Black Blade Blues


Black Blade Blues
by J. A. Pitts
Tor Books
Trade Paperback – 15.99

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.

12 thoughts on “Black Blade Blues

  1. I can handle flaws in a character as long as the “save the cat” fairly early on. I need a reason to like the character. Unhappy won’t bother me, but I might find it depressing if it gets poured on a bit too thick.

    I also start getting restless if the character goes through untold misery before there is a glimmer of hope, or before the character stops passively accepting it all.

    The problems brought on by the magical sword are intriguiging!

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  2. Is there any way to make the little “authenticate this comment using OpenID” box default to unchecked? If you try to submit a comment and that box is checked and you don’t want to log into some OpenID account, you lose the whole comment. I’ve just done it for the second time, and I can’t face retyping the whole comment. It was longish. :(

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    • Raven, when that happens I REALLY try to copy the comment to my clipboard (or even a file on my computer) before trying a second time. Not that that helps as much a Tia turning it off did. {sympathetic smile}

      (Fortunately, the time I lost a comment to that recently, it was only a sentence or so. {lop-sided smile})

      Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

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      • It was two different comments on two different posts on two different days! I didn’t learn from experience… or rather, when I came back yesterday and had the problem again, I forgot about the OpenID box until it was too late!

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  3. Thanks for making me aware of the problem. I turned it off. I hope it hasn’t been interfering with comments all day long.

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  4. So here’s what I was going to say yesterday. I’m a fan of flawed protagonists, but I have trouble sympathizing with protagonists who make foolish mistakes when a little common sense would have helped avoid them. I do like Norse mythology, and the sword sounds fun.

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  5. Raven,
    I’m sorry this has been so frustrating! I’ve has that happen at other blogs, so you have my sympathy.

    And I’d say that this character is flawed, but not foolish. So you’re safe to go ahead and read the book :-)

    And yes, the sword is fun. I love me a magic sword!

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    • Oooh, foolish mistakes make me crazy. Or when the character doesn’t ask an obvious question, which is the problem with the current book I’m reading. And you know? I haven’t read enough novels about magic swords!

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  6. `or when the character doesn’t ask an obvious question’. For me, it’s the people who don’t ANSWER the questions that drive me crazy. I don’t mean they get interrupted, I mean they just look all wise and noble and say, `you couldn’t handle knowing the truth about the enemy/the magic sword I’m giving you/ you’re birth parents so I’ll just stand around not telling you, even though the knowledge would prevent you from making stupid mistakes and maybe playing right into the enemy’s hands. No, don’t thank me, I’m just super wise like that.’

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