I've been hearing about Paul S. Kemp for a while now, mostly from his Forgotten Realms work with Erevis Cale Trilogy, but (like usual) had never gotten around to reading his work. There's just so much time and so few books, am I right?
This last year, 2012 to be exact, Kemp comes out with a new book from Angry Robot who's more than generous with its review copies, so I figured why not?
The Hammer and the Blade [US] [UK] is fast-paced buddy sword and sorcery that is part homage to the classics in this sub-genre such as Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. While I can't attest to the latter, I'll explain the former.
In The Hammer and the Blade, the world isn't about to end, it doesn't hinge on the efforts of our winsome protagonist(s), it deals with a couple of guys trying to save their own necks. While not necessarily indicative of all sword and sorcery, it also helps to explain what this sub-genre is about (and which is mostly explained by its own title) - lots of action, magic, and adventure.
Of the world, it exists and it's surely a secondary one, but there is little detail. No descriptions of women's dresses or where they might cross their arms. There isn't even much about distant lands and exotic places, it's mostly focused on the here and now - what concerns our protagonists.
The Hammer and the Blade follows Egil and Nix (the buddies I mentioned above), both famous, or infamous, tomb-robbers and sometimes swords for hire. One, Egil, is a warrior priest with a large eye tattooed on his forehead and two huge hammers as weapons. The other, Nix, is a (semi) adept magician who was kicked out of magical school, emphasis on the fact that he was kicked out, which he emphasizes whenever the subject is addressed.
At first, this duo reminded me of Hadrian and Royce from the Riyria Revelations, but I was quickly put off this theory. Hadrian and Royce are much more mysterious and a bit darker in a way while Egil and Nix are more straight forward. One of the things I thought was a great way to clue readers in on some information was Nix trying to brag about his exploits to curry favor with a woman.
Egil and Nix are tons of fun, lots of jokes and adventures, and we're pulled right into the action immediately as the two are traipsing through a tomb, bobbing through booby-traps, and finding the treasure. What a great opening.
And it doesn't let down from there. The Hammer and the Blade accomplishes everything it sets out to be. Simple fun and lots of action.
At the same time, it's lack of complexity is the thing that's holding it back from any more stars from me. It's really just a personal preference thing and probably highlights the drawbacks of ratings systems more than anything.
Before I end this review, I have to point out something that really stood out to me, but which spoils one part of the book. You've been warned (for this paragraph and the next only). (Spoiler) Early in the book, our daring duo gets into a scrape with a local sell-sword who fails to treat a lady with the proper respect. He's a huge jerk and gets what's coming to him. To make a long story short, later in the book this same guy actually becomes good friends with Egil and Nix.
This is something you just don't see every day. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen this in a book. Someone who starts out as a jerk is later shown to have redeeming qualities. I think we could use more of this. This is real, this is people. In our internet generation, it's easy for people to show their true colors on the internet and for everyone else to write them off. Sometimes it's warranted, sometimes it's not. I don't really know where I'm going here, but I liked this. People deserve redemption sometimes. We're just people, we do dumb things...actually quite often. (/End Spoiler)
The Hammer and the Blade made for a great ride. Lots of jokes, bumbling magic, and two huge hammers! Kemp is obviously a master at the light-hearted adventure story and I'm looking forward to reading more of his work.
3.5 out of 5 Stars (Recommended)
A copy of this book was provided by the publisher