Monday, September 17, 2012
The Hammer and the Blade, by Paul S Kemp: A Review
The Hammer and the Blade is (evidently) the beginning of a new fantasy series (book two, A Discourse in Steel, is projected to arrive in early 2013), and features a pair of tomb-robbing adventurer-types, Nix Fall and Egil the Priest. I'm not the best-read fantasy fan in the world by a long-shot, but I can still state with some confidence that, as far as heroes go, there's not much new under the sun with these two. Nix is a smart-alecky, nimble swordsman/thief with lock-picking skills and a quick wit, while Egil is much larger, wielding a pair of warhammers, and is a big, bald, tattooed tank.
The bad guy is an evil sorcerer named Rakon who compels the two heroes to go on a quest for him, to rob the tomb of an ancient, long-dead sorcerer-king to obtain an artifact which will help Rakon's once-grand family to renew its pact with the powers of Hell so that his family can retain what little power it has left after many centuries in decline.
I suppose, at this point, I should state that I did enjoy the book. It was a fun read, with a lot of good, often-amusing dialog. Plenty of imagination is on display within the covers of this book, and a good handful of memorable scenes. A healthy dose of fun magic helps to take the edge off of the admittedly (and awkwardly) dark story elements, involving rape, enslavement, and devilry. That may sound odd, but the book could have been much, much darker than it was. In the wrong hands, it could have easily devolved into the Horror genre... but Kemp seems to go out of his way to make sure the ride is as fun as possible.
The story opens and closes with Indiana Jones-style tomb robbery, and represent two of the high-points of the tale. Between these points is a nice, long piece of travel across a very forbidding landscape, with many brushes with death, and the requisite "ancient ruins of a long-forgotten civilization which possessed remarkable abilities in engineering and magic." I can think of several other fantasy titles that employ the same trope, but it works here just fine. Evil creepy-crawlies swarming through the ruins of long-dead cities, scurrying in the shadows, the doomed visitors marveling at the sights before meeting their makers, that sort of thing.
In any case, the story resolves itself well (though, I couldn't stop to ponder it too much, since it creeped me out), and overall it was a fun ride, full of action, magic and spunky dialog. Not one of the best I've read this year, but certainly far from the worst. It was good enough to encourage me to check out other of his titles... and I suppose that's all an author can hope for in the end, eh?
Summary: 3 out of 5 stars. A good, if not entirely original ride.