CSFF Blog Tour: The Staff and the Sword

The central question of The Staff and the Sword is who will be the next king – Illustra’s soteregia, who will die to save the kingdom. When the church casts the lots for the answer, half the lots say Liam and half say Errol. Errol is the staff, for this is his weapon, the weapon with which he slayed monsters and climbed to fame.

And Liam, I suppose, is the sword.

Though of primary importance to the story, Liam is at best a second-tier character; in terms of page count, he might be a third-tier character. Martin, Adora, Luis, Rokha, maybe even Rale and Merodach are invested with more time and certainly more emotion than Liam.

The story unveils little of what he thinks or feels about any of his life’s circumstances, from his lost parents to his unusual upbringing to his given fate. We see that he accepts – maybe even embraces? – fighting and then dying as Illustra’s royal sacrifice, but we don’t know why. Did he abandon himself to Deas’ choosing? Was he the sort of born hero who dies easily if he dies well? Had he so built his life around one purpose that he had nothing else in it? I read all three books, and I couldn’t say.

I don’t think that readers of The Staff and the Sword trilogy really know who Liam is. I don’t think the other characters knew, either. The Staff and the Sword is Errol’s story and no one else’s. Liam is left an unplumbed mystery. The reader’s emotions are mostly with him, as are the characters’. It’s sad but it’s true: The only character in A Draw of Kings who didn’t prefer Liam to die instead of Errol was Antil.

Not to invest in Liam was a curious choice on Patrick Carr’s part; the suspense of who was the soteregia would have been greater had readers been led to know and care about Liam as well as Errol. It may be that Errol was The Hero and that’s all there was to Carr’s decision. It would have been a very different series, and quite possibly a longer one, if Liam had been raised to a similar level.

Possibly the story held Liam at arm’s length in order to pursue the contrast between him and Errol. The books always paired them opposite each other. At the beginning, it was Errol the hopeless drunk and Liam the promising young blacksmith; later, the solis and the omne, the savior and the king, the staff and the sword, the everyman hero and the warrior from a legend.

Perfect, several characters thought of Liam. Untouchable, Rokha called him. You need distance to maintain that. When you get near something, it grows more flawed. But also more loveable.