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The Double-Edged Sword by Sarah Silverwood

The Double-Edged Sword by Sarah Silverwood
Book Name: The Double-Edged Sword
Author: Sarah Silverwood
Publisher(s): Gollancz
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback
Genre(s): Young Adult Fantasy
Release Date: 2010

Sarah PinboroughSarah Silverwood is actually a pseudonym; the author of The Double-Edged Sword’s real name is Sarah Pinborough. For anyone who hasn’t heard of Sarah Pinborough before, let me begin by telling you that she is one of the most dynamic, hard-working and versatile authors you’re ever likely to come across. Between 2009 and 2012 Sarah has published no less than nine novels and three short stories, whilst also squeezing time in to write two films and a screenplay for a television show. That’s not all though – Sarah’s pledged to publish another two novels this year and at least two more next year. Did I mention that besides all this, she never fails to attend a convention? If you plan on attending any soon, look out for her – you’ll know it’s her because she’s the pretty one who never stops smiling. Rather incredible for an author who can’t possibly sleep!

So, since her first novel was published in 2004, Sarah has become known for her abilities to write horror novels that leave readers dreading turning the lights out. By 2009, her literary talent had been picked-up-on by the BBC and it wasn’t long before they got in touch and asked her to contribute a novel to their science-fiction series TorchWood. More recently though, it is her Dog-Faced Gods series, which are dark supernatural thrillers, that have really gathered momentum for publishers Gollancz.

Although I wasn’t there, I guess when Sarah pitched the The Double-Edged Sword, a young-adult fantasy novel, Gollancz offices said something like, “Wow, Sarah! This series sounds like something that will really fit our list. We love the characters! We love the plot! Your worldbuilding and your concepts of a dual world are completely unique. But, wait – don’t you write horror?” There was probably a slight pause around this point. Before someone from marketing (downstairs) cupped their hands around their mouth and called out, “How about using a different name?” People in the room would have nodded and the solution was now so, so clear. Sarah Pinborough would remain as the horror writer who could scare the crap out of adults brave enough to pick up her novels, whilst Sarah Silverwood would emerge as an author who provides younger readers with a magical world full of fun and adventure to retreat to.

Old Bailey LondonAnyway, onwards with the review! The novel kicks off in modern-day London. We are introduced to a young boy named Finmere Tingewick Smith and it quickly becomes apparent that his name isn’t the strangest thing about him. Finmere was abandoned at birth, placed down upon the steps of the Old Bailey (Britain’s historic courthouse). He never knew his parents and it seems he never will. The only clue he has to go on is the blanket he was wrapped in that night he was found, and the strange feeling of attachment he has to it.

The judge who found the baby Finmere on the steps, Judge Harlequin Brown, has since become his ward and made some interesting decisions in regards to his upbringing. For a start, Finmere has had to attend two very different schools. One is a comprehensive school, full of slang-talking boys who enjoy a bit of trouble, and the other is a private boarding school, where only the wealthiest of families can afford to send their children. Once a year, on his birthday, Finmere returns back to where the Judge lives, Orrey House. Although Finmere looks forward to this visit, it always seems so strange. Whilst there he meets placid old men who seem to just stare into the distance and barely acknowledge his presence.

“All sounds very interesting” you cry, “but where’s the fantasy?”

Well, I was just getting to that! The fantasy comes as Finmere, now 16 – not quite an adult, but certainly no longer a child – returns back to Orrery House for his 16th birthday. Judge Harlequin Brown says that he needs to talk with Finmere urgently and they arrange a meeting for the following day. Finmere meets with the Judge and a life-changing conversation takes place.

Finmere learns that there is more than one world. In-fact there are many Worlds and they all overlap. In many ways they are similar and yet in many ways they are different. The world that Finmere lives in (and indeed we live in) is called ‘The Somewhere’ and the closest world to us, the one that is most accessible is ‘The Nowhere’. We find out that Judge Harlequin Jones and these seemingly placid old men are knights who govern the two worlds. Together they ensure that The Somewhere and The Nowhere exist side by side in harmony. As Finmere leaves, Judge Harlequin tells him that a Storyholder holds five stories that hold all the worlds together and that there is a prophecy stating that a Dark King will rise up and try to claim this power for himself.

Finmere is obviously shaken by what he hears, but leaves comforted by the fact that Judge Harlequin Brown and his knights are there to protect the world. When he returns to the room moments later though, more questions needing answers on his mind, he finds the judge has been run through with a double edged sword. Stabbed in his own home. As he dies, Judge Harlequin tells Finmere that only a knight could wield this kind of sword and that Finmere will need to alert the other knights – the old men at Orrey House. And the story gathers momentum from there.

City of LondonAs soon as you pick up this book, you will be gripped by the fluid prose of Silverwood. The descriptions are beautiful, the dialogue is realistic and you will quite often find yourself picking up the book and putting it down 50 pages later, not realising an hour has just whizzed by. This is always going to be important for a book marketed as ‘for young adults’, but at the same time, as a 25 year old male, I was never condescended by the prose. You know how when you read Harry Potter you relax and feel at ease in the silky flow of the prose? Think along those lines and you won’t be far off.

Talking of Harry Potter…I certainly think that if you enjoyed that series this is a book you could pick up and feel at home with. After the success of Harry Potter, it seems that authors have taken their hats off to J. K. Rowling and bowed out of writing this kind of young adult fantasy adventure novel. Sarah has been brave though, and in my personal opinion, this first book The Double Edged Sword is just as enjoyable and as much of a page-turner as that first Harry Potter book. But what is it about this book that makes it such a page turner and such a delightful read?

At the most basic level it is what every good book has: characters. Finmere is a character that we can really develop a close attachment to and rally behind. He knows as little about The Nowhere as we do. We see only what he sees and therefore we share his shock, awe, delight and terror as it unravels. Not only that, we truly feel for Finmere. He is a young boy who never knew his parents and therefore doesn’t have a sense of belonging. As he grows as a person and discovers a new world that he seems a part of, we see him finding out more about himself. It all builds nicely throughout the book and by the time the novel is about ready to wrap up we’d be more than willing to stand by his side and wield our own sword against the Dark King that the prophecy predicts.

In addition to our protagonist, there is a whole host of secondary characters that become as vivid to us as Finmere himself. Ted, the lovable old security guard, was my personal favourite – he is a well -rounded character who is always there to guide Finmere through both The Somewhere and The Nowhere. He seems to be Sarah’s Silverwood’s voice in this novel and perhaps it is the character of Ted that makes the book such a delight to read. When someone tells you that there is a book that has a prophecy and essentially alternative realities/worlds, things should be complicated. And yet they never are. Other characters include: Chris, from the private boarding school, and Joe, from the comprehensive school. The pair works well as a comical juxtaposition that will keep readers entertained throughout the entirety of the novel. I could go on, but I’ll leave you to enjoy the whole cast of knights and various friends Finmere makes along the way for yourselves!

The enemies that enter into the book are, of course, less likeable. Sarah creates characters that you can really despise. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you too much about them without spoiling the plot – but Sarah manages to show you their motivations and their flawed reasoning for going after Harlequin and the Storyteller in a rather interesting fashion. Fairly rare for the YA Genre, we are shown the world through the enemy’s eyes on multiple occasions through the novel. We see how he treats the beloved Storyteller and we feel his coldness as he tries to extract the five stories he needs from her. For a YA novel the enemy is fairly brutal in what he does, but I do think the YA crowd will appreciate the fact that he is capable of physical hard as opposed to just threatening as is so often the case.

The Old Bailey JusticeAll in all this is a heart-warming book. It is the kind of book that you will tear through until reaching the satisfying ending. With so much dark fantasy out there in 2012, assassins, vampires and warriors taking centre stage, it’s refreshing to read about a normal boy, living in London who can go on an adventure with his friends and potentially save the world. It’s YA so of course you will find all the tropes; the prophecies, the dark lord, and the chosen one, but it’s all done so well, with so many unique concepts and told through such beautiful prose that you’ll welcome them as they come.

Quite simply, Sarah Silverwood is one of the best authors writing in the young adult genre today. In The Double-Edged Sword you will find everything you could possibly ask for from this kind of novel: a loveable protagonist, a vivid magical world, supernatural races, terrifying enemies and a plot that pulls you relentlessly through its pages.

With Sarah’s charming narrative voice, unique twists to familiar tropes and a hint of both comedy and horror thrown in for good measure – this’ll surely be a book that you keep on your shelf and re-read for years to come.


One Comment

  1. Avatar Overlord says:

    Wow – that’s a long review… thing to take away from it… this is a damned awesome book 😉

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