Sunday, January 5, 2020

Review: The 19th Bladesman by S.J. Hartland

The 19th Bladesman (Shadow Sword, book #1)
by S.J. Hartland
Release Date: November 21st 2018
2018 Dark Blade Publishing
Kindle Edition; 642 Pages
ISBN: 978-0648437208
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

His duty is to die young, but fate has something far more lethal in mind

If Kaell breaks, the kingdom breaks with him. And prophecy says the 19th Bladesman will break ...

The Bonded Warrior ...

Kill. Die young. That's what a swordsman bonded to the ancient gods does. Without expecting praise from the man who trained him to survive this centuries-old, malignant war against the inhuman followers of an invincible lord. But Kaell wants more. More of Val Arques' attention, his approval. Just more.

The fire dancer ...

Ice lord, spy, Heath never loses a fire dance. Yet he longs to know that thrill of danger down his spine as he kills for his god, to fight a warrior who might, just might be better than him.

The broken ...

Val Arques is a bladesman of formidable power entrusted not only with Kaell's life but with the truth that will destroy him. Banished to a grim outpost of this doomed kingdom of sorcery, poetry and treachery, he cannot afford to care about the young warrior. For love means loss. And Val Arques has a shameful secret ...

A kingdom on the edge of chaos ...

As a vengeful god escapes his ancient prison and Kaell is drawn into his web of deception, even Val Arques can't protect him from the dark prophecy awaiting him. Because you can't flee fate unless you're willing to do the unthinkable.

My Thoughts
The 19th Bladesman has been on my to-be-read list for quite a while so when I received the second book in the series, it was definitely time to give it a go and I am so glad I did.  I love reading massive fantasy books and luckily, I had hours on a plane to indulge and this book kept me riveted the entire time.  While there were some issues with the book, I loved the world building and I enjoyed the characters; plus, there was enough betrayal and twists and turns to keep me happy.

First of all, the world building was fantastic and I thought the author did a standup job at keeping a brisk pace between the events and explaining some of the back stories of the characters.  What I particularly liked was the way the information was given; it was explained as if you were already familiar with the legends and folk lore, like you had grown up on it, and if you hadn't, just needed to fill in the blanks yourself.  I really like that approach as I like to figure out things for myself and if I am confused for part of the book, I just accept I will figure it out and keep on going.  I wouldn't have survived the Malazan books otherwise.  Plus, I feel like I am being talked down to, as if I can't figure things out, you know?

The book in told multiple POV which can sometimes detract from the momentum of a story, but not in this case.  I could see all the threads being manipulated and being pulled and it's one of the things I love about fantasy novels.  The more threads and the more complicated things are, the more I enjoy what I am reading.  And while at first I thought the plot was more about this young boy who would be a big hero after he learns all his skills, and maybe is defeated a time or two, I learned pretty early on that this book would not be like that.  The characters are way more complicated, with pasts and gray areas that will cause betrayals and twists and turns, and it turns out there was a lot going on behind the scenes.  Every character has depth and their own motivations, even if those motivations are not quite clear, and people I thought were more ethical did some pretty unethical things.  And treachery abounds. There was one character's death I mourned for part of the book only to find out he actually betrayed one of the main characters very badly, and I didn't even see it coming.  Love it when that happens.  Luckily I was on the plane so I couldn't throw the book (not that I would have as I might have destroyed my tablet or worse, hit someone on the back of the head, but that was how I felt when reading that part). The story was definitely character driven, each with their own conflicts to work out, each seeking approval from something or someone, and because of this, vulnerable to great betrayal. 

The author has a way of writing that just draws you into the story.  Looking back, the story is actually more complex than I first thought, and I love how she uses humour to lighten up some of the scenes, even poetic elements.  These lighter moments are definitely needed as a lot of the book was more brutal, involving torture, fight scenes, sorcery, battle elements, all done very cleverly.  I found myself holding my breath through a few of them, wondering what was going to happen for as I learned quite early on, nothing was as it appeared and good guys could become bad guys in a heartbeat.  

The 19th Bladesman was a solid entry into the fantasy field, one that I enjoyed quite a bit.  And don't let the number of pages fool you, the author's writing style is captivating and you will rip through the book without noticing the pages.  For those who like more traditional fantasy, this book has it all: battles, castles, magic, prophecy, ancient kings, folk lore, and treachery.  If anything, perhaps a list of who is who at the front of the book might help.  Otherwise, I highly recommend this book. Now, on to the next book in this series, The Last Seer King, and then hopefully book three, The Sword Brotherhood., July 2020.