Paul S. Kemp – The Hammer and the Blade

So here’s the plan —

Kill the demon…
Steal the treasure…
Retire to a life of luxury!

Sounds easy when you put it like that. Unfortunately for warrior-priest Egil and sneak thief Nix, when the demon they kill turns out to have worshippers in high places, retirement is not an option.

I first learned about The Hammer and the Blade by Paul S. Kemp when I saw the first reveal of its cover art on the Angry Robot blog. While not very familiar with straight up Sword and Sorcery, I was intrigued by the blurb and I have a soft spot for thieves, so I was curious to see whether Nix would be another thief I’d fall in love with. And though I really liked Nix and his partner Egil, it remains to be seen whether this will be a lasting relationship or just a summer fling.

Sword and Sorcery is all about the action and the monsters; The Hammer and the Blade is no exception to this rule. The focus of the story lies mainly with Nix and Egil, the ‘heroes’ of the story. They are an amusing partnership, if a little familiar in execution. Their bantering is lots of fun and it shows a long time partnership of two people who are very comfortable with each other. There isn’t much character development in this story; that is to say, from the start of the story Nix and Egil do not really change, they’re rogues who think they want to settle down, but discover otherwise. However, we do find out some of their back story, more so for Nix than for Egil. It will be interesting to see whether in future instalments of The Tales of Egil & Nix, we’ll find out more about Egil’s past and how their history will lead to new adventures. The villain of the piece and his victims are as much stock characters as anything else, they aren’t very well-rounded. They carry their task of giving our heroes a purpose off well, but they aren’t that interesting in and of themselves. Then again that is their function: they set the stage for Egil and Nix to shine, to be able to banter, to show off their skills, and to save the damsels in distress. My favourite characters aside from our heroes were Baras and Jyme, two of the Norristru guards. In fact I liked all of the Norristru guards and I found their interaction with our heroes to be an entertaining break from the two-man comedy of Egil and Nix.

The meat of the story is in the action and the action is off to a roaring start from the beginning. In fact after the prologue, which shows our heroes in mid-robbery and killing off a devil in the execution of said robbery, when we move to the viewpoint of the villain, Lord Norristru, I felt a little lost and I had to push past this chapter and get back to Egil and Nix to reconnect with the book. Apart from the occasional dice rolling sound in the background, the action is highly entertaining and never more so than once our duo is forced to join forces with Lord Norristru. Being tomb robbers by trade, Egil and Nix’s adventures can come off a little like table top dungeon crawls. They are unabashedly exciting and entertaining, but at times the background noise of dice rolls can become a bit loud and a little distracting. This is clearest in the scenes where Nix is looking for traps and trying to disable them and in the final battle at the Norristru manse. The action scenes, however, are exciting and very well written, especially their fight against the Vwynn demons and the geese-like demons in the Demon Wastes, those had me biting my nails and flipping the pages to see whether our heroes would make it unscathed.

Reading The Hammer and the Blade reminded me of nothing so much as watching a big blockbuster summer movie; it’s huge fun while you’re sat in the theatre and watching it, however, if you think too much about the details and the construction afterwards, the universe comes apart and the movie’s spoiled. The same can be said for this first adventure of Egil and Nix. The Hammer and the Blade is tremendous fun, provide that you do not but don’t think too hard about it. The book is a great romp of a story that will leave you grinning at its characters and humour and leave you cheering when they save the day. Hopefully this is the first of many Egil and Nix tales; I know I’m curious to see what trouble they’ll land themselves in next! I do hope we’ll find out more about the intrepid duo’s past and that the dice noise will quieten somewhat, so that Egil and Nix can be more than just that summer fling. The Hammer and the Blade will be published in the UK and the international markets on July 5th and is already out in the US.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

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  • “Apart from the occasional dice rolling sound in the background…”

    I'm not sure what you mean by this. Can you elaborate? :)

  • Well, maybe it was just me thinking to hard about it, but there were times when something would happen and I'd just hear dice rolling for Nix's reflex save or Egil's strength check. One example is with the acid trap in the prologue, another them running from the fire trap at a later point in the book. And of course, Nix's on and off working relationship with his gewgaws, the way he sometimes identifies them right and sometimes fails to miss a critical detail, could be interpreted as a lore check fail.

    It might just be me though, it could be that the acid trap in the prologue got me thinking game mechanics and thus I was looking for it and found them where they might not be.

    Still, Egil's habit of rolling those dice all the time when he's nervous, spot check anyone? Or just Kemp winking at the D&D-ers amongst his readers?

  • Egil's habit I chalked up as a nod to D&D gamers–since Kemp does and did play, himself.

    I suppose, given the examples you cite, that is an interpretation, but I chalked those sorts of things to the inherent chaos and uncertainty of Sword and Sorcery “mechanics”.

    But your point is taken.

  • Well, it could be S&S 'mechanics' but as I stated in the review, I'm not so well-read in the straight-up Sword and Sorcery category. I have however played both table top D&D and several RPG PC-games, so I'd be more likely to attribute it to those 'mechanics'. Does that make sense?

  • As have I, but somehow, I didn't connect the mechanics as being indicative of a RPG session. Funny, that.

    This discussion reminds me of the webcomic “Darths and Droids”, somehow :)

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