Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Duncan, Dave

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Working name of Scottish-born Canadian writer David John Duncan (1933-2018), whose first novel was the fantasy A Rose-Red City (1987). His work in the fantasy field is dominated by three sequences. The Seventh Sword sequence – The Reluctant Swordsman (1988), The Coming of Wisdom (1988) and The Destiny of the Sword (1988) – seems at first a fairly standard Portal fantasy in which a dying man from the mundane world comes to life in the body of a Hero who has already failed, and is given a mission by the Goddess; but it turns out to be a much more thoughtful work than its high-energy action plot might suggest.

Two closely interlinked sequences share location, characters and themes – A Man of His Word, comprising Magic Casement (1990), Faery Lands Forlorn (1991), Perilous Seas (1991) and Emperor and Clown (1991), and A Handful of Men, comprising The Cutting Edge (1992), Upland Outlaws (1993), The Stricken Field (1993) and The Living God (1994). The world of these two series seems at first to have elements of a Gameworld; as the series progress, however, this comes to seem a conscientious decision to stylize and make use, often subversive, of stock conventions as a shorthand. Another element in the books which resembles but escapes cliché is the operation of Magic; magical power is conveyed in varying degrees by the possession of up to four Words of Power (> Magic Words) – possession of more than four is apparently fatal and the level of power at each level depends on how many others each word is shared with. These words turn out to be the True Names of a group of aboriginals farmed so that they may give up their names at death; this is one of the most obvious examples of the use and abuse of power which proves to be what DD is interested in investigating.

A singleton of interest is The Reaver Road (1992), a Heroic Fantasy whose travelling storyteller narrator/protagonist Omar may be the Avatar of a Trickster god, suffering from Amnesia. He finds himself caught up in the complicated dealings of potential avatars of another god. DD's hallmarks – perpetual good humour, plus moral seriousness and competent story-management – are attractively on display here. The Hunter's Haunt (1995) is not so much a sequel as an independent singleton featuring the same protagonist in its Frame Story. Past Imperative (1995) – the first volume of the projected Great Game sequence – is a Fantasy of History involving a Wainscot society of transdimensional intelligence operatives functioning in the Europe of World War I and a Fantasyland where deities, who may be less than they seem, are involved in a Godgame. [RK]

other works: Shadow (1987), science fantasy; West of January (1989), sf; Strings (1990), sf; Hero! (1991), sf; The Cursed (1995).

as Ken Hood: Years of Longdirk series, beginning with Demon Sword (1995).

David John Duncan


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.