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
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.
The Written is the first book in the Emaneska series. All of Emaneska books were self-published by their author Ben Galley. The Written opens with a mysterious mage murdering some librarians to steal a book for some nefarious purpose. From their readers are introduced to Farden a sword wield, fire-flinging gauntlet wearing mage known for his temper and the fact that his father’s mind buckled under the power of his magics. Farden, we quickly learn is tasked (by his vampire mentor) with tracking down the mysterious book thief and murderer. Of course it isn’t quite as simple as tracking down the thief thanks to the fact that the book was a powerful grimoire once held by the mages of Arfell’s ancient enemy: the Sirens. Farden’s quest leads him down dark paths full of conspiracy, adventure, and magic.
The Written is a solid debut book. This is by no means a perfect novel and it doesn’t necessarily do a lot of new things but it a solid swords and sorcery adventure. Farden is an interesting lead equal parts confident and flawed; capable of both deep insight and disastrous oversight. The world of Emeaneska is interesting though at least on the surface a fairly generic fantasy landscape. Over the course of the novel Galley focuses his attention on two main cultures: the mages of Arfell and their once enemies the Sirens. Galley’s narrow focus on both cultures and their differences are where the novel is at its strongest and it becomes easy to see how the radical differences in each of these two cultures has lead to conflict and misunderstanding. I do think that Galley is a bit less than even-handed in his presentation of both Arfell and the Sirens. The Sirens, who were the ones defeated in their war with the mages of Arfell, are definitely painted in a more forgiving light that paint’s the mages’ claims of Siren aggression in a very different light.
Galley plays fast and loose with the magic of The Written, there are no big Sanderson-esque magic systems here and the limitations of the Farden’s abilites are not made explicit. The magic of The Written involves writing, particularly in the form of tattoos born by mages like Farden, and that the process of tattooing is dangerous bordering on deadly. What we never find out is precisely what that magic can and cannot do. For the most part Galley offers just enough detail to keep the sorcerous action interesting without being confusing. Galley also show a deft hand at action scenes and crafts several exciting set pieces that unfold in epic situations. The plot is quick and constantly moving forward with at least one major twist that even experienced readers will not see coming.
The Written is currently available for free in Kindle form so there really isn’t any excuse not check it out now. I’ll definitely be giving the rest of Galley’s Emaneska series a shot in the future.
Throne of Glass, currently consisting of Throne of Glass (2012) and Crown of Midnight (2013) [plus four prequel novellas available as e-books], may just be my favorite teen fantasy series so far. Seriously, I’m very excited about this series. Throne of Glass opens with 18-year-old female assassin Celaena Sardothien forced into slavery working mines in a prison camp when Prince Dorian and his Guard Captain Westfall arrive with an offer: complete in a series of challenges to become the King’s Champion and she will earn her freedom. Of course being the King’s “Champion” means doing the blackest of deeds serving the man who conquest ruined her life and sent her into the slavery. But the carrot of freedom is too tempting, particularly given the brutal conditions of the camp, and Celaena enters the competition. Over the course of the novel Calaena, whose life has been far from easy even before being exiled to a labor camp, steps into the quagmire of court life and a deadly competition. If competing for the title of Champion isn’t enough the palace, much of made of strange glass, is also plagued by a series of mysterious murders targeting the competitors.
James Enge’s The Wolf Age is the third novel to feature the hero Morlock Ambrosius. I read the first, Blood of Ambrose, back in April of 2009 though I skipped the second outing This Crooked Way. I read Blood of Ambrose long before I had heard of Black Gate Magazine, the periodical which has been the home to Morlock on multiple occasions, and I suppose I have (consciously or otherwise) set out to make sure I follow authors read in the pages of Black Gate in longer forms whenever possible. The Wolf Agepays tribute to the sword and sorcery stories of old without ever feeling stale.
Where in The Blood of Ambrose readers joined Morlock as he journeyed back amidst civilization The Wolf Age sees Moorlock on sort of self-imposed exile as his presence tends to draw the attention of his father Merlin. While traversing the wilderness Morlock discovers a raiding party from the werewolf city Wuruyaaria and though Morlock intercedes on behalf of the villagers under attack he finds himself captured and imprisoned. At the same time Morlock is being employed, without his knowledge, by forces far more powerful than he suspects; forces who see the destruction of Wuruyaaria and its mysterious founder as an absolute necessity.
Black God’s Kiss
C. L. Moore
Paizo, 2007 (orig. Weird Tales, 1934)
Jirel of Joiry first introduced by C. L. Moore in 1934 in the pages of Weird Tales is noted as being one of the first post-Conan Howard influenced sword and sorcery protagonists as well as the first heroine of the sword and sorcery genre (ed note: I won’t lie that first bit about Conan comes via wikipedia, the reference was cited as being from Lin Carter so anyone who wants to take umbrage may rightly do so). Paizo, once again continuing their brilliant use of the Planet Stories name, republished all five of the Jirel stories as single volume in 2007 as Black God’s Kiss. Moore’s fiction is notable for its use of exotic landscapes and in each of Jirel tales the location plays a key role in informing the tone of the story. Of course, while Jirel is well versed in use of arms, her real key trait though is her temper, her indomitable will, and her independence.
Alexy Pehov, translated by Andrew Bromfield
Tor, 2010 (orig. 2002)
In Shadow Prowler, the first in a famed Russian fantasy series, the Master Thief Shadow Harold is tasked to find a means to stop the seemingly inexorable advance of the Unnamed One. Joined by a motley cast of characters he sets off on a quest that will save the world and, perhaps more importantly to our hero, make him a very rich man. While the jacket copy for Shadow Prowler, with its mention of the Unnamed One, and an elf princess, as well as it’s quest based nature appears to be a very traditional epic fantasy. Even Booklist’s review cites similarities to Tolkien’s work. Of course saying <insert epic fantasy series here> bears similarity to Tolkien’s work is kind of like saying water is wet. The jacket copy cites similarity to Moorcock’s Elric series which, while I haven’t read it yet (a travesty, I kn0w) hits a bit closer to the mark in placing Shadow Prowler closer to the sword and sorcery line of the fantasy world. Shadow Prowler reminded me most strongly of when I first read R. A. Salvatore’s The Halflings Gem,; especially give Pehov’s sense of action which as akin to Salvatore’s.