So, The Reluctant Swordsman pays deep homage to an old pulp tradition: the man from contemporary(ish) Earth sent to a more savage world. Sometimes he is sent physically, sometimes he is psychically placed in the body of a local. If the Earth man is surprisingly fit physical specimen who already knows the manful arts of swordplay, horsemanship, and encircling sexually aroused women with his mighty arms, he is usually sent physically. In this case, middle aged Walter Smith gets the psychic transplant treatment. Luckily, in most of these cases, the lucky transplant is usually given the local equivalent of a twenty-five year old Daniel Craig who had just finished three years of rigorous training for a decathlon. The transplant invariably adapts fairly quickly to feats of arms, but always keeps a strangely tender and romantic attitude towards women (whether it is a single lady love, a la John Carter, or a series of sexually available women for him to treat with the utmost respect).
Duncan does a good job. A fine job really. But he never really reaches the proper pitch. Either you need to be commenting on those old stories, providing a new, modern twist, or else you need to go straight at them and indulge to excesses of your inner Robert E. Howard. Duncan does neither. He never navigates his way between the contemporary style and classic pulpy goodness. Also, the stakes are too low. I know it’s the first of a four volume series, but if a demigod is going to take the time to bring ‘Wallie’ through time and space into the body of a mighty warrior and assign him a quest from the ‘Goddess,’ then, for Goddess’ sake, there needs to be some world shattering urgency there to explain why they couldn’t wait for soul of someone more resembling a Mark Wahlberg character to be available and simply had to go with the soul of a balding, friendless fifty something. In short, I’m not feeling compelled to read the sequel.