So, once again, I’ve been gone for what seems like forever. I know, I know, shouting into the void here seeing if anyone’s still there. So, I’ve got a review for an older book that I picked up ages ago. It goes long with this one, I’ve tried several times to slim it down but when I have I’ve gone off on tangents or felt like I wasn’t getting my point across. Enjoy!
When her favorite sword is broken by a clumsy actor at her night job Sara Beauhall, blacksmith by day prop mistress by night, agrees to reforge the blade to avoid reshoots. That’s when things get weird. An extra claiming to be a dwarf tells her that she has become the guardian of Sigurd’s blade, Gram, the bane of Fafnir and that she is now destined to slay a dragon. A dragon that shows up not long after triggering events that may make her a heroine fit for the tales of old or destroy her utterly.
So, J.A. Pitts’ Black Blade Blues is interesting, using a main character who is into weapons and combat and renaissance faire stuff but who doesn’t really have any interest in fantasy and throwing her into a situation out of Norse mythology. It has a lot of promise there and in some ways it lives up to it, in a lot of others it falls entirely flat.
Fairly early in the book we are introduced to two important things for Sara. One is her religious upbringing and the attitudes her father sought to impose upon her. References to Sara’s father came up way too often for my taste given that they really didn’t affect the plot and in a lot of ways seemed contradictory. The other is her girlfriend Katie. These two are actually where a lot of the falling flat came from for me since a lot of the drama of the book comes from Sara’s discomfort with her sexuality as a result of her father’s parenting and the fallout from her not dealing with it at all. This of course means that instead of talking to her girlfriend about her discomfort like an adult, she snaps at people because she thinks they’re making reference to her relationship and immediately assumes Katie is cheating on her when she starts hanging out with one of her ex’s. This hurts the book a lot for me, in part because of how excited I was when I first realized that the main character was gay in a book that wasn’t specifically LGBT marketed. I can understand that how she was raised effecting her feelings about her sexuality, but I would have liked for her and Katie to talk about it rather than it being step one on her path to rock bottom.
The rock bottom thing was, at best, badly handled. In the course of the book Sara loses her relationship and both jobs and has one former boss who hates her, but none of that sticks and again isn’t really necessary to the plot so much as it adds cheep drama. Because she and Katie don’t communicate, when Sara winds up borrowing a coworker’s sweats and doesn’t think to change out of them, Katie assumes that Sara is cheating on her. At one point she gets bodyjacked by magic and nearly has sex with some guy her boss was flirting with, grossness aside, it only serves to ruin her job and isolate her. Events towards the end could have taken the place of both events without the unnecessary grossness. It all ties into a feeling that the author has never met a woman and was writing the characters based on what he’d seen on tv and in video games.
Part of being the guardian of Gram is that Sara gets, essentially, branded with runes that give her powers but also affect her personality. Sara becomes a berserker with anger issues and unstable emotions to go with it. Thing is we aren’t really shown her personality before hand for a comparison, so its left feeling like this is just how she is. The issues with Sara are made worse by the fact that every other major female character also seems to share her emotional instability. That thing about her and Katie not talking like adults and Katie’s assumption of cheating based on cloths and nothing else, check. Boss jumping down her throat, ending their friendship, and firing her so hard she barely got to grab her stuff before she left over a guy she’d only recently met, while she knows Sara is a lesbian, check. It’s all very over blown and deeply uncomfortable. Again, it seems to be there mostly for cheep drama. Give me a reason for all this in the book its introduced in.
So, after all that, what did I like about the book? The minor characters, especially the Black Briar lot, are interesting. I’m left wanting to know more about the dragons and what happened to the Norse pantheon. One of the side characters has an interesting arc happening that promises to have far reaching effects for the series. And the hook for the next in the series almost has me interested enough to give it a shot and see if Pitts gets better about the stuff that’s bad. There’s a legitimately interesting story under all the contrived drama and pointless extra stuff. I’m interested in the world more than the people in it with this one.
Unfortunately, despite its potential, I don’t trust Pitts as an author not to have done the same things in the next book. That leaves Black Blade Blues with a one out of five.