Review: Black Blade Blues by J. A. Pitts
I worked in the theater department while I was in college. I also worked with University Computing and a coworker there, Skip, had an interesting project with the local blacksmith. Add in all my friends that were obsessed with the SCA and Black Blade Blues by J. A. Pitts had a rather nostalgic pull on me. My wife will like the Northwest setting, but for me all that nostalgia pretty much superimposed this story on the Appalachian mountains of Virginia. My mind does weird things with settings.
It’s hard not to compare this book to Norse Code (review). They came out around the same time and both draw heavily on Norse Mythology. Norse Code was definitely more my type of book, a tangle of sub genres and dense with ideas. Black Blade Blues is literally a tale of a magical sword being used to slay a dragon. You don’t get much more core fantasy than that. Also, not that much of a spoiler if you happen to glance at the cover.
The strength of Black Blade Blues lies in its main character. Sarah Beauhall is many things before she becomes a dragon slayer. First, she’s distinctly working class, holding down 2 jobs to make ends meet. She’s a blacksmith by day and the pro master for a very indie movie theater in the evenings. She’s got a beautiful girlfriend and a ton of baggage from her very conservative upbringing. She’s also surrounded by people that seem to know more about the magical aspects of the world than she does.
As more and more magic enters the story, Sarah resists. Part of that magic is Norse Mythology and part of it is love and in both cases she resists. She drives herself more than a little emotionally ragged and makes plenty of bad choices. The first two thirds or so of the book follows this roller coaster and then the stakes are raised. The big battle at the end is gritty and epic despite it’s relatively small scale.
The world that’s been established for this series is pretty traditional urban fantasy. I like the working class emphasis although there are plenty of side characters with money. I actually appreciate the “magic and technology don’t mix” trope although it was handled rather erratically in this case. I like the structure of the story – tight 1st person on Sarah with the occasional 3rd person chapters to fill us in on other characters – definitely gave the world room to breathe. I like how much damage is done to important characters. I feel like Pitts could pull a GRRM and kill off a point of view character. Probably not Sarah. I think there are at least 3 more books. I actually enjoyed Sarah in the heavily character sections, but I look forward to her spending more time kicking ass and less time destroying relationships in future installments. I’m also curious what the short story version of this was like. May have to track down that anthology.