A Discourse in Steel, by Paul S Kemp

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Author’s website
Publication date – July 16, 2013

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Egil and Nix have retired, as they always said they would. No, really – they have! No more sword and hammer-play for them! 

But when two recent acquaintances come calling for help, our hapless heroes find themselves up against the might of the entire Thieves Guild.

And when kidnapping the leader of the most powerful guild in the land seems like the best course of action, you know you’re in over your head…

Thoughts: After reading The Hammer and the Blade, I have to admit I was a bit leery of this sequel. While I enjoyed the first installment of the tales of Egil and Nix, the book did have its problems, and a good part of my enjoyment of the novel stemmed from the fact that I have role-played similar characters and it was easy and fun to do a little mental transplantation and imagine Dek and Shaeyin in Nix and Egil’s places. Was that enough to make me put aside reservations and pick up the second novel?

As it turns out, yes. Putting aside the problems I had with it, The Hammer and the Blade was undeniably fun, action-packed and fast-paced, and A Discourse in Steel is no less so. Also, one of the problems I had with the first book was no longer an issue. Gone were the awkward word choices and overuse of obscure synonyms! Now when an odd phrase or word appeared on the pages, there was a 90% chance that it was thieves’ cant, appropriate for the novel and the characters, often left for the reader to figure out in context but that just made it all the more realistic. And I think only once did a term crop up where the meaning wasn’t immediately apparent from the context in which it was used. This made reading the novel much more enjoyable, since I wasn’t jarred out of my groove by an awkward turn of phrase the way I had been in The Hammer and the Blade.

Most of the story centres around Nix and Egil and their clash with the thieves’ guild, after the assassination of their leader, knowns as the Upright Man. Only while his body may be dead, his mind lives on, in bits and pieces, stuck in the head of one of the psychic sisters we were introduced to in the first novel. This situation is understandably dangerous for all involved, and the novel goes through their quest to save her mind and life while simultaneously trying to dodge the attempts on everyone’s lives when the thieves’ guild takes exception to the situation.

While it was good to see Rose and Mere get more time on the pages than previous, they still very much fit the damsel-in-distress trope, existing to either converse with Nix and Egil or else be saved from something or other. They are plot points more than characters, a way of giving the main characters something to do rather than actively contributing to the story themselves. This, sadly, wasn’t much of an improvement over the previous novel. There, both of them needed saving. Here, one of them needs saving.

Perhaps in the third book, they’ll both save themselves. Or better yet, maybe they won’t need saving at all.

As I mentioned, A Discourse in Steel is very fast-paced and filled with action from one end to the other. Coupled with the endless witty banter between Nix and Egil, this makes for a very swift read, one that you won’t want to put down because the next step of the adventure is just around the corner. No rest for the wicked. From exploring an alternate dark crazy-making dimension that moves around, the fleeing for their lives from assassins, to making their way through treacherous swamps, everything in this book begs you to keep turning pages.

We also get to see more hints about the lives of the characters before they appeared in novels. Egil, especially, has the spotlight shone on his uncomfortable past, enough to make the reader aware of darker things that happened to him without giving away the whole story in pages of exposition and backstory. Deftly done, that. Gadd, also, gets some spotlight, and for being a very minor character who doesn’t do much besides kick ass and serve ale, he’s probably got the most intriguing hints given about his past. I really hope that more detail is revealed later on, because what I’ve seen makes me very curious, and I’m on the opinion that his backstory could probably be an entire novel in itself. It was good to see characters get a little more fleshed out, more detailed and less like they just rolled off someone’s character creation sheet.

Though not without its issues, A Discourse in Steel is a definite improvement on its predecessor. This isn’t the kind of book you read when you want something deep and thought-provoking, but what you read when you want something undeniably fun, something exciting that’s going to entertain you in a cinematic way rather than a cerebral one. If you’re craving some good hack-and-slash adventure, something reminiscent of classic D&D quests, then this is definitely the book for you.

(Book provided for review by the publisher via NetGalley.)

3 comments on “A Discourse in Steel, by Paul S Kemp

  1. Pingback: August in Retrospect | Bibliotropic

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