Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Review: The Hammer and the Blade by Paul S. Kemp

“You see?” the priest said, kicking one of the pieces of the creature across the sand-dusted floor. “Moments, Nix.  Life and death are experienced in the moments.” 

The Hammer and the Blade is written by author Paul S. Kemp, this introductory tale of the adventurers of ill gotten plunder, Egil of Ebenor and Nix the Quick is a fast paced ride full of disturbing detail, gluttonous gore and fantastic fun.

Kemp has a knack for finding those grey areas in life, expanding and inhabiting them in his novels.  His characters aren't your squeaky clean heroes or your mustache twirling villains.  Both the protagonists and antagonists are hodgepodges of strengths and flaws, emotions such as fear and anger drive their actions, serving as catalysts for their choices and revealing their character.

Egil and Nix may not be your traditional heroes, but these two men, as close as brothers serve to check the excesses of the other's personality, independently it would be easy to imagine both falling into a debased existence of little utility to anyone.  The banter between this duo keeps the novel from veering off into complete darkness and helps the reader piece together the personalities of Egil and Nix.

The Hammer and the Blade is full of sorcerers, demons, and beasts both human and non-human.  A caution to younger readers or parents looking to pick up the book, there is some content in the novel of a more mature nature, and those sensitive to sexual violence should be prepared going in for some rather dastardly acts.

As with any of Kemp's books, the main characters are put through the wringer both physically and emotionally and it is a little surprising that they make it past the first few chapters.  One of the things that I also enjoyed in this novel was the way some of the supporting characters, whom where nominally villains interacted with Egil and Nix.  The ending was both fulfilling and disturbing and I hope we get to revisit the adventures of Egil and Nix in the near future.

The Hammer and the BIade made me reflect upon the issue of morality.   In recent years thanks to my wife, I have found my way to a faith that I had not previously experienced but had long yearned for.  Raised as the only child of divorced parents, my father a lapsed Catholic and mother a lapsed Presbyterian, I was not raised in faith.  I have long enjoyed reading and learning, so I have studied a variety of faiths, belief systems and moral codes.  Yet for whatever reason, I had never been able to get past the intellectual analysis of those beliefs to the place where faith resides.  This left me with an interesting quandary, how does one develop one's moral compass without the obvious touchstones of religion?  Without a doubt, much of what we learn as right and wrong is passed down from our parents, but which of these lessons do we accept and internalize and which of these do we reject?  How do we adjust our moral compass when confronted with novel situations and problems?

There may not be any simple answer to these questions, the human condition is complex and ever changing.  Each day we are presented with moments of choice, some trivial and some momentous.  It is in these choices that we define who we are and the path that we choose to take.  In any moment, each one of us can be a hero or a villain.

It is in these moments of choice that Kemp's characterization shines and that his characters define themselves.  You may have a character like Egil who is the sole priest of the Momentary God, while he has belief system it is one that he has crafted himself, or in Nix you have a man who has no problem robbing a grave, but rises up to defend the honor of a prostitute.  Perhaps a real hero isn't the one that makes the noble choice, but one that has the strength to make an evil choice to spare another and the ability to live with that choice.  That every choice has consequences is a lesson well learned by both Egil and Nix, in The Hammer and the Blade.

To read an excerpt of The Hammer and the Blade visit Paul S. Kemp's website and for more information on the book, visit the publisher Angry Robot Books.

The Hammer and the Blade will be released on June 26, 2012 and you can pre-order it now on

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