Sweep of the Blade by Ilona Andrews
With Sweep of the Blade, the fourth installment in Ilona Andrews’ INNKEEPER CHRONICLES series, there is a new main character: Maud, sister of Dina, the previous main character and the innkeeper of this light SF series. We met Maud in the prior book in this series, One Fell Sweep, when Dina convinced Sean the werewolf and Arland the vampire — these are both alien races, by the way, though distantly related to humans — to help her rescue Maud and her five-year-old half-vampire daughter Helen from the desert prison planet Karhari. In the first few chapters of Sweep of the Blade, Andrews retells these scenes from Maud’s point of view.
Arland has fallen head over heels for Maud — her sword-fighting skills are as good as any vampire’s, which is a major turn-on for Arland — and after just a few weeks at Dina’s inn he asks her to go to his planet Daesyn, marry him, and live with him there and help him lead his vampire clan, House Krahr. Maud is a widow who was previously married to another vampire, however, and she’s completely soured on vampire society and afraid of what the likely rejection from Arland’s family will do to Helen. But Arland is tremendously attractive (think “Thor with fangs”), deeply in love with Maud, and a good guy in spite of being, you know, a vampire, so Maud agrees to go to Daesyn with Arland and see how things go with him and his extended family, without making any formal commitment yet.
When they reach Daesyn, House Krahr is in turmoil: they’ve been asked to host a large wedding featuring a couple from two other hostile vampire clans. House Krahr’s leaders suspect a trap, but vampire clans are big on honor, and there’s no graceful way to refuse the request. Luckily Maud is not only a kickass warrior, able to hold her own with almost any vampire, but also a highly intelligent, well-informed woman with a vast knowledge of galactic society generally and vampire society in particular. She soon gets ample opportunity to prove her value (and Helen’s) to House Krahr.
Sweep of the Blade, originally published on the Andrews’ website in serial form, is a fast-paced adventure spiced with a little romance. Helen is delightful, it’s fun to be in Maud’s head as she figures everything out and shows those vampires her own chops, and Arland is satisfyingly tough and adoring of Maud. There are several great scenes; one of my favorites was a banquet where Maud realizes that the vampires are unintentionally insulting the tachi, a giant insect-like alien race, by feeding them the wrong type of food with no artistic presentation whatsoever (the horror!), and immediately sets about making things right.
Maud plucked the blue kora fruit from the bowl, peeled the thin skin and carefully cut the fruit into even round slices. She managed eight slices, seven perfectly even and one slightly thicker. She placed the seven slices around the cubes. The eighth was a hair too thick. She pondered it.
The tachi pondered it with her.
Better safe than sorry. She reached for another kora.
The tachi to her left emitted an audible sigh of relief and then crunched his mouth shut, embarrassed.
There are some weak parts to Sweep of the Blade. This novel’s genesis as a weekly serial is apparent. While the Andrews team has added more detail and backstory to the final published version of Sweep of the Blade, it still feels episodic, with the scenes pieced together in a way that the seams still show, and the plot doesn’t quite have the depth of the best books in this series. Maud herself is so improbably accomplished and wonderful at Every. Single. Thing (except relationship commitment, which is understandable). She speaks numberless languages, including “more Ancestor Vampiric dialects than most vampire scholars.” She’s a devoted parent, an excellent diplomat, peerless fighter, highly intelligent, and even diligent about keeping her vampire armor in top shape. It all makes her a little hard to believe in and fully sympathize with.
The vampires in the INNKEEPER CHRONICLES series aren’t at all bloodsuckers in the traditional sense. They’re more like Vikings or Samurai warriors who very occasionally take a bite out of their enemies. No sensitivity to sunlight or aversions to garlic or crosses here. At least the werewolves in this series actually shapeshift into wolves.
Sweep of the Blade is fun reading if you like the Andrews’ brand of urban fantasy-flavored science fiction. It’s a light space opera romance that goes down easy, with lots of gory fighting to spice it up, but doesn’t really stick with you.
These sound really fun! I have read some, but not much, Ilona Andrews. I will seek these out tho’.
I thought this one was weaker than the prior three, but they’re good fun in a light escapist reading kind of way. If that’s what you’re looking for – and I often am – Ilona Andrews fits the bill very well. And some of their books have surprising depths. This one is more just for fun, though you could make an argument that it deals with the concerns of parenthood in a fairly thoughtful way.
This one was also originally intended to be a novella, which I think is where some of the weakness you see comes from (in addition to the serial format). If it feels lighter than the other books it’s because it was originally intended to be a light side story, and it grew in length without really maturing from that framework.
Serializing brings its own unique challenges, and it’s nearly always visible in the work even when it’s published in its entirety.
These days, it’s all about escapism.