On the surface, and especially in the first book, this appears to be just another fantasy novel - young boy given a magical sword, sets out to seek his fate, blah blah bibbity blah. However, we see depths here, hints of a mysterious past in the world (technology was banished 2000 years ago for a length of time of 49,949 years - what a strange number - does it mean something?), tales of other magical swords - which are apparently true, as evil-doers start coming out of the woodwork left and right seeking the boy to steal his magical sword in order to gain its power for their own.
While I would like to see deeper character development, or more details on the mysterious past, at the same time it would likely ruin Saberhagen's forward momentum to slow it down and do so.
Usually the second book in a trilogy - the book to "bridge the gap" - tends to be ... shall we say, not quite up to the par of the first and third books. This is not the case in this instance. In "The Second Book of Swords," five years have passed, and while Barbara has been traveling with a carnival, Ben has chosen to sign up with the Blue Temple for service and Mark has wandered off who-knows-where in his quest to find ways to help fight against the Dark King. Early in the book they all reunite and, with Ben's urging, they decide to try to rob the Blue Temple's treasure hoard, which Ben guarantees has at least one Sword. Along the way they run across another treasure hunter - the Baron Doon, guided by the Sword Wayfinder - with whom Ben and Mark continue their quest, while Barbara goes her own way.
While The First Book of Swords was a fairly simple plot with flat characters and brisk movement, Saberhagen took more care to building his characters in the second book, while maintaining a fast pace. I was personally pleased by this, as I like to know a bit about the characters in the stories I read.
In the third book of the trilogy, another four years have passed. Ben and Barbara are living undercover as the wealthy Lord and Lady Courtenay and Mark continues on his quest to help Kind Sir Andrew - who, with his remaining troops, has been living in the swamp and using guerrilla tactics to fight the Dark King - in any way he can to stay one-up on the Dark King. Meanwhile, gods who are tired of uppity humans have decided to end their game and are trying to get their Swords back.
There is so much going on in this last book that I don't dare go much more into it without worrying about spoilers, and I don't want to do that! I'll just say that the ending, while it smacks somewhat of deus ex machina, is nonetheless satisfactory and ties things up nicely.
This is definitely a great book and one I recommend to anyone who enjoys good fantasy with a hint of epic nature. If you are a fan of the sword and sorcery genre of fantasy (with a bit of a twist), definitely spend the time it will take to find these very fun books. I know I am pleased with the trilogy and have made a note to myself to go and seek the rest of the books set in this world (there are certainly a lot of them!) - the Lost Swords books and the Empire of the East books, for example. I think I've discovered a new author to add to my list of "favorites."