The Hammer and the Blade, by Paul S Kemp

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Author’s website
Publication date – June 26, 2012

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Egil and Nix, adventurers and swords for hire, are pulled into the dark schemes of a decadent family with a diabolical secret. A fast paced adventure redolent with the best of classic sword and sorcery tales.

Thoughts: I seem to be doing a good job of finding fantasy novels with characters who are disturbingly like a couple of RP characters that a friend and I have. Egil and Nix were two such characters, and so it made reading this more book enjoyable, if only on a very personal level that I doubt anyone else could appreciate that way.

Packed with plenty of action and witty banter between our heroes, Egil and Nix, this sword-and-sorcery tale is one that starts off with tomb-robbing and demons, and escalates into, well. tomb-robbing and yet more demons, with a side-order of demonic pacts, compulsion spells, and semi-conscious psychics. A good deal of the backgrounds of all the major players in this novel were hinted at rather than stated explicitly, but you got more than enough information to feel comfortable with the characters, that they were well-developped and worth reading about. That isn’t to say that this book didn’t have some cliches when it came to the characters, but the ones it did have were tolerable, and for the most part had their places without seeming awkward or forced.

What really made this novel shine for me was the dialogue. Honestly, the banter between Nix and Egil could keep me amused for hours, and they played off each other so well, as all great partnerships inevitably do. That they spent their lives living in moral and legal grey areas made then even more interesting. Let’s face it – reading about goody-goodies who always do the right thing and are portrayed as people who can do no wrong can only entertain for so long. Real life, and real people, are grittier, darker, and more abiguous than that, and I love reading characters who embrace that concept.

There were a few things about this book that bothered me, however. One is excusable. The other… not so much. Firstly, the issue of rape. It’s a central plot point, as the antagonist comes from a family who pretty much offers their daughters to be raped by demons in order to continue the twisted family line and maintain power. Nix and Egil rightly see this as reprehensible. When it’s revealed that they’re being coerced to release a demon to continue this practice, so the antagonist can have his drugged and semi-conscious psychic sisters raped and impregnated, Nix especially feels a powerful disgust.

This, I have no problem with. But two things along this line of thought really dipped into the moral grey area, and left me unsure on what to feel. At the end of all things, the sisters are freed and through arcane magics, the antagonist is transformed into a woman and is essentially carried off and raped by the demon, experiencing all that he was planning to put his sisters through. Revenge at its most appropriate, really. And yet a bit uncomfortable when you consider that Nix felt so sympathetic to the sisters and their position that he even felt bad for previously flirting with whores. Whores who flat out said that they did what they did because it was a job like any other, and they defended their right to do it. Shoving aside the controversial issue of people deliberately entering prostitution as a profession (that’s a debate for another place and time), it seemed to be a bit off that Nix would take this viewpoint and yet still feel absolutely no sympathy for the guy who was getting raped as Nix and Egil ride off into the sunset with the rescued sisters. Definitely dipping into moral grey area there, and I can easily see how one would get wrapped up in the karmic retribution of what happened, but it still seemed a little bit at odds when he felt bad for even flirting.

I can’t helped but wonder how he would feel when the bloodlust calmed down…

The problem that was less forgiveable with this novel was the fact that the author seemed very much in love with his thesaurus, and took pains to use lots of synonyms. The bigger, the better. To the point where some phrases seemed just downright awkward. Like stating that a runed stone was “puissant” against poisons. The fact that you can use that word in such a way does not mean that it fits well, or that it makes the narrative better. Often, it came across as the author trying to express, “Look at me, I’ve got a thesaurus and can use big words!” Some uncommonly used words fit well, and added to the feel of the novel and its setting. Others, not so much. It’s my hope that if Kemp continues writing tales of Nix and Egil, he can put his thesaurus down for a little while.

Honestly, if it hadn’t been for the similarities between Nix and Egil and those RP characters I’d previously mentioned, this book probably would have only gotten a 3-star rating. The story was interesting, the setting believable and easy to sink into. It was good, but not great, especially when you bring in the problems to the narrative flow caused by poor word choices.

(Received for review by Angry Robot Books via NetGalley.)

2 comments on “The Hammer and the Blade, by Paul S Kemp

  1. Pingback: A Discourse in Steel, by Paul S Kemp | Bibliotropic

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