Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Goblins and dragons and Odin, oh my!

2.5 out of 5 stars

Oy. I have had the hardest time trying to review this book. It was such a mixed-bag: Parts of it were good, parts were merely okay, yet none of it elicited any strong emotions in me. So I'm going to make this a bare-bones, flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants review (and for those of you clapping and cheering at being spared reading another one of my long-winded reviews, well, that's just rude).

The Good:
-This was only the second book/series I've read featuring a female blacksmith (the first being the Meg Langslow series by Donna Andrews). Not only was the lead in Black Blade Blues a blacksmith, she was also a lesbian, which is rare for a mainstream-published fantasy novel, at least as far as I'm aware. The only other gay characters I've encountered, in a series also published by TOR, are those in Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar: The Last Herald Mage trilogy (Magic's Pawn, Magic's Price, Magic's Promise). For some reason, mainstream publishers assume the general public can't handle leading characters who are gay and thus such characters are typically relegated to specialty publishing houses.
-I love the mix of stuff in this book; it makes for a unique and interesting setting. There's Norse mythology (not to mention actual creatures which pop up, including giants, dwarfs, witches, Valkyries—complete with Pegasus. Oh, and Odin masquerading as a homeless guy [that's not a spoiler; as soon as you meet that particular character, even if you merely have a passing knowledge of Norse mythology, you'll recognize who he truly is]); the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) and its associated kingdoms, shires, and mercenaries; Renaissance Faires; B-grade independent movies about goblins, aliens, and Elvis; and dragons camouflaged as people.
-While it personally annoyed me, Sarah's backstory of growing up in an ultra-religious, narrow-minded and bigoted environment, and her resulting discomfort with her sexuality and attraction to women, gives a depth to the character which isn't normally found in fantasy novels. (What annoyed me about this particular point is discussed below.)

The Bad:
-Yeah, Sarah has a complex about her sexuality and a helluva lot of baggage to deal with because of her upbringing, but her recurring whinging and moaning and disinclination to actually deal with her issues, not to mention her complete willingness to let those issues derail her life on a regular basis, is grating to the extreme. You know what the problem is--bring it out into the light, talk about it, work with it, and learn to live your life in spite of it. Damn!
-I really can't say there was anything bad bad, but... the whole novel felt disjointed and bumpy. There wasn't a steady build of story, leading the way to a dramatic denouement and thrilling climax. We're introduced to a supernatural plot point early on, but we have to deal with the complete breakdown of Sarah's personal life before we can get back to that supernatural plot point and build it up to a working story line. And when we finally do get to that story line, I have to use the word “bumpy” again, along with “slow.” Plus, I never encountered any true heart-pounding moments in the action scenes.

-For a blacksmith who's ultra-protective of her work, especially her swords, the fact that Sarah would just casually let an actor, a very clumsy and irresponsible actor at that, use her prized sword as a prop in a movie is just completely uncharacteristic.  It's a stupid move on the part of Pitts.
-Once again, Pitts relied on that tried-and-untrue literary cliche, overused by so many in order to create drama:  Having the characters not reveal to each other relevant information.  Sarah's lover, Katie, and Katie's brother, Jimmy (who happens to be the seneschal [leader] of Black Briar, the mercenary band which belongs to the local SCA kingdom) both know more about what's going on as far as Sarah's sword and how it pertains to the dragons, yet neither one of them let Sarah in on the information.  True, she wouldn't believe them, not initially, but still...  I hate it when authors do that; it's such a lazy way to create tension.

The Ugly:
-When it came to the protagonist, it was abundantly obvious this book was written by a man. Listen up, guys: Lesbians are not males dressed up as females. They do not have a man's brain in a woman's body. They do not get a metaphorical hard-on every time they see an attractive woman pass by. Every time Sarah had to deal with her interpersonal relationships, the resulting dialogue or prose was like a neon sign proclaiming “A Man Wrote This!” The protagonist, Sarah, was like some sort of avatar for male voyeurism: As Sarah ogled, lusted, and reminisced over her sexual adventures, male readers could ogle, sigh, and titter along as their hormone-fueled imaginations conjured up all sort sorts of accompanying mental pictures. Though Sarah's complex about her sexuality felt authentic, her actual behavior didn't.

Overall, I'd have to rank Black Blade Blues as “disappointing.” 

Read June 4-19, 2012
Reviewed June 26, 2012

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