In April of 2013 the literary world was introduced to the new genre of Swordpunk. All the rules have changed. Or they will. Or not. Or at least a really fun fantasy novel came that doesn’t take itself death seriously. Read on for a full review.
First things first, Derek is a good friend of mine. Together we’ve done such macho, manly things as numerous theatre productions, countless hours spent playing DnD and other tabletop games, and discussing Cerebus, Spider-Man and Impulse. We now live on different continents, so I will attempt to be impartial without arousing his fiery wrath.
Basic plot: Young swordsman meets young mage on the run and together they try to survive against crazy odds.
My thoughts: Overall this was a fun read. Even when things are heavy and scary there is still a lot of joy and lightness in the book. It really feels like this was partially written as a reaction against grim/dark fantasy novels where no one smiles and the world is constantly in danger. This has giant frogs and their frog king. It’s a book that works not because the universe is about to die, but because you enjoy the characters and the hijinx they get forced into.
My favorite aspect of this book is the way it is written. Adams has a fun style that shines through. He turns phrases that just feel right and clever and original. This is his first novel, but you can feel that he has a voice that doesn’t directly ape that many voices out there in the fantasy genre. It’s a refreshing voice and a voice you will want to here more of.
And that leads to my two real complaints about Spell/Sword. I am a big fan of world building. Not only do I like doing it, I like reading it. There are a lot of glimpses at the world of Spell/Sword, enough so that you know there is thought given to what this world is, but not enough to fill the reader in. Swords and magic exist exist alongside jukeboxes. How? Is there ready electricity or is it a magic jukebox? What are the rules? These are the questions that kept creeping into my mind and distracting me from the actual story. We have ogres and devilkin living alongside humans but only just enough to know they exist, not enough to know if they are common or still considered rare.
Part of this is that I do like the world he is creating. It feels as fresh as his overall tone. Share more with us, Mr. Adams.
Thus begins the next complaint. A burden of fantasy novels is that they are huge tomes. Hundreds and hundreds of pages. Starting a normal fantasy novel is an investment. Spell/Sword is not that. Don’t get me wrong, we get a nice story, a good feel for the characters, and a satisfying resolution, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say the novel felt short. The good way to say it is that it left me wanting a lot more. The less positive way is to suggest Adams brought us along to Rivendell and then told us to wait. As satisfying as it may be, we all know there is a lot more to tell. (However, we are told the characters will return soon in The Riddle Box.)
I did have one more complaint, but it has nothing to do with the actual story, but with the actual physical novel itself. This is a self-published novel and there are the occasional formatting errors, as in a few places where there is an extra space between words or between a quotation mark and word. Whatever. Those don’t really trouble me, and the were not frequent. What was distracting was that there was an additional blank line between paragraphs. That bothered me. I don’t know if that exists in current editions, or in the e-book version, but it was there in the paperback copy. I’ll admit that it made me feel I was less reading a novel and more reading a printed website. It doesn’t hurt the quality of the story, and I can’t shake the feeling I’m a jerk for complaining, but the formatting bothered me.
Still, the takeaway is that it was a fun story with characters I grew to care for and my big complaints were based around wanting more. Since a sequel is brewing, I’ll have less reason to complain.