Thank you to Orbit Books and Angela Man for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Sword Defiant is available now.
I’m sorry to anyone who will be hit by this book, after I throw it at them while yelling, “READ THIS” at the top of my lungs. I’m guessing there’s a better way to go about sharing my love of The Sword Defiant, but I need everyone to read this. Right now. Just go ahead and stop what you’re doing and pick this up.
Trust me, it deserves to take precedence over unimportant things like going to work (okay, maybe bringing in a paycheck so you can eat is slightly more important, but only slightly).
The Sword Defiant follows Aelfric, one of the Nine heroes who defeated Lord Bone years ago. While the events of that battle are told in the form of memories (not quite flashbacks, just musings of a man who was deeply affected) throughout the novel, this book focuses on the after. After the battle is over and the day is won. After everyone decides that the status quo is what they have to work with. After secrets are revealed, the dark underbelly of larger-than-life legends begins to show, and heroes are mainly figureheads trotted out to be cheered at or used at the discretion of the people in charge.
Aelfric, known as Alf, finds himself at a loss in this new world. For him, the memories crowd in, and his charge- the defeated Big Bad’s sentient sword- keeps him from moving on. When another of the original heroes tasks Alf with the prevention of another evil rising (with vague warnings, because of course), he feels a returning sense of purpose. However, things are much murkier than he is used to. He can’t just be the unthinking Meat Shield of the party anymore. Someone has betrayed them all and the fates of many others may just rely on Alf figuring out who and why.
I loved Alf. He’s adrift, lost, and bone weary. He wants to do the right thing but doesn’t know what that is. He also argues with a sword, which was kind of hilarious. The sword itself was a character in its own right, conniving, casting doubt and manipulating its unwilling wielder. At the same time, the sword unflinchingly reveals truths about Alf that he’d rather not confront. It’s rare to see such character growth caused by an object (I am reminded of a certain Ring that is utilized in the same brilliant way).
Along the way the reader is treated to interactions with the other surviving members of the Nine. They’ve gone their separate ways and their companionship is broken. I loved seeing the directions they each took. From Blaise the magic user with his ostentatious displays of power to Berys using her knowledge of thievery to basically run a city’s entire crime syndicate, it’s never what you’d expect. They help move the story along, feeding off each other and events as they unfold.
My favorite side character is Gundan, general of the Dwarfholt. He was brash and hotheaded and got both himself and Alf into some pretty bad situations. He also added a different perspective. He managed to both entertain and, whenever he reminisced about his glory days, also make me a little sad at how the mighty had fallen.
The story becomes bigger and bigger, causing a snowball effect that eventually sweeps everyone up into a galloping last third of the book. I didn’t want to put it down. Things like eating seemed much less important than finding out what would happen next.
The writing is fantastic. Hanrahan wove together the past and the present in such a cool way. And the stories that were told even when old friends were catching up! Holy crow, this world lived and breathed! I was left reeling and wondering why on earth I haven’t already devoured everything this author has written. It’s an oversight I mean to fix.
The Sword Defiant is a work of art. Read it.