After reading Michael's review of the Sword-Edged Blonde I was looking forward to diving into a "Western European medieval style world complete with castles and monasteries". Well Michael, good sir, while I agree I am also reluctant to place much emphasis on the world-building. The setting of The Sword-Edged Blonde is, for lack of a better word, untextured - which is not to say that it is bad. Quite the contrary, Mr. Bledsoe builds a world whose simple elegance and lack of pretension is a refreshing and welcome change. Regardless, your use of Kleinstaaterei to describe the small, isolated, and independent nature of the world is right on point - the only element which I found somewhat off putting for all of its seeming innocuity was the dangerously stark contrast between adjacent towns; after all, being put to death for overstaying a tourist visa seems a bit harsh. But, putting aside the geo-political inconsistencies, Mr. Bledsoe builds us a world that is a distinct mix between the Italian city-state and medieval Europe town, rife with brigands, goddesses, villains, and kings.
Eddie Lacrosse, protagonist extraordinaire, is a heartening mix of private investigator, mercenary, and idealist... and he is without a doubt at the heart of Mr. Bledsoe's character driven fantasy, drawing the reader into his twisted past. Rough, likable, debonair, and not afraid of a good coin toss, Eddie is beyond a doubt an incredibly fun character to follow. Eddie's detective brilliance while investigating the apparent murder of his best friend's son - at the hands of his own mother - reveals the intellectual depths of the protagonist, while his violent acts of justice reveal his strong moral foundation and penchant towards 'physicality'. Eddie is a well rounded and invariably enjoyable character; indeed, he kept me up to the early hours of the morning getting to the end of his adventures.
I have one serious criticism and question for Mr. Bledsoe: What is up with the sword naming?! "Shadow Hunter 3300" might fit well in a D&D adventure, but I couldn't help feeling that it is out of place in your narrative. Additionally, and this hearkens back to my earlier criticism of your geo-politics: given the disparate cultures and rulers, how is it that every sword model is accompanied by numbers!? The names themselves are corporate enough for my taste, but numbering sword models makes it feel like there is an evil sword manufacturing syndicate somewhere that makes all the swords in your world. Are the Evil Sword Manufacturers the final villains you plan to have Eddie vanquish in your third installment?
Well, now that I am over that little bout of sword name nitpicking, I want to address in a bit more detail the tone of The Sword-Edged Blonde. While the novel does not deserve a Young Adult categorization, it does come across as targeting a younger audience - this is especially true when compared alongside the 'sharper' works of Joe Abercrombie. The contrast is most evident when looking at Mr. Bledsoe bountiful use of humor to define his characters. It would be somewhat exaggerated to say that every paragraph contains one sort of joke or other, but it would not be that far from the truth. Given that, as readers, we see the world through they eyes of Eddie Lacrosse, his wry humor invariably permeates the narrative, going perhaps so far as to saturate it. Duels and narrative climaxes are the few, welcome moments in the novel where Eddie's humor is put on the back burner and the reader is allowed to appreciate the seriousness of moment.
All in all, The Sword-Edged Blonde is a thoroughly enjoyable read that I highly recommend. While fight sequences do not take center stage, they are artfully executed - watching the mysteries surrounding Eddie Lacross peel away as the story unfolds is where Mr. Bledsoe successfully chooses to make his stand. Humor, adventure, and mystery are artfully combined to weave a surprisingly simple tale that is an equally surprising delight to read.