Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Hammer Heads

What do you get when you put together a snarky mage with sticky fingers and a priest that wields hammers? If your answer is anything but "a rollicking good time", then you haven't read Paul S Kemp's The Hammer and the Blade, out now from Angry Robot Books. We all know how I feel about fantasy novels and thieves, so you can imagine how interested I was to get my hands on this new series. I may or may not have shouted "do want!" in a pitch only dogs can hear.

The Hammer and the Blade is the story of Nix Fall and Egil of Ebenor, two friends who like to spend their time robbing tombs, getting into bar fights and fighting demons. As the book begins, they are just wondering if they should retire. They're nearly killed in a tomb and decide to settle down after their illustrious careers of thieving and fighting. When they return home from their adventure, they purchase a brothel and decide to relax. Sadly, after one night of relaxing, they're shanghai'd into helping a cruel and deeply batshit insane wizard with a wicked desire for power.

Read on for Meghan's full review of The Hammer and the Blade!
Nix was my favorite character in the book. He's charming, witty and brave. Egil is noble and strong, but a little on the cold side. They work well together and clearly have a lot of history. Egil is the only priest of a man named Ebenor, who was a God for just a mere moment. Egil subscribes to the idea that life is made up of little moments, which I think is a fascinating philosophy. The main enemy in the novel is a creepy, fucked up man named Rakon Norristru. He's exceptionally vile and I wanted him dead the first second I laid eyes on him.

The entire Norristru family are so twisted, evil and despicable that it's almost beyond belief. The family has a deal going back eons with a family of demons. In exchange for magic and power beyond the ken of normal men, the Norristru men allow the demons to rape the women of the Norristru clan. It's utterly unspeakable and I wanted every single Norristru man dead after just reading about it. Usually, stuff like that is a total book ruiner for me. I just can't stomach it and it's part of the reason why I abandoned the Game of Thrones series. For some reason, in this book, it just emboldened me to keep reading. I wanted Rakon Norristru to get his comeuppances.

Rakon has two sisters, Rusilla and Merelda, who he keeps locked away in the crumbling Norristru manner home. They are bright and cunning but sadly at their brothers mercy. Both are talented witches in their own right and use their wits to try and outsmart Rakon and escape cruelties he plans to visit upon them. He needs them to fulfill the pact his family has with a family of demons. When Rakon hears that the last male demon in the family has been killed, he reacts with panic and tries to find a way around this new fate. He finds another demon, locked away in a magical jail, and uses dark magic to compel Nix and Egil to do his dirty work for him. Nix and Egil are less than pleased about this turn of events, as you can imagine. 

The book itself is an adjustment. I don't read much "high fantasy", so the language Kemp uses took some getting used to. It's very much a medieval-style fantasy story. I wish more of the world had been fleshed out. We get tantalizing hints at a greater world full of politics and magic, but they're only hints. The novel is very bare bones in a lot of ways. I wish some of the secondary characters had gotten more screen time. The women in the brothel are especially hilarious and strong willed and I hope we see them again in later installments.

Nix alludes to having a strange past but we never get a big reveal. Egil mentions a dead wife and child, but we never get to hear that story either. I'm hoping for way more information in other sequels. Kemp has previously written books for the Star Wars and Forgotten Realms franchises, so I think that explains some of the cliffhangers this book has. He knows how to write for sweeping, multi-book arcs and The Hammer and the Blade feels much like the first step in a journey of many, many miles.

Despite some of the faults the book had, I still enjoyed it a hell of a lot. The characters were fun and the plot was interesting. The ending was a shock to my system. Do Nix and Egil win the day and save the Norristru sisters? Does the sickeningly evil Rakon get what's coming to him? You'll have to read to see.

The Hammer and the Blade is an imperfect but fun read. It's a great way to spend a lazy, sunny summer afternoon. I am definitely on board for another book featuring Nix and Egil. What can I say, I have a thing for charming, snarky thieves.
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