Reader, I am not what most would describe as “fit.” Dexterous, sure; I can play ping pong, darts, or Spikeball with the best of ‘em. I walk 10+ miles per week. I’m not particularly strong, but I’ll help you move for the right price (pizza). The biggest thing I lift with any semblance of regularity isn’t a dumbbell—it’s a fantasy book. The bigger, the better.
And within those fantasy books, particularly the more epic ones, I’m treated to swashbuckling and magic-fueled training montages. Lately, I’ve been drawn to stories about fantasy swordsmen and their workout regimens. More specifically, I enjoy reading the action scenes in which they dispose of their enemies with lethal swipes of their chosen blades. I’ve started to ask myself during these fights: “How long would I last in one of these battles?”
The answer is always some hilariously tiny amount of time: “How long is a picosecond” is my latest Google search. While defeating a challenger in one trillionth of a second may be beyond the capabilities of even the most magical swordsman, I know I probably wouldn’t last much longer than that—especially if I were facing off against any of these five incredible blade-wielding warriors…
Geralt of Rivia — The Witcher by Andrzej Sapkowski
Geralt can swipe an arrow from the air mid-flight, then execute a band of armored men without shedding a single drop of (his own) blood. Everyone’s favorite Witcher disposes of foes with such remarkable alacrity, you miss most of the fight if you blink.
Meanwhile, I once walked head-first into the corner of an open door while trying to ask my roommate if the dishes were clean. I required three stitches. That door was stationary and nowhere near as gorgeous as Henry Cavill’s Geralt. I don’t know what reason the Witcher would ever have to fight me with his trademark dual blades, but I do know you would barely be able to call it a fight.
Vasher — Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson
Vasher is one of the Cosmere’s most capable swordsmen. His Awakened blade makes him all the more deadly.
I stand even less of a chance than usual, here, because I know Vasher has incredible power outside of his prowess with the blade. He could simply awaken any object around me—my coffee mug, the index cards on my desk, or a feathery cat toy on the ground—and have the object knock me out within a heartbeat. He wouldn’t need any Awakened objects. Sword in hand, I’d likely only have a second to flourish the blade in a poor attempt at a feint before being thrown off-kilter and disposed of with stunning speed.
Perhaps I’d be better off fleeing to Roshar…
Bingle — The Magicians Trilogy by Lev Grossman
If you thought Geralt was the most stoic swordsman on this list, think again. Bingle barely speaks during his tenure in The Magicians. His reputation as one of the best in Fillory precedes him, and he handily wins a contest to accompany Eliot on a daring quest.
One key detail still stands out to me from Bingle’s iconic fight in The Magicians TV series: He catches an opponent’s blade with his bare hands just when it looks like he’s about to lose. And that was against another master sword fighter.
I own a sword, as it happens; it belonged to my great-grandfather, and it’s inscribed with his name. The hilt is molded to look like a knight’s helmet. It’s an intricate and decorative item. It’s also relatively thin, but hefting it for more than 30 seconds wears me out. I’m pretty certain any swing I’d level at Bingle, no matter how swift, would be instantly parried, leaving me swordless almost immediately.
Bremer Dan Gorst — The First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie
The way Joe Abercrombie describes Bremer Dan Gorst’s sword-fighting style summons up images of General Grievous wildly swinging lightsabers in huge arcs during his fight against Obi-Wan. Or perhaps the Tasmanian Devil of Looney Tunes fame whirling like a twister. The point is, Dan Gorst is a whirlwind of strength and speed. His bouts in The Blade Itself show a swordsman in his prime, barely tiring even after a taxing contest.
I might escape from a fight against Bremer Dan Gorst with bruises and cuts, but my life would (hopefully) remain. He demonstrates his sportsmanlike conduct in The Blade Itself, taking his (exceedingly rare) losses with grace.
Lan Mandragoran — The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan
Lord of the Seven Towers, Lord of the Lakes, True Blade of Malkier, Defender of the Wall of First Fires, Bearer of the Sword of the Thousand Lakes…I might expire from boredom while Lan’s titles are listed before he ever takes a swing.
Turns out he’s earned those honors and then some. Lan is an artist with the blade, and he’s got his scowling down pat.
The Wheel of Time has books that easily rank among the massive doorstoppers I mentioned in the intro, and I’m only on book three. Even so, I already know full well how a fight between me—who once suffered a bruised shin from playing too much Quidditch on a Razor scooter—and this fearsome Warder.
I may be a writer, but with these fighters, it seems the sword is mightier than the pen indeed. Your turn, now—which fictional swordsmen (or swordswomen) would strike you down faster than you can blink? Let me know in the comments!