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Black Blade Blues by J. A. Pitts

Black Blade Blues by J. A. Pitts
3.5
Book Name: Black Blade Blues
Author: J. A. Pitts
Publisher(s): Tor Books
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / eBook
Genre(s): Urban Fantasy
Release Date: April 27, 2010

I first picked up Black Blade Blues because the premise sounded intriguing—a female blacksmith who makes sword props, who suddenly finds out that dwarves, trolls, and dragons are real? And that there’s a plot to take over humanity that, of course, only she can stop? Sign me up!

And no, I’m not being facetious.

That’s actually the plot. Sounds pretty awesome, right?

Well, it was. Mostly. But before I get into the pros and cons of this novel—set in modern day, mind you—there’s something I should probably mention first.

Those of you who’ve heard of this book before may know it for another reason, one that I didn’t realize until I started reading: The main character is gay. I’ll get to that in a bit, but I wanted to say that no, I didn’t know that going into the book, and yes, it’s significant to the story. Furthermore, if that’s the only reason you’re interested in this book, thinking there’s going to be something kinky or risqué about the story as a result, you’re going to have to look elsewhere.

Got it? Okay. On with the review.

The novel starts off at a good pace, and the main character, Sarah Beauhall, is likable enough as we open on the first scene. She’s tough, no-nonsense, cares about her craft, and values hard work. We also quickly learn that she’s struggling to make ends meet, and that her dream is to be a full-time blacksmith with her own shop.

When her favourite sword is broken on the set of a low-budget movie she’s doing props for, Sarah agrees to reforge the blade. Apparently this is to avoid reshooting scenes, but what I didn’t understand is—if it’s her favourite sword, why not just make a new one that’s similar and prevent this one from getting broken again? If it’s a low-budget film, no one is really going to notice a slight difference on-screen. There are enough creative types working on film sets that they’d certainly be able to make one with some heft to it that would do nicely. But of course, that wouldn’t advance the plot of the novel. So, she begins reforging, and we push ahead.

Naturally, where there are forges, there are dwarves. When a real dwarf shows up at the forge while Sarah is working—and tells her she has a destiny, and oh yeah, the fate of the world is at stake—we begin to see both the strength and weaknesses inherent in Sarah’s character…particularly when her girlfriend Katie arrives and hangs out with Sarah at the forge.

Now, everyone knows that it’s critical for a main character to be well-rounded, and that internal conflict is just as important as external conflict. Well, in Pitts’ novel, Sarah’s internal conflict is her self-loathing. She was brought up in a strict religious household that had clearly missed the memo on treating everyone with love and respect, and so being gay is a source of internal struggle. Her upbringing tells her that who she is, is wrong and disgusting, so things like holding hands with her girlfriend in public or even acknowledging her feelings verbally is too much to handle. She won’t do it, and she’s breaking Katie’s heart in the process.

It makes sense. And I thought it worked well…until Sarah moped around thinking about it again. And again. And again. Oh, and then she moped around and hated herself a little more. Again.

It got to the point where I just wanted to walk up to her, slap her across the cheek, and scream “get over yourself!!!” Yes, it seemed excessive. We get the point: She’s a self-loathing lesbian. Did we really need to get beat over the head with it? Everyone struggles with self-identity at some point, so it made sense and I thought Pitts did an excellent job of defining the struggle, to a point. Mainly, the point that I wanted to yell at the main character. Ahem.

That said, the novel redeemed itself for me on one key point. If anyone reading this is a member of the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism, for those who aren’t in the know), you want to read this book. Why? Because there’s an SCA Chapter in the novel that, when the chips are down, has to actually pick up real weapons and fight—and, without spoiling anything, let me tell you that it’s as realistic as you would expect it to be. There’s only so far that SCA weapons training can take you, and when you’re untested in real combat, people are going to die. A lot of people. And very, very brutally.

I deeply appreciated Pitts’ honesty in the battle scene, and I’m intrigued to know where he’s going with the SCA group in the following novel. There are hints that the group may have some fairly large secrets, so I suspect they’ll play an even larger role in the coming instalments.

As for Sarah? Let’s just say…I’m happy that by the end of the novel, it looks like she can get back to kicking ass and being awesome as the series progresses. But I swear, if she starts moping around again? I’ll be dropping that book like a burning ember. Here’s hoping it’s full of self-assured, evil dragon butt-kicking instead.

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Rating: 10.0/10 (2 votes cast)
Black Blade Blues by J. A. Pitts, 10.0 out of 10 based on 2 ratings
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5 Comments

  1. Overlord says:

    Wow – love the cover :O

    It’s always a shame when a characters begins to mope… I remember Harry Potter went through about a book and a half worth of moping and it was a really worrying time for the series. Let us hope she cheers up! (Harry never really did, did he?).

    • Faith says:

      I know, the cover is amazing! I agree — Harry went through a very mopey period and didn’t quite come fully out of that. Thankfully there was enough else going on that the series kept its momentum, and Rowling continued to develop Harry’s character in the midst of the moping. I think that’s what enabled the series to continue successfully.

  2. Donald says:

    I hate to break it to you honey, but even in this day and age LGBT people are full of self loathing due to family and religious crap. The fact a straight man could write something many of my lesbian friends can relate to….well, suck it up buttercup.
    Hetro people are not the only ones out there. Mope or not…..if you had to deal with the bs we do every day your attitude might change. That a str8 man wrote about it and so well, is is worthy of honor.

    • Faith says:

      Donald, my complaint with the moping thing is not about sexuality. It’s about character development. The author, for whatever reason, chose to have his main character spend the majority of the novel moping instead of being developed, the way a character of a novel needs to be. Sacrificing character development for *anything* is not a way to write a novel.

      I did not complain about the main character’s sexuality, nor did I denigrate anyone’s real-life struggles or imply that “hetero people are the only ones out there”, so I don’t appreciate the condescension in your comment. You don’t know me — and some of the things you’ve implied are, frankly, quite rude.

      I certainly commend the author of the book for tackling this topic and writing a good, mostly entertaining novel, but ultimately I believe his execution needed refinement.

      That said, thank you for reading my review and taking the time to comment. 🙂

  3. Brantastian says:

    Moping and being self pitying is what absolutely killed Robin Hobb’s soldier son trilogy for me. I believe you are right – you can only take it so far, regardless of what causes it, and regardless of how justifiable it is, there’s only so much the point needs to be made. When writers continue to ram something down your throat it always feels condescending, as though they don’t trust you to get the idea so they feel the need to tell you again and again.

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