Wednesday, 18 April 2012

‘The Hammer and The Blade’ – Paul S. Kemp (Angry Robot)

‘Sword & Sorcery’ seems to be making a bit of a comeback in fantasy fiction, these days, although I can’t help but wondering if it was ever really away long enough to actually ‘come back’ as it were. Lets just say that the sub-genre is making a return in its own right but elements of ‘Sword & Sorcery’ can be found in most fantasy books that you pick up; whether they’re ‘epic’, ‘high’, ‘weird’ or whatever. Not that this really bothers me either way :o) I enjoy reading most fantasy fiction and I’ve really been enjoying what ‘Sword & Sorcery’ I’ve managed to get my hands on just recently. It’s all good :o)

If I had a list of ‘favourite writers that I want to write original Sword & Sorcery’ then Paul S. Kemp would have featured very highly on that list before he went out and wrote ‘The Hammer and The Blade’. He’s already done very well for himself with the ‘Erevis Cale’ D&D tie-in books (three of which are reviewed here on the blog) and I was really keen to see how he would fare once he was free of any ‘tie-in fiction constraints’. The end result? Kemp writes a lovely slice of ‘Sword & Sorcery’ but I really wasn’t sure about the way it ended…

Warrior Priest Egil and master thief Nix have made a tidy sum of money, over the years, stealing treasure from any number of haunted tombs in far off places and now they are ready to retire and enjoy the fruits of almost being killed more times than they can remember. If only life were that simple…
Egil and Nix thought their troubles were over when they managed to kill the demon trying to stop them looting that final tomb; turns out their troubles were only just beginning… That one demon had one particular worshipper who really didn’t need two grave robbers putting a large dent in his own plans. Now Egil and Nix find themselves on one last quest; if they can’t help a vengeful sorcerer raise another demon then their lives will be very painful and very short…

I read ‘The Hammer and The Blade’ last week and couldn’t get enough of it, certain things were left undone and unfinished just so I could keep reading and find out what happened at the end. And then I got to that ending and found myself thinking, ‘hang on a moment… that doesn’t feel right at all…’ Or does it?

I’m getting ahead of myself a little bit though. ‘The Hammer and The Blade’ is a lot of fun to read, no doubt about it. Kemp comes up with a quest that is positively brimming over with all sorts of danger and puts it in the hands of the only two people that you would want to see attempt it. I know that I’m going out on a bit of a limb with that statement but Egil and Nix had that affect on me and I think they’ll have a similar affect on you too.
Kemp’s portrayal of our two leads had me feeling like I’d known Egil and Nix for years. There are no long introductory pieces (although both of their pasts are delicately hinted at and I’m sure there will be more revealed in the future); you’re just thrown straight into the lives of two guys who are best friends and happen to loot ancient crypts at the same time. There’s laughter, lots of it, with Egil and Nix taking the boredom out of some of the more tedious parts of their job by poking fun at each other. There’s also really intense moments where you’re left in no doubt as to what their friendship means to each other. The overall picture hits the target; whether the friendship endures over future books remains to be seen but you know that it has already endured long enough not for that to matter too much.

Kemp fleshes things out further with a world that’s really easy to find your feet in, a world where you know the alleyways are dangerous but you can’t help but want to see what’s at the end of them. I’m looking forward to exploring Egil and Nix’s world a lot more and part of the reason why is that Kemp keeps the focus very much on what is in front of our two heroes, leaving the rest of the world tantalisingly blurred. There’s a lot more out there and I want to be around when it comes into focus.

When things heat up. Kemp gives us sequences that wouldn’t look out of place in an Indiana Jones film with the undead and vengeful wraiths only proving to be half of the fun. There is always something happening and that’s just what a ‘Sword & Sorcery’ novel needs to be all about. Kemp really delivers the goods on that score.

But that ending though…

It’s a tough one to talk about as I’m referring not only to the ending but the whole point of the rest of the plot (so bear with me). I liked the plot by the way, how it is gradually teased out and revealed to be so much more than you think, even if the message is a little heavy handed.
Given how heavy handed that message was then, it was surprising (to say the least) to see our heroes turn around and dish out a punishment that they had been fighting to stop for the preceding pages. At the very least it was out of character and totally at odds with what Kemp had been saying. It was an ending that jarred when things should have been rolling smoothly towards the final pages. Were Egil and Nix condoning a certain punishment just because it was happening to the bad guy? I hope not.

‘The Hammer and The Blade’ is a rip roaring example of what ‘Sword & Sorcery’ should be all about and this bodes well for future works in the series. I’m really not sure what was going on with that ending though and that’s why I’m not giving it a score this time. Give me a little while longer to think about that one…

3 comments:

FantasyBytes said...

I have to confess I didn't get very into this one, but I'll go back and give it another go at some point. Weird endings seem to be a bit of an Angry Robot trait at the moment...for me at least...

SQT said...

Hmmm, now I'm curious to see what that ending is all about...

Bob (Beauty in Ruins) said...

Hmm, I already downloaded this from Angry Robot for a read, but now you really have me curious about the ending. I'll have to see if it affects me the same way.