20 May, 2010

Review: Black Blade Blues, by J.A. Pitts

Black Blade Blues, by J.A. Pitts, Urban Fantasy author
From the mouth of the beast:

Sarah Beauhall has more on her plate than most twenty-somethings: day job as a blacksmith, night job as a props manager for a low-budget movie, and her free time is spent fighting in a medieval re-enactment group. When the lead actor breaks Sarah’s favorite one-of-a-kind sword, it sends the director into fits. Sarah agrees to repair the blade to avoid reshooting scenes. One of the extras claims to be a dwarf and offers to help her at the forge. That’s when things start to get weird. Could the sword really be magic, as he claims? Why does he want her to kill a Portland investment banker? And what is it about that homeless guy that has her on edge? As if things weren’t surreal enough at that point, Sarah’s girlfriend Katie breaks out the dreaded phrase… “I love you.” Black Blade Blues is about forging an existence in a world that is much different than one expects. Oh, and dragons.

Black Blade Blues (2010), by J.A. Pitts is the first installment in his Beauhall series. Pitts weaves a modern day epic that is a compelling hybrid of sword and sorcery and urban fantasy. Highly recommended for those readers who generally snub naked women on covers, or urban fantasy generally - Black Blade Blues is the perfect initiation for fans of epic fantasy looking to get their feet wet with an imaginative and tightly written adventure.

I would stop short from calling Pitts the Abercrombie of urban fantasy, but not all that short. Black Blade Blues is infused with a wry cynicism and dark humor that is just hard to resist. Pitts’s protagonist, a blacksmith named Sarah Beauhall, is the fount of the witticisms that make the book so enjoyable. Did I mention the story is pretty good too?

I have to say straight off that reading Black Blade Blues breaks virtually all my ‘rules’. I don’t read Urban Fantasy, I don’t read books with dragons, and I don’t read books with women on the cover who are in indecent degrees of undress (the cover is actually pretty good). Well, let me just say I am glad I broke my rules, thanks in part to the review of Black Blade Blues at FBC. The novel is a refreshing take on old tropes and new issues that makes just enough fun of itself to remain modest and still be serious. Impossible you say?

This crisp urban fantasy adventure centers on a sexually confused modern day blacksmith living on the West Coast. She’s broke, her relationship just hit a major road bump, and she has to kill a dragon. Weird right? Not so, I say. Pitts manages to weave the modern and the epic, the personal and the imaginary into a seriously compelling book. The greatest part about Pitts is that his narrative does not require the suspension of disbelief, as does virtually all fantasy and urban fantasy. He allows for the fact that readers don’t (hopefully) believe in dragons or witches or magic or Norse gods. Indeed, he invites you to think it’s all totally nuts, and so gets you to believe.

As I already mentioned, Pitts’s writing is crisp, modern and fresh. The story itself is chronologically linear and the pacing is workmanlike. Readers will find the novel to be the result of painstaking revisions and will hear the echo of a short story expanded upon. Minor criticisms all in all, but ones which in my mind cast doubt upon Pitts’s ability to stay original, a minor and nagging doubt at this point, but one to keep in mind. Ware overly formulaic authors!

So, if you enjoy Epic Fantasy – or are already an Urban Fantasy fan – you are going to enjoy Black Blade Blues. My hopes are also pretty high for the second installment codenamed Honeyed Words, especially after reading the interview with J.A. Pitts on Tor.


Elena said...

This looks like a great book, and one I'm going to have to keep an eye out for.

A good review, and one that's sending me out hunting for what looks to be a great book.

Melissa (My World...in words and pages) said...

This sounds like a great read. Thank you! I enjoy my fantasy and epic along with Urban Fantasy as well. I am going to have to give this book a try. Thanks for the great review! And just short of Abercrombie, that is a huge complement.

Anonymous said...

I have fully read this book, and I have to say, Over Star Wars, this is has been one of the few books that had me enthralled to read it cover to cover in a full day. Sarah to me made a perfect main character with her own problems that are as real as you and me. I usually never read urban fantasy, but I look eagerly for more from this new author and trilogy of books.