The Pen and the Sword (Destiny’s Crucible, Volume 2), by Olan Thorensen

This is the second volume of Olan Thorensen’s Destiny’s Crucible series that began with Cast Under an Alien Sun. In the first book chemist Joe Colsco is flying on an airliner that crashes into an alien vessel. The AI in the alien vessel manages to save and repair Joe, the only survivor, but tells him he can either be placed on a planet with a human civilization or be painlessly ended. In either case he can’t return to earth because of the risk that he’ll disclose their surveillance of the planet.

Joe chooses life and is placed on a planet with a human population that has advanced to around the 17th or 18th century. In the first book he is gradually accepted into the population, learns the language, and becomes a kind of Edison figure, introducing innovations like kerosene lamps and fertilizers.

Also in the first book it becomes clear that the militant Narthani are attempting to conquer the island of Caedellium where Joe’s adopted people live. In this book the Narthani plot takes up most of the action of the book. The Narthani have already taken over some of the small states on the island and have been using mercenaries and spies to continue their plan.

Joe, who the locals call Yosef Kolsko, must now use his inventiveness to try to create adequate weapons for defense. The aliens who left him on this planet added nanotechnology to help him in several ways. His memory for things he’s read has been enhanced, he can heal fast, and because of the higher gravity he’s been given some enhanced strength.

Though he’s had to become involved in this new military threat, he would much rather help the people around him advance their knowledge. To do that he’s talked to a local abbot about creating a university where scholars can exchange knowledge to bring out new knowledge. Because his projects in book one were so financially successful he proposes to fund much of this project.

As it stands, he must try to build cannons and other weapons through trial and error, trying to figure out the proper way to forge and cast weapons. Because of his enhanced memory he is also a valuable resource for local leaders because of his knowledge of historic battle strategies.

Also carrying forward is his romance with the daughter of a local leader, a romance that nearly ended with a kiss in book one.

As with the first volume, it’s fun to watch Joe’s ingenuity in solving problems and in helping to work out tactics during battles. He’s not necessarily heroic, but his thinking is so intense that he ends up being in the middle of battles simply because he becomes so focused on solving problems.

This book ends in a climactic battle and, while the book comes to a good conclusion, it’s clear that more will have to be done to foil the Narthani threat.

Fun books with adorable characters. Joe’s unusual personality and his introduction of things like running for pleasure make him a much talked-about person to the locals, but they still enjoy his company, his humor, and his many gifts of new ideas that make their lives better. These are books that fly by and leave the reader sorry they’re over.