The Hammer and the Blade

Posted: March 27, 2013 in Reading
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I’ve said this a few times before, but I will go out of my way to check out anything released by Angry Robot. I haven’t read anything of theirs that I haven’t liked. In that spirit, I picked up The Hammer and the Blade by Paul S Kemp. He’s not an author I’ve read before, but a name that circles around the stuff I follow online. So a publisher I like and some name recognition. Let’s just jump right in.

Back of the book time!

So here’s the plan– Kill the demon… Steal the treasure… Retire to a life of luxury!

It sounds easy when put like that. Most unfortunately for warrior-priest Egil and sneak thief Nix, however, when the demon they kill turns out to have worshippers in high places, retirement is not an option.

A wonderfully fast-paced fantasy adventure redolent of the classic tales of swords and sorcery from NYT bestselling author, Paul S Kemp.

So that’s really not much to go on. The more of these blog posts I do on books, the more I sympathize with the poor person that’s got to write the back of the book copy. That shit can’t be easy. But, like I said above, Angry Robot has the collateral to get me to buy in anyways.

Have you ever read a fantasy book that sounds like it should be a D&D campaign? Duhr, I’m sure if you’re reading this, you’re at least a little bit interested in the genre and therefore, yes, yes you have. Hammer is one of those books. That’s not a criticism nor is it a positive. It’s a neutral thing. I’ve read shovelware books from the 80s put out by TSR that are god awful. But I’ve also gotten the same sense from Perdido Street Station and The Scar. The “Retire to a life of luxury” part of the blurb isn’t just a phrase. Egil and Nix are like the level 20 characters who’ve cakewalked through all the adventures the DM can throw at them. They’ve seen the world, they’ve kicked down the doors, they’ve stolen all the treasure. They really do start out wanting to settle down.

Obviously they don’t settle down the way they’d like. They get … convinced… that they should go on another quest. I enjoyed the quest but the best part of what’s going on in Hammer is the interaction between Egil and Nix. There’s a relationship between the characters that goes way beyond just this book. There’s a real sense that they’ve been a team for years. When they’re throwing down in combat, they know each other’s moves and can anticipate each other. The dialogue between the two is fast and snappy. There’s a very natural flow to it.

One of the best bits of characterization of Egil and Nix involves a minor character who falls in with the quest they’re on. They start out at odds with each other. But there’s a lot of demons and nasties on this quest and they’re all up to their necks in trouble. I was pleasantly surprised that the relationship with this minor character evolved and changed as their quest progressed. I think the weight of old timey White Hat vs Black Hat fantasy is why this surprised me. Usually, the protags and antagonists are set and stay that way. I know better than to expect anything so traditional from Angry Robot but sometimes the weight of all the books that came before are a large shackle to toss aside.

Hammer specifically says on the cover “A Tale of Egil & Nix” implying there are more. I’m all for that. These two have a lot of stories in them that I’d like to read. By the end of the quest in question in this book, there really aren’t any loose ends to worry about in the next book. I’m not sure if that’s a Trilogy thing (which would leave lots of threads between books two and three) or if the series is going to be more episodic in nature. I’m game for whatever because I like these characters so much.

The story moves fast, the dialogue is witty, the combat is oiled slick and the characters are crazy enjoyable. It’s straight up fantasy but it’s not kowtowing to the stodgy traditionalist parts of the genre. The Hammer and the Blade is fresh with life in it, the kind of fantasy novels I want more of.

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