The Hammer and the Blade, A tale of Egil and Nix is a new original series by the author of several Star Wars and Forgotten Realms novels, Paul S. Kemp. It's my first read from the author and it was released on June 26th.
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.
The Hammer and the Blade is a blend of sword and sorcery and the good old adventure novel. The two main characters, Egil and Nix, are some kind of an Indiana Jones split between two personalities living in a medieval world full of fantastic elements, magic trinkets and Egyptian-like crypts belonging to long dead wizard-kings.
The beginning of the book is clumsy. Egil and Nix, strictly the treasure hunters at that moment, are in front of a door they have some difficulty unlocking. To put the reader up to speed, they have a weird dialogue that explains why they are now in that particular situation. It was quite annoying to read lines like these:
"Remind me again what we're doing here, Egil." [...] "Right, right, but why?"
The author should have spent more time on this dialogue (and on much of them come to think of it), or he could have added a chapter to start things more smoothly, with a better flow. Anyway, after a couple of chapters, the design behind the two protagonists and their ultimate antagonist, who also has his point of view, for the book becomes clear. The wielders of the hammer and the blade are quite different fellows and come from different backgrounds. However, we mostly learn about Nix's origins and he remains the main character throughout the book. He's a smart ass, quick fingered and witted, very talkative and altruistic tomb robber while Egil is more reserved, built like an ox, a priest with a temperament waiting to be unleashed. What is uniting them and creating devotion for each other is their taste for adventure, beer and trinkets.
Purposely, they are the ultimate archetype of the double act. The lines they exchange create some entertaining moments, a bit of humour. This is not the kind of tale that takes itself too seriously from the start but still, serious matters eventually find their way into the narrative, heavy stuff. One example of this even felt perturbing. The reaction of Nix seems right when thinking about his personality developed throughout the book but it still feels exaggerated. On the other hand, Rakon, the villain, stays true to his intentions and he is surrounded by subordinates showing more nuances.
The story of The Hammer and the Blade is simple even if it's layered and wants to carry a message. The two heroes are forced to do what they are good at, tomb robbing, for the sake of something that doesn't really concern them. Sooner or later, the goal of their quest and its implications becomes their burden, they decide to get involved. The tales becomes predictable at that point with no big surprises in store but with enough action, perils and incidents to keep the story entertaining. At that point, I cared for the well-being of the two sturdy and lucky heroes but wasn't mesmerized by the climax and conclusion.
Hopefully, magic and the different artefacts, monsters and races used by Kemp in the book create a world that can stand on its own with enough wonder to keep it intriguing long enough. Sadly though, that same magic is used to save the day when no other possibly is offered to Egil and Nix. The feeling of completion for the characters feels more hollow when handy tools are used this way.
Even if the dialogues could have used more work, Kemp's writing isn't bad. The pace is uneven at times but I didn't get distracted too much. The author uses some dubious references for his world like 'raptor' and in what I assume is a try not to offend readers use the words 'fakkin' and 'shite'... At any rate, I have confidence that the imagination behind this tale of Egil and Nix will be sufficient to create a series of interesting adventures.
I would recommend this book to all those who love 'roller coaster' adventures within a sword and sorcery setting. If you're not too touchy about dialogues but are looking for an entertaining read that doesn't ask you to concentrate on a complex story (but don't forget that it tackles serious subjects) but to enjoy the ride, that novel should suit you.
Technically, I think the Angry Robot cover is perfect for this novel, it presents a nice representation of the protagonists in their preferred setting. Sadly, there's no map included. The paperback edition of the novel stands at 441 pages.
The Hammer and The Blade review score :
World building............... 7 / 10
Magic system................. 7 / 10
Story.............................. 6.5 / 10
Writing........................... 6.5 / 10
Overall (not an average) 6.5 / 10
Paul S. Kemp page