I haven't read into this particular subgenre since Sam Sykes' Tome of the Undergates and Black Halo last year - and I'm glad I did. A rewardingly light, fun read, The Hammer and the Blade is to the weighty tomes of epic fantasy I've read recently as, say, Tom Holt is to Neal Stephenson - in other words, completely different and requiring a lot less investment from the reader. This is great for occupying an afternoon, and the traditional pair dynamic works well: Egil and Nix, though no Locke and Jean, nevertheless complement each other well. Egil is a priest of Ebenor (a dead god), and Nix is his partner - who learned magic for a single year before dropp- sorry, being expelled (as he insists). Though an engaging pair, don't look here for the comedic banter that have characterised other such characters (like the aforementioned Locke and Jean): the most you'll get here is a slight smile. But they make up for it in action...
The book begins with the duo involved in their usual moneymaker: tomb robbing. Killing a demonic guardian of the tomb, however, turns out a bad idea: this demon has friends. Or more accurately, business partners - it's involved in a pact with a local sorcerer, who now needs a replacement demon... And to get one, he needs an artefact from a local tomb. And guess who happens to have the most experience in the local grave-robbing industry?
I think you guessed.
The Hammer and the Blade mainly excels in its action sequences - which are, no doubt about it, a great deal of fun. It's a lean novel with little superfluous material, and though it evokes no lasting emotion, this is fun fantasy: short, to the point, and highly enjoyable. This is sword and sorcery without the cliche; and with the originality that a pair of guile heroes really should have.
Altogether? Though not up to the standards of The Lies of Locke Lamora and its like, The Hammer and the Blade provides an enjoyable afternoon of reading (with more than a few twists to keep even long term readers' predictive powers satisfied). A likeable duo, some inspired action - what more can you want from a sword and sorcery novel? Maybe a stronger female character would have been nice, but in a novel with so few central characters at all, The Hammer and the Blade can hardly be blamed for that.
A fun read - recommended.
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