But when two recent acquaintances come calling for help, our hapless heroes find themselves up against the might of the entire Thieves Guild.
And when kidnapping the leader of the most powerful guild in the land seems like the best course of action, you know you’re in over your head…
A Discourse in Steel is the second Tale of Egil and Nix and a while after last year’s The Hammer and the Blade. While I had lots of fun with the first tale, I did have some problems with it, rather like watching a fun summer block buster you shouldn’t think too deeply about, lest it lose its sparkle. A Discourse in Steel was just as enjoyable and in several ways was even better than the previous book. There were more female characters with a role that wasn’t just ornamental and it featured a thieves’ guild; I always enjoy a good story with a thieves’ guild.
One of the elements that made The Hammer and the Blade so enjoyable was its buddy comedy/bromance vibe, something quite prominently present in A Discourse in Steel as well. Egil and Nix have been best friends for ages and it shows through in their every interactions. They have their routines and in-jokes down pat and at the same time their bond and level of trust is so deep, that they can finish each other’s sentences and can improvise a course of action in the middle of a sticky situation, knowing that the other one will be there to do his bit. The banter between these two best friends is classic, though there were some points where they banter throughout a fight scene, which raised an eyebrow or three. Egil and Nix are the heart of this novel and I was glad for the opportunity to find out more about their backgrounds. Kemp doles out this information in drips and drabs, but it allows the reader to form a fuller picture of who these men are.
Surrounding these two is a group of characters that is roughly similar to last time, though this time the women in the group get far more screen time and have far more agency than last time, which I found a distinct improvement. I loved Mere and Rose in this one, they are far more rounded, and far more interesting than in the previous book. They’ve made a life for themselves and while the trauma isn’t forgotten, they are moving on. It was refreshing to see them become a part of the cast instead of disappearing after the last book. Usually the saved damsels go off to damsel-land leaving the intrepid heroes free to move on to new conquests. Two other character who get more of a look-in this go-around are Tesha, the madam of the brothel Egil and Nix co-own with her, and Gadd, the Tunnel’s barkeep and ale magician. They are interesting characters and especially Gadd’s past seems to cry out for its own adventure.
The plot was cool, and while at times I could still hear the dice rolls in the background, I found it less DnD-y than its predecessor. The thieves’ guild was well-conceived; the idea of it being a semi-religious organisation and the way its leadership was selected was very cool. Also I really enjoyed the cant the thieves used; it’s exactly the sort of linguistical detail I love. The one thing that irked me a bit was the use of the Upright Man for the main honcho of the thieves’ guild as for me that term is undeniably connected to the Mockers’ Guild of Krondor from Raymond E. Feist’s Midkemia Cycle and the fact that I’m currently rereading said cycle doesn’t help there I guess.
Where The Hammer and the Blade was the sort of summer block buster you shouldn’t think too deeply about or you destroyed the magic, A Discourse in Steel is the summer block buster you’ll want to rewatch. I really enjoyed the book and I loved getting to know these characters better. Kemp broadened and deepened his world with this instalment and I certainly hope there will be more Egil and Nix to come in the future, because I want to see where he goes next. If you like your fantasy with a wink and a nod and enjoy Sword and Sorcery, you can’t go wrong with A Discourse in Steel.
The book was provided for review by the publisher.