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Black Blade Blues

Posted by Vanessa On Friday, May 27, 2011

Sarah Beuhall is pretty sure she needs therapy. Her personal demons of doubt and self-identity keep her from being happy with her life, even though at first it appears to be going well. She's got a job she loves (blacksmithing; props for a local B movie director), beautiful girlfriend who loves her (Katie), and a chosen family in her Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) reenactor friends--so why does everything still seem to go wrong?

But none of those problems are nearly as bad as the ones that revolve around her ownership of a black-bladed sword: these more immediate problems involve dwarves, Old Norse gods, and dragons. BLACK BLADE BLUES (no, I can't believe he named it that, either) by J.A. Pitts is your typical urban fantasy novel with some gettin-together by the main characters, the heroine learning that magic really exists, and swords--don't forget the swords.

The story takes places in modern-day Seattle, and even though Sarah likes fighting in skirmishes at the occasional Ren Fair, she's never believed that magic really exists. That is, until a movie extra claims he's a dwarf and that the black-bladed sword Sarah bought at an auction is magic. Then everything changes.

BLACK BLADE BLUES starts off slow. This is an urban fantasy novel, and UF is generally shorter, so a writer can't dilly dally with set-up and has got to start out at a dead run. He doesn't. Pitts probably thinks that the short chapters would solve the pace problems and choppy flow. They don't. Neither can they successfully hide awkward progression. You don't even really know what the "story" is until well past page 100.

Sarah is the first-person PoV, but we occasionally see third-person via Katie, or a dragon (in human form) and a witch who consider the Northwest their territory, the people in it as chattel. Sometimes these switches help to advance plot and they're often more interesting than Sarah's part of the story; Katie's PoV scenes are used to advance the romance. However, it's Sarah's voice that will hook readers long before the plot, or before even liking her as a protagonist: it's full of attitude, sarcasm, and opinions. But readers will have a hard time liking Sarah since she spends so much time questioning Katie's attraction to her, she's got a dismal self body image, and she ruminates on an unpleasant childhood with a religious nut father--all of this was ham-handed and gloomy. On the plus side, while the F/F protagonist's relationship is an important part of the story, it doesn't feel like it's there for diversity's sake, and was for the most part believable.

Pitts' prose does get cliché. The conversations are vapid. The storytelling style is engaging and easy enough to read, but the action scenes nothing to get too excited about. The climax is a SCAdian dream come true, and becomes over-the-top with trolls, dragons, and witches fighting reenactors on their horses and using homemade swords and mail. If you're looking for nerdy fun, then great, this is for you. Personally I thought it was a little silly.

What we end up with is a mixed bag, and a result I'm not really certain who the target audience is. Lesbian blacksmith protagonist who's uncomfortable with her sexual orientation, and becomes an important player in the fight against evil. Dragons and witches vying for control over humans, but we don't really understand why or how. SCAdian reenactors who on the outside seem really cool, but not much time is spent in that world other than the convenience of Sarah having friends who can call up an army to fight trolls. So, yeah, I'm going to have to say skip this one.

Recommended Age: 16+
Language: An infrequent smattering of various profanity and crude slang
Violence: Yes, the climax chapters get brutal, but the action could have been better done
Sex: Lots of innuendo, references same-sex encounters with some detail; however, there are no graphic 'on screen' scenes


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