Review: The Hammer and the Blade by Paul S. Kemp

In honor of Del Rey re-releasing Paul S. Kemp’s The Hammer and the Blade today I am re-posting my review of the original release here. You can find the new edition at your book seller of choice.

The Hammer and the Blade by Paul S. Kemp

The Hammer and the Blade
Paul S. Kemp
Angry Robot, 2012

I haven’t read a lot of Forgotten Realms fiction, what I have read was typically from the setting’s creator Ed Greenwood or the ever-poular R. A. Salvatore but what I had read I enjoyed. But you can only take so much of a certain powerful wizard and a particular scimitar wielding dark elf before you grow a little weary. So, when I had heard buzz about Paul S. Kemp’s Erevis Cale books I decided to give it a shot. Kemp’s Twilight War series managed to not only tell an entertaining story full of action, adventure and magic but also managed to muse a bit about the nature of spirituality and faith. Kemp has primarily worked with in shared worlds moving from The Forgotten Realms to Star Wars but I’ve always wanted to read something of his that was wholly original. Now, with the release of The Hammer and the Blade that time has come.

As I’ve said in the past there has been, I feel, a small resurgence of the old school style sword and sorcery fiction in recent years. Not such a massive movement as with the appearance of and popularity of steampunk but none-the-less a growing contingent of authors spawning out of the short-fiction scene who focus on stories of adventure, action, and intrigue. Kemp’s The Hammer and the Blade falls decidedly into that same camp most obviously drawing influence from the work of Fritz Leiber. The novel stars two mercenaries and treasure hunters Nix and Egil. Egil, the Hammer part of the title, is the priest of the Momentary God (a human who apparently achieved divinity only to die soon after) while Nix, the blade part of the title, is a thief and “drop out” of the Mage’s college. Together there is very little they won’t do for money.

The Hammer and the Blade opens with a bit of a bang and throws readers straight into the action. No lengthy exposition, introduction, or prologue. Instead readers just get two friends robbing a tomb for treasure and profit. There is action, there is banter and both seem to flow smoothly from Kemp’s pen. It’s hard to complain when a novel opens with a bit of larceny capped off with a fight against a demon. Particularly when the events of that opening are used to forward the plot by using the rest of the novel to explore the ramifications of that action. Most of those ramifications involve action, adventure, and healthy dose of danger and near-death for our quick witted heroes.

Now while The Hammer and the Blade is a story about adventure and excitement I should mention that one of the primary drivers behind the plot is a bit unsavory; which might be putting it mildly. Some minor spoilers ahead so be forewarned. The Mage who rather forcibly “hires” Egil and Nix is from an ancient family who long ago made a pact with a line of demons. Said pact involved the breeding of female members of this family with demon princes. It is a decidedly darker aspect to a novel that, despite its violence, tends to maintain something a lighter tone. The effect of these seemingly contradictory tones is disconcerting at times. This aspect of the novel was surprising and unexpected for me and I think readers might be better off having a bit of advanced knowledge.

The Hammer and the Blade is an enjoyable novel that fans of old school sword and sorcery fiction will likely enjoy. There isn’t a terrible amount of world building and most of the attention is spent developing the two lead characters. It isn’t a perfect novel, that same familiarity with typical tropes of the sword and sorcery and a definite sense of homage being paid to past authors lends the novel the feel of a well trod path. I was particularly taken by Egil and his Momentary God and I seriously hope that aspect of this world is explored in any future novels.

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