The Sword-Edged Blonde by Alex Bledsoe
Author: Alex Bledsoe
Genre: Fiction (Fantasy / Medieval / Murder Mystery / Political Conspiracy / Private I /
Publisher/Publication Date: Tor Fantasy (6/30/2009)
Source: My public library
Rating: Liked a good deal.
Did I finish?: I did, after a good day at the beach!
One-sentence summary: A freelance investigator returns to his home kingdom to investigate a scandalous crime and come to terms with some painful events from his past.
Do I like the cover?: Not really, but I'm not a fan of the cheesy fantasy art on mass paperbacks.
First line: Spring came down hard that year.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow is you like genre-melding, quip-y thrillers!
Why did I get this book?: I agreed to review the newest book in this series and decided to work my way through the earlier books first.
Review: This genre-melding fantasy novel has it all: gruff PI lead, whitewashed mock-medieval setting, possibly supernatural influences, political intrigue, PG-13 level attention to breasts, and lots of wry snark. I loved every page.
Deep this is not, but fun, it is. Set in a series of fantasy kingdoms, all ambigu-medieval in feel (swords, horses, pre-gunpowder weapons, mercantile economy, kings), the novel follows Eddie LaCrosse, a former mercenary turned independent contractor, who is asked to investigate a scandalous murder mystery in his home kingdom. The case brings back some of the most painful memories of his past, and unsurprisingly, those fraught events still impact the present.
The mystery isn't a mystery meant to be solved by the reader; we just trail along with Eddie, which is fine by me (I never like to solve the mystery anyway). There's a fair amount of flashback and back story to set up Eddie and his world, which I liked it, but it made for a rather introspective action thriller. The characters aren't enormously deep but I don't come for that in books like this; Bledsoe uses stock shorthand from the PI and noir genre which is amusing and fun when paired with medieval fantasy shorthand. The plot has everything from open nods to Chandler (a character named Canino) as well as literal translations of Welsh/Celtic myth (with Epona/Rhiannon). There's plenty of bodies, the women are always admiring of our hero, and breaks and coincidences help the story along as needed.
The irreverently snarky tone is what I loved about this book; it was like The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. meets A Knight's Tale (minus the anachronistic soundtrack). The very obvious nod to Hammett and Chandler is seen right in the novel's opening, and I loved the usual merging of genres. If you're not for tongue-in-cheek, mixed genre homages, this probably isn't your book. (My wife didn't get past five pages and she's still huffy about this one. Women.) But I liked this book for what it was -- breezy, brazen, banter-y -- and I'm looking forward to the next book in the series.