Tis true," he said. "Justice is the sole commandment of this court. So I don't read these charges with any relish or malice. I read them with great regret for the duke's offenses. Through the things he has done, we are all diminished." An expectant murmur bubbled up. Dakel let it dissipate before continuing. He whirled on the duke. "Duke Angoris, you are called before these good people of Nar for crimes against humankind, for sedition, for treason, for barbarity, and for genocide. These are the facts in my ledger. Shall I read them for you?" Duke Angoris began to croak an answer but the Inquisitor silenced him with a flourish of his sleeves. "People," he said, turning again toward the crowd. "Worthy citizens." He smiled. "Friends. When you hear the charges against Duke Angoris, you will have no doubt as to the rightness of this tribunal. I know there are those among you who doubt what we do here. Do not doubt. Listen. And keep your ears open for the most appalling tales." Angoris grit his teeth. He had no barrister to defend him, only his own wits and the infrequent opportunities Dakel gave him to speak. The Inquisitor glided closer to the dais and unrolled the scroll in his spidery hands. He read it to himself, shaking his head in disgust. "Duke Angoris," he began. "On the first day of winter you usurped the throne of the south fork of Dragon's Beak. You killed the surviving members of Duke Enli's household and took control from the ruling magistrate, who had been sent there by our own emperor. Is that so?" "The throne was empty," Angoris said. "The emperor's to blame for that." "And in your killing spree the magistrate and his wife were murdered also, correct?" Angoris was silent. "You impaled them, did you not?" The duke groped for an answer. Every word in Dakel's ledger was true, but admitting it came hard. Angoris was a stubborn man, with a head like granite and a fiery streak of independence. He had declared himself duke of the south fork of Dragon's Beak after the death of Enli, the rightful duke. Then he had set out for the ruined north fork. "Answer the question," rumbled Dakel. "Did you not order the magistrate and his wife impaled?" The duke answered, "I did." "And upon murdering the magistrate and taking Grey Tower, you found an unused canister of poison in the keep. The illegal gas called Formula B, isn't that also correct?" The Inquisitor hovered over the duke, waiting for an answer. Duke Angoris shifted, his eyes darting around the vast chamber. "No answer?" Dakel's immortally blue eyes watched his victim like a cobra's. "The poison, Duke? Have you a recollection?" "I ... I found the poison in the castle, yes. It was left there by legionnaires of the Black City. I didn't put it there." "And what did you do with the poison once you discovered it?" "I'll not answer that," spat Angoris. "Not to this court, and not to you. You have already judged me." Dakel the Inquisitor, the very soul of the Protectorate, grinned wildly at the duke. "That's fine, Duke Angoris. I'll tell the story myself." He turned like an actor toward the spectators in the candlelight. They were citizens of Nar who had come to the Tower of Truth for a show, and the master of the house would not disappoint them. "Good Narens," he sang. "Let me tell you what this self-proclaimed duke has done. He has used the grievous and criminal poison called Formula B against the people of the north fork of Dragon's Beak. These are people just like himself, you see, but Angoris is a man of boundless prejudice, and he is from the south fork, after all. This tyrant thinks of his northern brethren as beasts. He has systematically been exterminating them. He has burned out the eyes of young children with his ill-gotten poison, he has suffocated pregnant women, and he has put his own sword into the hearts of innocent men. And all for the crime of living just north of him." Angoris rose to his feet. "Biagio has done worse!" "Yes, yes," laughed Dakel. "Go on, dig your own grave." "It's true," said the duke again. This time he pointed to a darkened alcove away from the candlelight, a place where one man sat, far apart from the spectators. "Biagio knows it's true! Don't you, butcher?" From his place in the shadows, Renato Biagio steepled his fingers and gave a tired sigh. He knew that neither Angoris nor the citizens could see him, and the veil of darkness served as a comforting cloak. He had expected Angoris' outburst. Biagio settled into the plushness of his chair, reaching for a nearby brandy and sipping it thoughtfully. Dakel was in control, as always, and the Emperor of Nar wasn't ruffled at all. "Emperor Biagio is not on trial here, Duke," said the Inquisitor. "And I would strongly suggest you sit back down in your chair. You are the accused." There was nowhere for Angoris to go, so the northerner sat back, enduring the growing snickers of the crowd. They loved a show, Biagio knew, and it was circus time in Nar. Angoris' face turned an unpleasant shade of grey. Obviously, he was feeling the noose tighten. Biagio was tired from the long day and Dakel's endless speeches, and it was only afternoon. Beyond the wall of the tower he still had a city to govern, and an empire beyond that. There were always so many pressing needs, so many questions to answer, so many hands to shake and deals to make. Biagio closed eyes that had lost their immortal radiance, and pictured his enormous bed back in the palace. To sleep, he thought dreamily. For a week, or a month... He could have slept for a year if it weren't for the constant interruptions. He drained his glass of brandy and put the goblet down on the table beside him, then rose. The candelabra did a good job of blinding Angoris. Dakel had placed them perfectly, without needing Biagio's guidance. Dakel was excellent at his work. And a loyal member of the Roshann, one of the few men in the Black City Biagio trusted at all these days. Angoris wasn't the first of Biagio's enemies to face the dancing antics of Dakel. Nor would he be the last. Biagio backed away from the stage, giving Angoris a final unseen look before departing through a private door. The Tower of Truth had dozens of hidden corridors where the members of the Roshann could escape the curious eyes of the Naren citizens that gathered for the entertainment. Dakel was master of the tower. Since Biagio's ascension to emperor, the sharp-minded Inquisitor had become head of the Roshann. There had already been two attempts on the Inquisitor's life. And Biagio himself had been the target of countless schemes. These days, Biagio often stayed in the shadows. Out in the hall he found his pair of Shadow Angels, his private guards, waiting for him, silent behind their implacable silver skull masks. He walked past his men who followed directly on his heels, and left behind the thundering voice of Dakel, still ringing in the amphichamber. Biagio's head was pounding and his eyes drooped from lack of sleep. He longed to return to the Black Palace, to escape the thousand pressures plaguing him. Lost in a fog, he moved through the tower's marble halls and soon found himself at the gate where his carriage awaited. The elaborate conveyance was carved from mahogany and pulled by a team of black horses. Besides the driver, there were a dozen more Shadow Angels on horseback around the vehicle, ready to protect their master. A slave bowed to Biagio as he stepped through the gate and approached his carriage, then rushed to open its door. He was fair-haired, barely seventeen, with a pretty face and a lean body that sent the emperor's heart racing. But Biagio was too tired to pay the boy more notice, so he merely stepped into the carriage and collapsed into its leather cushions, watching with relief as the slave sealed him inside, blessedly alone. For the first time in hours, silence engulfed him. He watched through the carriage windows as his bodyguards mounted their horses and the vehicle lurched into motion. A thousand sky-scraping towers soared around him. Nar the Magnificent. The Black City. Biagio smiled. Home. And what a thankless battle it had been to return. Only a little more than a year had passed since he'd become emperor, but the memory of his bloody coup remained. He remembered it each time his food tasted off and he feared poisoning, or whenever word reached him of another civil war. A year ago he had set a chain of events into motion and now he was struggling to stop the reaction. Renato Biagio tilted his head against the window and watched the city pass by. The Black Palace dominated the distance like a giant's many-fingered hand. A familiar pall of smoke obscured the sun, setting the horizon aflame with Nar's peculiar glow, and the countless smokestacks of the foundries and incinerators rumbled up their noxious gases, spitting them high into the sky. It was all so familiar, and yet it was somehow different. Nar City had been happier when Arkus was emperor. It had been more stable, more predictable. Everyone accepted that Arkus' rule would last forever. But not so for this new emperor. Biagio's rule was tenuous, and everyone in the Empire knew it. It was why there were civil wars and genocide in Nar, why little men like Angoris were able to do such big things. Each week a new report of atrocities reached Biagio in his palace, new breakouts of unrest, new assassinations of kings. Nar had gone mad in the last year, a result of Biagio's miscalculations. He had predicted trouble upon his return from exile, but not on the grand scale that was plaguing Nar now. Biagio winced as his carriage passed the rubble where the Cathedral of the Martyrs had stood. The empty site was a symbol of all he'd done wrong. The backlash from destroying the cathedral had been far worse than he'd anticipated. He had guessed that Herrith's minions would flock to him for protection against Liss. But they were a loyal lot, almost as zealous as Herrith himself. And the archbishop's loyalists had long memories. They knew it was Biagio who had gelded their religion. It was he who had killed the bishop. It was he who had ordered the cathedral blown apart. And it was he who had murdered eleven Naren lords to steal the Iron Throne. Now no one trusted him. He closed his eyes, shutting out the cathedral's ruins. The rubble was a constant, nagging reminder of all the work still ahead of him. He was no longer the same man that had masterminded the explosion, but he still had to prove that. "I have changed," he whispered to himself. It was a mantra he chanted, a self-hypnosis to keep himself focused. Once, there had been Bovadin's narcotic to keep his mind keen, but he had given up that drug in favor of sanity. Still, the cravings never really left him. And the withdrawal from the elixir had been hell itself. It had nearly killed him. But only nearly. "I yet live," he said, laughing. No assassin had reached him, and if the Protectorate worked, no assassin ever would. Dakel and his long arm would pluck out all the cancers in the Empire, and Biagio would be safe. Nar would be at peace. There would be no more genocidal tyrants like Angoris, no more civil wars. And all of Nar would see that their emperor had changed, that now he was a man of justice and vision. A man worthy of the title. "I'm not insane anymore," Biagio whispered. His eyes were still closed and his head still rested against the glass; the rhythmic swaying of the carriage was lulling. "Not insane..." Dyana Vantran had said he was mad, and she had been right. Years of imbibing Bovadin's life-sustaining drug had turned his mind to slush. But he was slowly reclaiming himself. He had made great progress in the past year. And the Protectorate had so far worked wonderfully. The tribunal proved that he was a man of strength, despite the chaos rocking Nar. Though the fragments of the church and the legions of Nar distrusted him, Biagio still had his Roshann, and the Roshann still had their gallows. He could still engender fear when needed. Not everyone who came before the Protectorate was executed. Biagio insisted on proof before taking such actions. And it had to be politically expedient. Angoris was a tyrant, and the people of Dragon's Beak hated him. Executing him would be a popular move. And popularity was important to Biagio these days. Soon all the nations that hated him would accept his rule. Even Talistan. He wondered if Elrad Leth was nearing the city, and how soon he could get the schemer before Dakel. But there would be time enough to deal with Talistan. Exhausted, Biagio let himself daydream and he didn't think of Talistan or its sinister king, or of dark-robed Dakel lit by candlelight. Instead, his mind turned to Crote. His former island homeland would be bursting into spring, and the bittersweet image made the emperor smile. It was a long road back to the palace. Biagio seized on the image of golden beaches and, for a while, forgot his troubles. But before long the carriage stopped before the gates of the Black Palace. Biagio rubbed his eyes and straightened his garments, which had fallen sloppily around his body. The slave that had closed his carriage door now opened it, again bowing as he bid the emperor to step out. They were in the private courtyard around the palace, the first of many tiers surrounding the dizzying structure. A network of roads and stone stairways connected each tier to its successor, and the yard was scattered with horses, bodyguards, and servants. High above, Naren noblemen hung over balconies, watching their ruler return. The tallest spires disappeared into Nar's perpetual haze. As he stepped out of the carriage, Biagio noticed two figures coming quickly toward him. One was small and dark with wild eyes. The other was tall and burly, more like a wall than a man. No one would ever have believed the two were brothers. They approached their emperor and sank to their knees, greeting him with practiced respect. "Welcome home, my lord," said the smaller man. He raised his head and smiled at Biagio, who knew at once that he was hiding something. "Get that ridiculous grin off your face and tell me what's on your tiny mind, Malthrak," Biagio ordered. Malthrak of Isgar and his brother Donhedris both got to their feet. Donhedris was typically silent, letting his sibling do the talking. "Can you not guess, my lord?" said Malthrak mischievously. He was in Biagio's good graces, and so took annoying chances. "You haven't seen, have you?" "Seen what?" rumbled Biagio. "Tell me, Malthrak, or I shall have your liver for dinner." "There," said Malthrak, pointing over the emperor's shoulder. "In the harbor." Biagio's eyes followed his underling's finger. They were high enough to see the city's harbor, choked as always with trading ships. But today there was something else in the inlet, a vast, black ship with armor plating and towering masts that flew the flag of Nar. "The Fearless ," Biagio whispered. "Damn..." The Fearless dwarfed the ships around it, smothering them beneath its dominating shadow. Its sails were furled and its twin anchors were plunged into the depths. Biagio's head began to thunder, and he put a hand to his temple to massage away the pressure. This was a surprise he didn't need. "Is he ashore yet?" he asked. "Unfortunately, yes. He's waiting for you inside your reading parlor." "Has he said anything?" "No, my lord," replied Malthrak. Then his nose crinkled and he added, "Well, that's not precisely true. He did mumble something about Liss." "Oh, yes," laughed Biagio. "I'm sure he did. Very well. Go and tell him I'll be in directly. Get him something to drink and eat. Something expensive. Try to...," the emperor shrugged, "make him comfortable." Malthrak nodded and scurried away, his big, wordless brother following close behind. Biagio watched them disappear into the palace, then took his time following. He wanted to think before meeting Nicabar, but he didn't want to keep the admiral waiting too long, either. Surely his friend would be enraged. And Biagio had half-expected the visit anyway. But now he needed to summon the old Crotan charm and diplomacy. Nicabar was a very old, very dear friend. Surely he would be able to handle him. The "parlor," as Malthrak called it, was a private reading room Biagio kept for himself on the first of the palace's many floors. It was a comfortable room housing the collection of rare books and manuscripts Biagio had assembled from around the Empire. Because of its location, Biagio often greeted dignitaries there. Nicabar had known exactly where to go. Excerpted from The Saints of the Sword by John Marco All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.