Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Book Review: The Hammer and the Blade

A pair of down-at-heel treasure hunters and incorrigible rogues. Egil is a priest, happy to deliver moral correction with his pair of massive hammers. Nix is a sneak-thief; there’s no lock he cannot open, no serving girl he cannot charm. Between them, they always have one eye open for a chance to make money – the other eye, of course, is on the nearest exit.  Nix's idea?

Kill a demon.
Steal the treasure.
Retire to a life of luxury.

Sounds easy when you put it like that.
Unfortunately for Egil and Nix, when the demon they kill has friends in high places, retirement is not an option.

This has been a banner year for me as far as old-school fantasy adventurer novels go.  I get to add THE HAMMER AND THE BLADE to the list and I'm certainly glad for it.  In the simplest terms this book is about two friends (two somewhat shady, definitely reckless and utterly unrepentant in their derring-do's adventurer friends) who's one last heist before they retire to a semi-respectable life brings about unforeseen consequences to trouble their lives.

Nix is a master thief with a whole satchel of useful 'gee-gaws' and quite a bit of cleverness.  He's always trying to look ahead, but tends to miss the smaller things in the process.

Egil is a warrior Priest for the The Momentary God...and possibly the only worshiper. Not overly abundant with clever schemes like Nix, he's amazingly resilient and a tank in fights.

I'm never actually sure just how serious either one is being--they tend to go back and forth so quickly it takes a couple seconds to catch up and realize 'oh dear lord he was serious!'.  Their friendship and support is a welcome balance to the novel, it grounds the book and keeps it from becoming too cynical or dark.  And this book gets dark, make no mistake the villain(s) of this piece do horrific things in the name of greed and power.

Kemp's writing is quick, well paced and least as far as when Egil and Nix are on the page.  The sections devoted to Rakon and his machinations made me more than faintly queasy; when the full scope of the horror the Norristru men visited upon their own is made clear, I felt even worse.  How anyone could do such a thing...well.  Its disturbing.

I am of two minds in how Egil and Nix dealt with Rakon in the end.  Its really no more than he deserved, but it drove home the fact we're not dealing with two guys who are saints.  They're just as affected by their emotions and notions of right vs wrong as anyone else.  Though it was heartening that they would face the consequences together if any came their way.