It’s hard to resist Egil and Nix, a hard-bitten wise-cracking roguish fantasy duo modeled after Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. They’re back in Paul S. Kemp’s third novel featuring the pair: A Conversation in Blood. It would help, but isn’t necessary, to have read the first two books, The Hammer and the Blade and A Discourse in Steel. Each story stands alone, though following the chronology is recommended for the best experience, I think.
In this story we meet a monster who calls himself the “afterbirth” because he was the byproduct of a magical spell that went awry. In despair he roams the world, occasionally feeling compelled to kill people who get in his way. He feels the pull of the magic spell which is written on an ancient artifact that was, until recently, buried. Now that the artifact is in the world again, the afterbirth has woken up and is closing in on it. He wants to find and cast the spell so he can end his miserable existence…
…and guess which graverobber dug up that ancient artifact and is now carrying it around in his pack with the rest of his “facking gewgaws?” Yep, that would be Nix. He’s been restlessly hanging around at the brothel he co-owns with Egil. The staff don’t really like him there since he talks too much and has a crush on the woman they hired to manage the place, but he has nowhere else to go since Egil hasn’t been in the mood for adventuring lately. He’s been drinking and sulking after he failed to protect some women he felt responsible for, a recurring theme for Egil.
Nix and Egil weren’t meant for sitting around quietly indoors, so they aren’t too upset when a wizard finds out they have that artifact and then sends automatons to attempt (and fail, of course) to assassinate them. As the boys try to figure out what they’ve got while they outwit and out-bargain various wizards and thieves, the afterbirth gets closer and closer to their city, their business, and their friends. It turns out that the artifact is much more dangerous than Nix could ever have imagined and by the end of the story, he wishes he’d never seen it. The climactic ending gets metaphysical and bizarre.
The more I get to know them, the more I like Egil and Nix. They are soft-hearted scoundrels, charming loveable rogues. They are the stars of these stories. The plots are fun mostly because the duo is bantering and wise-cracking their way through the various entanglements they get themselves into. I enjoy Kemp’s prose, which is appropriately light-hearted and amusing all the way through. The humor is perfectly applied; Egil and Nix are truly funny and I never get tired of listening to them. Kemp also perfectly balances the pace of these stories, interspersing the action with the more domestic scenes.
A Conversation in Blood maintains the quality of this series and does exactly what it needs to do to keep fans coming back for more. I want to especially recommend the audio versions produced by Random House Audio. They are narrated by Nick Podehl who is perfect for this role. I love his interpretation of Kemp’s characters. A Conversation in Blood is 9 hours long.
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