Wielding a Red Sword by Piers Anthony is the fourth in the imaginative Incarnations of Immortality series. I originally loved this series when I first read it in High School, but I've discovered that it's not as enjoyable the second time through.
In this series, humans are able to take on the offices of Death, Time, Fate, War, Nature, Evil, and Good. The author does a great job of detailing what the duties of these offices entail. He also creates a fascinating world that uses both magic and technology.
Mym runs away from home to go join the circus. Mym is a self-pitying young man who, apparently, didn't like his plush life in the palace. Through a series of unfortunate events he falls in love with one of the ladies at the circus and is later forced into an undesired betrothal after his father hunts him down. When his father breaks off the betrothal with the first woman and forces him into a different one that would better benefit the kingdom, Mym finds himself with the option to run away once again by taking on the office of War. He takes on the office with the expectation of continuing his relationship with his originally betrothal; however, when she sees more of the world beyond her palace, she decides she can do better.
While the four lesser incarnations, Pestilence, Conquest, Famine, and Slaughter are interesting additions to War's entourage, Anthony doesn't do much with these characters. Another insert that never seems to materialize in this book is the inclusion of Mym's studying Go Rin No Sho or The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi, which is a treatise of war much like The Art of War by Sun Tzu. Mym's battle with Satan lacks any sense of urgency, even at the climax.
The first in the series involving the incarnation of death is still a favorite of mine; however, the novels that follow just don't seem to be as enjoyable. Unfortunately, Anthony's writing has a lot of problems. Many of the characters have the habit of revealing plot points in monologues, rather than letting the story take on a natural progression. Because the author otherwise portrays the characters as stereotypical 'normal', the theatrical dialogue that takes place throughout the narrative is jarring. If one read this particular novel as a stand-alone, I think it would be easy to excuse the sexism in the narration due to the fact that the main character, Mym, was raised in a sexist and entitled household; however, having read many other Anthony novels in the past, it's clear this is simply Anthony's own personal prejudices.
Sadly, the concept of this novel has a lot of potential, but the author failed to bring it to fulfillment.
Books in this series:
On a Pale Horse
Bearing an Hourglass
With a Tangled Skein