Sunday, June 2, 2013

Review: A Discourse in Steel: A Tale of Egil and Nix

Dark and damaged heroes have never been so much fun.  Author Paul S. Kemp appears to be an author at the heights of his powers in his second novel following the adventures of Egil and Nix.  A follow up to 2012's The Hammer and the Blade, A Discourse in Steel is a very different story with different villains and different themes but the same fun.

Publisher's Summary:
Egil and Nix have retired, as they always said they would. No, really – they have! No more sword and hammer-play for them!
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 hugely-enjoyable adventure in classic sword and sorcery mode, from the New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Deceived and The Hammer and the Blade.
Egil and Nix aren't looking for a fight, but they are still more than able to bring the violence when it is called for. As a reader you may question their morals based on their owning a bar and brothel, but it's clear that these men have a code.  Protect your own, protect the weak and respect a person's choices.  While Nix does most of the talking and we see most of the novel through his point of view, Egil really stars.  The pain, strength and purpose of Egil drive the novel and we get some great character development that reveals what makes Egil tick and a hint of what he may want for the future.

The antagonists in this novel, the Thieves Guild while evil are a more human evil than we saw in The Hammer and the Blade, this group presents us with the ugly mishmash of organized crime and religious zealotry.  While the Guild provides a multitude of opponents for Egil and Nix, there is a strength in the bond between the two that is much more valuable than a large group of thieves all looking for ways to stab each other in the back.  The conflicts within the Guild provide an interesting side story that drives the plot and shapes the fates of characters in some interesting ways.

One of my favorite aspects of the novel is that both the heroes and the villains of the novel make the same mistake, they bite of more than they can chew.  No matter how much hot water Egil and Nix seem to get themselves into, they always seem to find a way out some times by use of gewgaws and sometimes by blind luck.  Through it all, Kemp delivers dialogue exchanges between the two that runs the spectrum of humorous to touching.  Kemp has the voices of these two characters down and there may be no better example than the third page of chapter seven, (page 148 in the advance review copy) which is possibly my favorite page of fiction in a long while.  Of course as the pair display, sometimes it is best to let your steel do the talking.

The other thing that I really enjoyed about this novel is the continued world building that takes place in Kemp's own fantasy universe.  The mixture of gods, monsters, magic and men provides for familiar character types and settings but with the Kemp's unique brand of violence, salty language and colorful adjectives.

As a reader I do have some issues with the ending of the novel, though I can certainly understand why Kemp chose the direction he did.  But this is only a minor quibble that doesn't detract from the overall enjoyment of the novel.

After reading A Discourse in Steel, I only have one question...when does the next tale of Egil and Nix come out? I suggest you grab a good ale and sit down with this book, I don't think you will regret it.

LINKS: Angry Robot Books,, and Goodreads

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