Reviewed by Deborah Blake.
One of the things I enjoy as a reader is coming across a book that is completely different from anything I have read before; whether it is plot, characterization, or worldbuilding. Debut author J. A. Pitts certainly achieved that in his urban fantasy, Black Blade Blues.
Sarah Beauhall is an unusual protagonist. A blacksmith by day and a props manager for low-budget movies by night, she spends her free time fighting with a medieval reenactment group. And she’s gay. I challenge you to find another heroine anything like her.
Sarah is already overwhelmed by juggling two jobs and her emotional issues about being in a relationship that her rigidly moral father would have disowned her for. Then her girlfriend uses the dreaded “love” word. And a sword Sarah brought to the set for use as a prop breaks during filming, so she must repair the blade. And therein hangs the tale.
Because the sword is actually Gram, the mystical dragon-slaying sword from Norse mythology. Soon Sarah is in way over her head, dealing with dwarves, dragons, trolls, and a truly frightening witch—who may or may not be on her side. She discovers that centuries-old dragons masquerading as wealthy businessmen control some of the largest cities in the Pacific Northwest. In the midst of all this action, Sarah fights her own self-doubt and self-loathing, alienates her allies, and brings her life to a screeching halt. In the end, she must learn to trust both herself and others, and fight to save all that she values.
Overall, I really enjoyed Black Blade Blues. I loved the realistic details of the smith-work and the movie set, thought the descriptions of the local scenery and the battle scenes were exceptional, and the mythology was woven seamlessly into the world of present-day Seattle. These things alone made it worth reading the book. I was also surprised to see (from reading the dedication) that the author was a happily married man; very different from the protagonist who provided the main point of view for the novel. [Just a side note: Pitts managed to switch from first-person point-of-view to a couple of different third-person view points without jarring or confusing the reader. As an author, I can tell you; this is extremely difficult to do. So kudos on that one!]
I only had one real complaint about the book, and that is probably a personal bugaboo rather than a true flaw in the novel. Sarah is, for the most part, a flawed and unhappy character. She is struggling to come to terms with her relationship with her lover and has problems making real connections with anyone. The character can be hard to like at times, although by the end of the book her journey is starting to transform her. It was often painful to watch her screw up repeatedly—although, to be fair, some of her problems were brought on by mood swings caused by possession of the magical sword. And the battle scene was brutal, so if you have a weak stomach, you may have a hard time with this one. It was well-written enough to be unpleasant to experience, even second-hand.
This is an impressive debut, and I look forward to seeing Sarah’s adventures continue in the next installment of this series. If you like Norse mythology, dragons, atypical characters, and non-stop action, you’re sure to enjoy the roller coaster ride that is Black Blade Blues.