The Sword of Fate was published in October (1942) and it “Did all I had hoped for it” (DW – Drink and Ink). He doesn’t elaborate on what his “hopes” were.
I can’t help thinking that with the war on and his having to write novels in amongst all his other wartime activities, they weren’t too high.
This was my first reading of the book, which is basically a love story which takes place in Egypt, Libya and Greece during the time of General Wavell’s brilliant Libyan campaign from Mersa Matruh to Benghazi and later across the Mediterranean to Athens and Mount Olympus.
The two lovers are Julian Day and Daphnis Diamopholus. She is the stepdaughter of a Greek millionaire.
DW starts this book in an unusual way. It starts at the end, and then tells the story leading up to that point. Not particularly unusual nowadays but it was the first time that DW had used this method in a novel.
After a lengthy search Julian is desperately pleased to find Daphnis sleeping in the cellar of a bombed out Greek house in Ventsa, when the brutal Nazi, Baron Feldmar von Hentzen appears behind the pair of them. He fires 5 shots at Daphnis.
The story begins;
Julian Day feels the natural urge to volunteer for the war effort and so meets up with his old colleague, the English Police chief Essex Pasha who attaches him to the Arab bureau primarily on account of the fact that he speaks several European languages as well as Arabic.
He purchases a motorbike (a la Lawrence of Arabia) and decides to visit Alexandria when his first leave came up. He was passing through the ‘Park Lane’ of the city when his front wheel twisted on an oily patch and Julian is catapulted through the air heading for the nearest lamp post.
“Daphnis was bending over me. Her lovely face was within 6 inches of mine and, as our eyes met, in that very first glance, I knew that, if only had the courage and resolution to win her, here was the one woman who would prove the crown and glory of my life.”
Daphnis is part of a rich family and so Julian has to be careful in the way he approaches her and her family he decides to send her a heart shaped aquamarine with a note telling her that she should mark out a triangle in the dust on the ground between three palm tree’s. She should enter the triangle and then place a bowl of fresh water on the ground and walk three times around it with the amulet in her hand. She should then halt, facing North and, on the stroke of midnight, she should kneel down, pressing the amulet to her heart. She will then see, reflected on the surface of the water, the face of the man she is to marry.
(Very much an idea borrowed from The Arabian Nights).
Julian plans to hide in an appropriate place to see if she carries out these instructions.
The plan doesn’t quite work as he actually planned as he observes her discussing war time secrets with a man whose voice he recognises but can’t place.
Major Cozelli, one of Essex Pasha’s men tells JD that he believes Daphnis to be a spy passing on details of British shipping to the enemy.
JD questions Daphnis on this and whilst she agrees that she was involved in some espionage she would never do anything to harm Britain’s war effort now that she had met Julian.
JD asks Daphnis to marry him - she agrees and has to tell her fiancé, the unfortunate Paolo a secretary at the Italian Legation to get lost!! Paolo recognises JD as the Julian Fernhurst who was accused of selling British secrets to international espionage agents. (See - The Quest of Julian Day).
Before JD has time to explain he is whisked off to his battalion as Italy have just entered the war.
JD and Daphnis are to be married on Wednesday 27th November but The Sword of Fate was still between them. On November 12th JD was taken prisoner by the Italians.
After his release he happened to be sitting in the lounge of his Hotel when he overhears the voice of the man that Daphnis was talking to in the garden of her family’s house. Cautiously he turned to look – It was the Portuguese, Count Emilo de Mondragora, one of the seven devils who had brought about poor Caruthers suicide and wrecked his own career. (The Quest of Julian Day).
After following him to his hotel he finds Mondragora in league with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and the Nazi Von Hentzen. They were discussing a German airborne invasion of Egypt. A gun battle ensues and the Police are called in.
The Police accuse JD of hiding some important documentation written by Daphnis.
JD is imprisoned but eventually set free as long as he doesn’t try to get in contact with her or leave Alexandria.
JD immediately does just that. He manages to get himself on a troop ship heading for Athens. He catches up with Daphnis stepfather who tells him that she had managed to get a job working with von Hentzen .
JD has to get back to the battalion and the war effort predominantly around Mount Olympus. Excellent battle descriptions against the German Planes and tanks are given by DW as usual.
The finale is when JD happens to see Mondragora by accident (again) and follows him to his hide out. Von Hentzen is there also. JD manages to get the info relating to Daphnis whereabouts. We are now back at the beginning/end of the story.
Page 31 - JD doesn’t want Daphnis ‘besmirched’ in any way. Not a common expression these days.
Page 107 – JD remembers that he was not too far away from the place where he hunted for the lost treasure of Cambyses in 1938. (The Quest of Julian Day)
Page 110 – JD captured by the eye-ties (Italians - for info to all non cockney’s)
Page 161 – For those of you who are not too sure what a Grand Mufti is. See attached
Page 203, 212 & 228 - The term Total War is used again.
Page 223 & 224 – DW expresses his admiration for the Greeks and the way they live their lives.
Page 282 – JD actually kills one of his enemies without asking lots of endless questions.
It’s a shame he didn’t do the same a few hours earlier. (you’ll have to read the book!!!)
I did enjoy this book but not as much as 'The Quest of Julian Day', which I felt was more of an in depth read. As I said at the beginning I got the impression that DW was writing this fairly quickly to maintain momentum. He had more important War work to do.
However the reviews of the book state;
“Magnificent story of love and high adventure”
“A love story with a real kick in it”
The book doesn’t state where the reviews come from though!!