The Hammer and the Blade by Paul S. Kemp
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
The Hammer and the Blade is fun sword and sorcery adventure. Kemp has done something interesting here. This book is quite low brow in its use of vulgar descriptions: constantly describing puking and spitting and other bodily functions. Yet in contrast, I had to look up a lot of words when I read this, for apparently Kemp has quite a vocabulary. Maybe he was trying to prove that just because someone has a potty mouth doesn't mean they lack intelligence.
As far as a buddy story, this one succeeds on that level. Egil and Nix are tight. We don't get to find out how they met, and they are quite different. But that doesn't stop them from being very good friends who watch each others' backs and fight at each others' sides. Egil is a hulking man, who uses two hammers and a crowbar as his weapons. He wears a tattoo of an eye on his head, a symbol of the Momentary God. He is reflective and tends towards somberness. Nix is smaller, the body and persona of a thief. He reminds me of the trickster archetype. He is quick and sly, and fond of sharp, slender blades. He grew up in the slums, and part of him doesn't want to leave that behind. It's a huge part of his identity. He doubts that he possesses any sense of morality, but the quest he undertakes in this book will prove whether that's true.
While sword and sorcery can tend towards sexism, Kemp seems to want to subvert this. While most of the main characters are not women, there are more than a few secondary female characters that show a lot of depth and the complexity of the female gender. Nix and Egil are forced to reexamine their views of women and how women should be treated continually throughout this story. I really enjoyed this aspect of this novel. Yes, I am a woman, so it makes sense that this would be a crucial aspect for me. But I like to think that men can also be dismayed at how women can be sidelined, maligned, and abused in most cultures, simply because they are women. I am glad to see that Kemp seems to struggle with this as well.
The action/adventure part of the equation is well done. Plenty of fighting and escapades. Tomb robbing and escaping mystical booby traps. Lots of demon and creature fighting, and some fights between characters of the human persuasion. Some of the scenes got a little gory, but I guess that's to be expected in a sword and sorcery romp. While I didn't like some of the vulgar descriptions, I didn't think Kemp went over the top with the violence.
As far as the sorcery, that was definitely a strong aspect of this novel. One of the characters is a sorcerer whose family has a dark pact with demons for their power. And I do mean dark. This storyline becomes a very prominent thread that place Egil and Nix at some crucial moments of defining who their identities are as people and where they draw their line in the sand. As I read it, I marveled at the extremes people go to obtain and keep power, and usually they end up making someone pick up the tab for their actions and ill-gotten gains. Definitely the case in this book. Glad we had some unlikely heroes around to try to make things right.
I didn't rate this book higher because it was just too vulgar for my tastes. I felt like this was a hindrance for me to dive deeper since I just can't stand vulgarity. It's a personal taste thing here. There were other things to like about this novel, such as the fantasy world-building and the humor and camaraderie between Egil and Nix and a few other characters. It was a fairly entertaining novel despite the fact that the vulgarity was off-putting. I will probably continue this series.
Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.
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