I had a great recovery from the lackluster book I couldn’t finish. I picked up one of my favorite authors Kelly McCullough. The start of a new series, Broken Blade, is the first of four and a whole different subgenre than his other series WebMage. I’m late to the party with this one, as it came out last winter, and it’s a damn shame other than the fact that book two is going in my next big order. I’ve seen little buzz around the interwebs about this series (part of the whole late to the party thing). Seriously, internet… what the hell? Let’s fix this, it’s great wordsmithing.
Bam! Back of the book time!
Once a fabled Blade of Namara, Aral Kingslayer fought for justice and his goddess alongside his familiar, a living shadow called Triss. Now, with their goddess murdered, her temple destroyed, and their brethren dead or outlawed, they are among the last of their kind.
Aral survives on the fringes of society, working as a shadow jack. He smuggles goods, protects thugs, and occasionally stoops to thievery. His is a trade lacking honor but one that keeps him alive. A wanted man, he sees no way out. Until a mysterious woman named Maylien hires him to deliver a secret message.
The price she offers is suspiciously high for a simple job, but Aral is bored, broke and fond of expensive whiskey. Prodded by Triss to take the commission, he soon discovers he’s not intended to deliver a letter but rather to witness a clandestine meeting. And the message, with all its questions and consequences, is meant for him…
Broken Blade has all sorts of awesome going on for it, first and foremost Aral. He’s a broken man which makes for much more interesting read than someone who’s life is all hunky dorey. The deity his life and trade were dedicated to, was murdered by the other deities. Now he’s got a bit of a problem with the drink now. His attitude towards to world comes off as very bleak and confused. Namara, his deity, was the goddess of justice. Aral finds himself at a near-constant moral crossroads. The only ray of sunshine in his life is Triss. Figurative sunshine though what with his familiar being a shadow, the antithesis of sunshine. Their relationship has a lot of layers to it, naturally feeling very much like something lengthy and deep.
A little bit like Well of Sorrow, once again here we’ve got this fantasy thriller thing going on in Blade and it’s totally a trend I can get behind. The pacing is fast and it’s driven by this need for justice smack in the middle of the political arena. Not that Aral is into politics beyond how he got the Kingslayer name. He runs into a former friend, turned enemy…ish. It’s another one of those grey areas which makes for such good reading. There’s double crosses layered in and out of each other. Enemies are besetting Aral from a few different sides and there’s a couple really great moments of “Hey wait! I’m after that guy too!”
Even though this is a thriller fantasy, I never felt reader exhaustion. There’s always the metaphorical explosion (and sometimes literal) to keep things moving but there’s always moments to breathe and focus on the small things. Those small things about in a great fantasy city like Tien. Blade has this urban fantasy feel, but in the opposite sense that the term is usually applied. The city is well defined, practically into a character itself. From the alley knockers to the chimney highway, the city is extensively planned and well thought out. It’s the infrastructure behind the story which makes it that much stronger.
So we’ve got this wonderfully paced story in this deliciously grey moral world. The character arcs are natural. In fact, there were parts of the story where I felt the characters were acting in their own best interest instead of the writer’s best interesting. Being vague so I don’t spoil the surprise, but there were parts of the plot in a very different direction than where they would typically go. That was probably an annoyingly vague sentence, but read it, you’ll know what I mean. Certain expectations could have been easily forced but they wouldn’t be in the character’s best interest.
The start to this series flew under the radar and I think it might be because it’s very different than the hacker-mage godpunk of his earlier books. This is unfortunate as all getup because no one should get pigeonholed, good writing is good writing. Aside from GRRM, I think fantasy has gotten a bad rap in recent years but this whole integration of thriller tropes is bringing it back for me. Buzz about this book. It may be a different successor to his earlier magic, but it’s more than worthy.