The Hammer and the Blade by Paul S. Kemp

Published by Angry Robot Books       
ISBN 978-0-8576-624-5-3     
June 2012       
416 Pages      
Review copy (e-ARC) provided courtesy of the author            

Sword and Sorcery is making something of a renaissance in genre fiction, thanks in no small part very recently to writers like Scott Lynch, James Barclay, and James Enge.  Part of the reason for such a flourishing of these personal tales of fantasy featuring blue collar heroes getting in over their head is the popularity of role playing games over the past couple of decades allowing players to participate in what amounted to collaborative sword and sorcery storytelling.  One of the most popular and widely played games during that time (and now) is The Forgotten Realms and one of the more popular authors of novels tied into that franchise is Paul S. Kemp.  That’s the long way of saying how Kemp’s pedigree, for lack of a better term, provides him with a strong foundation to pen his first novel set outside any previous shared worlds to which he contributed.  Thus, we have The Hammer and The Blade A Tale of Egil and Nix.  I’m very pleased to say this sword and sorcery novel was a blast.

Through an engaging prologue Kemp introduces the readers to Egil and Nix through a quick dungeon adventure whereby the Priest (Egil) and Thief (Nix) rob the tomb of an ancient entity.  The prologue would work excellently as a short story but also sets a solid foundation for the story Kemp will tell in The Hammer and The Blade by giving a sense of the relationship between the two protagonists. Egil and Nix planned on using the payout from their treasure to buy their favorite tavern so they could retire and live out their days in relaxation rather than fighting and adventuring. 

Of course, that only being the prologue tells us the best laid plans of warrior priest and thief don’t take into account fate or the families of the demons they’ve slain during their ‘last grave robbing adventure.’ The demon they killed is part of a family pact, leaving only one survivor of the demon family (Thyss) who must honor the pact with House Norisstru. The head of Norisstru, Rakon, is set to meet the terms of the pact with the demons for the time has come to consummate the relationship. Egil and Nix are ‘recruited’ by Rakon to help find the last remaining Thyss demon so the pact which provides the power of sorcery and knowledge to Rakon’s family can be upheld.  This pact entails giving over the females of the family to the demon so they can mate, thus providing mixed offspring possessing magical abilities. To say our heroes are recruited against their will would be an understatement, but this helps to fuel some of the narrative energy.  Rakon’s sisters, Merelda and Rusilla, are not exactly on board with the pact and are practitioners of magic in their own right.

OK, that’s the basic plot of the novel.  Revealing too much more would rob the potential reader from enjoying the novel themselves, though I will say the final quarter of the novel was exhilarating, leading to an extremely satisfying conclusion. What I will speak to, in general terms, are the elements that worked, didn’t work, etc.  First and foremost, what comes across very strongly is how much fun Kemp seemed to have writing this story.  The protagonists are old chums in the greatest sense of the word and their humorous, sarcastic rapport provides for a smooth way to reveal story elements.  This sense of camaraderie extends as Egil and Nix become more acquainted with Rakon’s ‘crew’ over the course of their journey since our heroes and Rakon’s men don’t exactly see eye to eye with the sorcerer’s means and goals. 

To say these characters and this story is a love letter to Fritz Leiber would be selling Kemp short of what he’s done.  In Egil and Nix, he’s given readers possible long-distant cousins to Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser in that he’s got the large bruiser and short thief duo, as well as the banter between the two. Furthermore, one of the main areas in this world is known as the Low Bazaar, an obvious homage the Fafhrd and Grey Mouser story Bazaar of the Bizarre. Kemp also throws out shout-outs to Green Lantern mythos along the way.

Kemp tells an excellent story through most of the novel after a bit of a bumpy introduction to Rakon and his entourage. That was a minor portion of the novel, but once those bits were straightened out, Kemp’s narrative energy kept me breezing through the novel.  His voice is very engaging, the characters came across as very believable and I want to know more about the world they inhabit.  By showing the duo of Egil and Nix at what seemed to be the end of their adventuring career, Kemp has smartly opened up many doors for himself – he can show early tales of this duo or he can continue the story from this point forward.  Regardless of where in this duo’s timeline he decides to tell a story, I will enthusiastically follow.

– Highly Recommended –

© 2012 Rob H. Bedford

Leave a comment