Black Blade Blues
Sarah Beauhall Series: Book One
Lesbian protagonist. Urban fantasy.
Sarah Beauhall is an apprentice blacksmith. Usually her forge is fired by propane gas, but for more authentic work she uses coal. There isn't much demand for a blacksmith in the modern world, so to supplement her meager income, Sarah moonlights as a prop manager for a local film production company. The film company sometimes needs medieval weapons—swords, battle axes—which Sarah is happy to provide. Forging and collecting replica weapons is her passion, as is reenacting historical battles with the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA).
The film company's current project, Elvis vs. the Goblins, (or something like that) requires a black sword for the King of Rock and Roll. Sarah happens to own a black sword that she picked up at an estate sale in Seattle. Unfortunately, Elvis breaks the blade during an onset mishap. Sarah can repair it, but reforging a sword is a difficult task. While leaving the set, she's approached in the parking lot by one of the extras. He claims to be a dwarf and tells Sarah to take great care with the sword, because it's actually Gram, once used by the hero Siegfried to kill Fafnir the dragon. As the new keeper of the sword, it falls to Sarah to slay the local dragon, an investment banker in Seattle.
Sarah thinks he's crazy, but when she receives a cryptic omen from a one-eyed bum and strange men in a Hummer run her car off the road and demand the sword, she begins to believe her black blade might actually be Fafnir's Bane. Then she comes face to face with a dragon, and she can no longer deny her destiny.
I really liked the protagonist of this novel. Sarah Beauhall was well done. I was fascinated by the details of modern blacksmithing and her work making props for low budget fantasy movies was interesting. But I think the best part of her character was her internal struggle to deal with her sexuality.
Sarah left behind a conservative religious upbringing, but has internalized her parent's homophobia. Sarah has an ideal girlfriend, a fun, sexy, guitar-playing school teacher named Katie. But every time Katie reaches for Sarah's hand in public, Sarah pulls away. She's terrified of acknowledging her relationship with Katie—even to other members of her SCA troop, of which Katie is also a part. Sarah hears the words "dyke," "pervert," and "unnatural" in her head whenever Katie gets close to her. Sarah's insecurity threatens to drive Katie away, and also jeopardizes her own mental stability.
This is a really subjective opinion, because I can see how Sarah's whining and self-loathing would annoy other readers, but I liked it. That's internal homophobia—it's very real and the author captured its tone perfectly. Few people seem to get that it's the internalized homophobia that eats at us. I can deal with strangers yelling insults at me all day long. It's the voices in the back of my head that hurt.
This novel takes its fantasy elements from Norse mythology. While that's a refreshing take on urban fantasy, I just wish the author had given them as much depth as he gave his protagonist. They seemed hollow. I was especially disappointed in the dragons.
The dragons are the antagonists of this story—shapechangers who live among humans as powerbrokers. The author gave us three; one evil, one insane, and one reasonable. Perhaps they were meant to be complex. But they were one-dimensional and boring. These are dragons! Dragons are supposed to be vastly powerful creatures who endure for millennia. Legends and folklore surround dragons, and they're the novel's source of conflict. Why skimp on them? I was enormously dissatisfied in the dragons' lack of development. As for the rest of the mythological elements yawn.
The cover art by Dan Dos Santos was dynamic and sexy. I thought the protagonist was fascinating. But the dragons were flat and boring, and what is a fantasy novel with boring dragons?
Black Blade Blues just wasn't as much fun to read as the marvelous cover art led me to believe. I need to really enjoy a book like this, and it was just ok.
© All Rights Reserved