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The Philosopher in Arms by Karen Wehrstein

A novel of power, love, war and spirit 

The Philosopher in Arms is the massively-revised version of my two traditionally-published fantasy novels, Lion’s Heart and Lion’s Soul (Baen Books, 1991) set in the “Fifth Millennium” world collaboratively created with S.M. Stirling and Shirley Meier.

Almost 3,000 years after a human-made cataclysm reduced both human population and technology back to primitive levels, civilization is rising again slowly. Here and there, tiny relics and pockets of the old knowledge are left, some useful, some merely intriguing, which their possessors sometimes guard secret, sometimes use and sometimes spread, so that there are all kinds of possibilities. The different cultures, their values, customs, languages and so on are portrayed in great detail, so as to give the reader a feel of being there.

Destined by birth to serve his strictly-democratic people as “the-people-wills-one” and war leader, Fourth Chevenga Shae-Arano-e has a vision at the age of seven showing him that he will not live past the age of thirty.

Growing up brilliant in war and unlucky in love, Chevenga faces his greatest challenge when his nation is invaded by the same empire that is holding him captive as a gladiator. Tortured to insanity, healed on the island of healers, aided by the wild and foreign woman he loves and her secret technology of flying, he is still key to liberating his people—and then changing defense into conquest. He then faces an even greater danger: the deep distrust of his own people for anyone competent with power.

At once intensely spiritual, grittily realistic and shot through with humour, The Philosopher in Arms is about war, sacrifice, friendship, loyalty and love, but perhaps more than anything else, the meaning and ethics of power and fate.

Note: The Philosopher in Arms contains some graphic sexual content, graphic violence, and harsh language.

A complete novel

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Listed: Jul 29, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

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Description of a Warrior’s Life

By Linda Schoales, editor

Nov 20, 2009: “The Philosopher in Arms” is a fantasy novel written from the point of view of a great warrior-leader looking back on his life. Fourth Chevenga Shae-Arano-e’s people, the Yeola, live in a pre-industrial society where the Assembly makes the rules and the decisions, but the semanakraseye acts in times of war. Chevenga is the son of a semanakraseye, and has been trained since childhood to serve his people in turn.

Chevenga begins his story with the death of his father when he is seven. He already knows he is destined to be a warrior and leader of his people. At his father’s death he knows in his heart that he too will die young. In the next chapter, the story begins again with his description of his own birth ceremonies. From here, he describes his life through a series of incidents. By chapter 8 he is 8-years old and he discovers that he needs a special teacher because one day he will probably be the most skillful warrior in the world.

I managed to keep myself reading up to chapter 11 but it was a struggle. The chapters seemed longer than the 3 or 4 screenfuls of actual text. The backstory is very well thought out and interesting, but for my tastes there was always too much information. The writing is long on description and short on action. The pace is so slow that this great warrior is only 8 years old in the 11th chapter. The incidents he describes don’t seem to have any purpose except to show the reader how special he was as a child.

There is no tension or humour and the narrator has a very dry, detached, and omniscient voice. In fact, his descriptions of the ceremonies and his tribe’s customs remind me more of an anthropological text book than a novel. He seems to have a very modern, literate and philosophical viewpoint for someone taking sword lessons to someday lead a war party. I also wasn’t comfortable with the way the narrator describes his childhood memories. He seems to be remarkably clear on the details and on how he felt at the time, considering how young he was.

The other characters feel rather flat—more like “noble savages” than real people. They talk for paragraphs—giving lectures and history lessons. They make sweeping statements like, “The people of Yeola-e feel the semanakraseye as a part of themselves living; if he dies, they feel a part of themselves die.” There are a lot of names and words like “semanakraseye” which interrupt the flow of the narrative as I kept trying to figure out how to pronounce them.

If you like slow, descriptive writing about a special person with A Destiny, or fantasy with more setting and history than action, you may enjoy reading “The Philosopher in Arms”. There is an interesting culture and backstory, but the narrator’s voice doesn’t really make it come alive. The narrator and other characters are long-winded, and given to flowery descriptions, some of which don’t make any sense. And after 11 chapters, the story still doesn’t feel like it’s gotten started. I don’t feel like waiting around to see when it does.

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Most Helpful Member Reviews

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Chevenga: Burning the Candle at Both Ends

By Ysabetwordsmith, member

Aug 20, 2009: I first discovered Chevenga’s story, years ago, when it appeared as two paperback novels (rather obviously a single story hacked in half for format reasons). I was utterly delighted to rediscover it recently in its new, revised and expanded, online format. The original two novels, Lion’s Heart and Lion’s Soul, are being reunited into a cohesive narrative. This encourages me, because I think the Internet is reminding us that a story is a living, growing thing. Paper books don’t change, and I love them for that; they will always hold [more . . .]

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I Need a Hero!

By GreenGlass, member

Aug 3, 2009: Update: If anyone is interested, I have a brief perspective response to the most recent editorial review. In reference to PA’s first chapters, I find the supporting characters far from dry, the culture fascinating (although definitely not as individualistic as Americans are used to), the conversations invigorating, and the pace perfect for me, since I absolutely love childhood and training/schooling sagas. I feel that Schoales got exactly what the first chapters are about when she pointed out the detail given to the setting, unique belief system, and kind of person [more . . .]

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Chevenga: The Real Story

By capriox, member

Nov 16, 2009: ETA: This story also won the 2013 Rose & Bay Award for Best Fiction!

Philosopher in Arms is the best serial I have read so far online. Karen has had lots of writing practice (to put it simply), and it shows in her skill both in the nuts-and-bolts of her writing and in her storytelling. It helps that PiA is actually a revision & expansion of an already published story, but having read her other work, the completely new you-saw-it-here-first asa [more . . .]

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