My wife is a big Repairman Jack fan, so when I had the opportunity to pick up F. Paul Wilson's latest Jack novel, By the Sword: A Repairman Jack Novel, I swooped in. Concerned that, by coming into a series like this in the middle, I wouldn't be able to follow what was going on, I wasn't heartened by Wilson's introduction. He apologizes to his readers for no longer being able to finish a story in one book as he leads up to the conclusion. Obviously, this wasn't going to be a stand-alone Jack adventure. Thankfully, I had no trouble whatsoever following what was going on. Wilson not only does a splendid job of keeping new readers in the loop but also of creating the urge to go pick up other novels in the series. This is an excellent book.
It's the present day, and evil forces begin to move in their efforts to cause the calamity that creates the world of previous Jack books. A teenage woman named Dawn, carrying the child who will be key to this new world, is kept safe from the many organizations that want to control her. But what about her protectors? Is she really safe anywhere? Repairman Jack is looking for her, but he's also tasked with tracking down a katana that has been stolen from a collector in Hawaii, one that disappeared from a Hiroshima museum fifty years ago. Many of these same organizations want the katana, and the katana itself seems to have a mind of its own, one bent on destruction. Violence erupts between factions, with Jack and Dawn caught in the middle. Is catastrophe imminent? Not if Jack has his way.
If By the Sword is any indication of the quality of the Repairman Jack series (and my wife says that many fans were disappointed with this book), then I am definitely going to become a reader of this series. Wilson’s prose style is breezy to read yet draws you into the action. Even conversations between two people keep you captivated. The narrative style is interesting; Wilson writes each viewpoint's narration in the style of the character. For instance, Dawn's viewpoint has narration like this: "Dawn checked herself in the mirror. She'd had a totally terrible night and looked it." The viewpoints of some of the Japanese cult members are told in a much more formal fashion. These differences immerse the reader in the world Wilson has created rather than holding them to the sidelines.
Wilson has created intriguing characters as well. Dawn can be annoying at times, like all teenagers; I wanted to throttle her a few times, but that's pretty normal, too. She’s believable, with sometimes conflicting motivations, such as doing immensely stupid and dangerous things when she feels trapped. Jack is fascinating, very efficient and good with a gun when he needs to be. But he's not infallible; he sets factions against each other and is surprised by the carnage that results when he realizes that he was missing information. He's becoming the head man of the "good" forces that are facing off against the evil ones, and while he's reluctant to be that man, he knows what he has to do. He's also conflicted by many events that happened in the previous novels, regarding his daughter and his girlfriend, Gia.
It's obvious from the start that this is a sequel to the previous book. My impression is that while previous books in the series had an ongoing plotline, they were fairly self-contained. By the Sword is the continuation of many events, however. Dawn's problems originate in the previous book; Jack's search for Dawn, the ongoing mystery of what happened to Gia - all of these things are continuations. Wilson succeeds in giving enough information so that new readers won’t be completely lost. They may lose some nuance, but they'll never say "Why is this happening?" or "Who is this person?" You may not know exactly what happened, but you know that something did, and that it's important. Wilson avoids long infodumps of information about previous books, giving enough for new readers to go on but not boring regular readers out of their minds with redundancies.
It's always fun discovering new authors. While By the Sword isn't an ideal place to enter the Repairman Jack mythos, it certainly isn't a bad one. If Wilson's other books hold up to this quality (and from everything I've heard, they do), I've got a lot of reading ahead of me. This is a great book and well worth reading.