A foaming tankard for public libraries. If mine hadn’t featured Alex Bledsoe‘s engrossing debut novel, The Sword-Edged Blonde, I doubt I’d have ever discovered it.
Granted, I only discovered it because of the quasi-garish cover and title (neither of which has much to do with the actual story), picking it up just to shake my head at one more piece of fantasy trash. But then I read the cover blurbs from Charles de Lint and Orson Scott Card, which were positive enough to overcome my natural revulsion to pulp detective stories in fantasy settings (which usually aren’t half as clever as their creators think). The author should buy them tankards, too.
The plot of the The Sword-Edged Blonde is deceptively and satisfyingly complex. Eddie LaCrosse is an aging mercenary who tends to take jobs that require more mind than metal (though he’ll gladly use both). He accepts a job to find a missing princess, but one thing leads to another, and soon he’s in his homeland, which he left years before after a personal tragedy, and investigating an increasingly wide-ranging mystery at the behest of his childhood friend, King Phil. (Yes, he’s the actual king, and his name is Phil.)
The tale is too complex to discuss in a brief, spoiler-free review. (Its influences appear to include hard-boiled detective stories and low-fantasy fare, such as Simon R. Green’s tales of Hawk and Fisher.) However, on the side of its strengths are the author’s natural wit and storytelling ability; his gift for the creation of memorable minor characters; and the lightly — but effectively — described setting reminiscent of a medieval civilization in the Mississippi delta. (The author grew up in western Tennessee.) And its greatest strength is the (apparent) ease with which the author weaves the numerous plot-threads into an intellectually and emotionally satisfying conclusion.
On the side of its weaknesses are some overly neat coincidences (seen mostly in hindsight) and the use of unoriginal profanities, anachronisms, and real-world names (which often had the effect of an otherwise-excellent actor repeatedly pausing to wink at the audience). (Some oddities in the setting: matches, nametags for tavern waitresses, and parking tickets for horses.) Happily, these didn’t intrude at the most poignant moments.
Overall, Mr. Bledsoe deserves cheers (and readers) for penning a fast-paced, enjoyable, satisfying tale. (And kudos to Night Shade Books for publishing it.) Recommended for mature fans of pulp mysteries and/or sword-and-sorcery (especially as a vacation or travel book). Four stars as bright as heisted jewels.
I picked up Alex Bledsoe’s The Sword-Edged Blonde because it had just been released on audiobook and I was looking for something short, different, and fun. The Sword-Edged Blonde was exactly what I needed.
Eddie LaCrosse used to be a rich kid, but a tragic event drove him away from his past life and now he’s a loner. He works as a detective, and he’s really good at it. So, his old best friend, King Phil, hires him to solve a murder. Eddie soon realizes that the mystery is somehow tied up with his own past, so he finds himself confronting his most unpleasant memories as he tries to solve the strange case.
Eddie LaCrosse makes a great hero. He’s a nobleman’s son, so he’s educated and has manners, he worked as a mercenary after he ran away from home, so he’s an accomplished fighter, and now he’s an aging rough-edged noir-style detective who doesn’t take crap from anyone. But as the mystery and his past unfold, we find out that he’s certainly not invulnerable.
The setting of The Sword-Edged Blonde was unusual. The lack of electricity, cars, and guns suggests an early time, but the character names (Janet, Stephanie, Kathy) seem out of place, as do words like “debutante” and model names for swords (The Edgemaster Series 3). This type of quirkiness is fine with me — I needed a break from the usual medieval-style fantasy.
Mr. Bledsoe’s writing style was refreshing and had just the right feel for a noir detective story. It was clear and vivid and the dialogue sounded perfectly realistic — I was impressed with this caliber of writing coming from a new novelist (though, Mr Bledsoe has previously published dozens of short stories).
The plot of The Sword-Edged Blonde was fast and never lagged. Past and present were intermingled effectively. There were a few too many coincidences for my taste (it only mollified me slightly that Eddie acknowledged some of them as coincidences), and there were a couple of times when Eddie should have asked a certain question or done something a bit more logical and less dangerous (but that wouldn’t have been as exciting). The story was compelling enough that I’m forgiving Mr. Bledsoe for these things, but I’m knocking off half a star. : )
I listened to The Sword-Edged Blonde on audiobook. The reader, Stefan Rudnicki was excellent. He has just the right voice for Eddie LaCrosse — strong and rough, yet sensitive at just the right times. I’m certain that he added to my enjoyment of this story. I’ll be keeping my eyes open for more Stefan Rudnicki narrations.
I will definitely be picking up the next Eddie LaCrosse novel and I am hopeful that we’ll be hearing a lot more from this author. Alex Bledsoe is a natural storyteller.
Ex-mercenary Eddie LaCrosse is a private investigator in a small backwater town, where he has taken refuge in hopes of escaping his mysterious and tragic past. He’s just wrapping up a case when he’s approached by a secret agent with a message. King Phillip of Arentia needs an expert to investigate the brutal death of his infant son, who was supposedly killed by his mother and Phillip’s wife, Rhiannon. The king needs the best, which means Eddie LaCrosse. However, Eddie is also the King’s childhood friend.
If this synopsis sounds like a hard-boiled P.I. thriller to you, you’d be dead-on, except this one is set in a sword & sorcery tale. It’s Sam Spade with a sword and leather tunic instead of a gun and raincoat.
I’d never have given The Sword-Edged Blonde a shot if Kat and Rob hadn’t written such good reviews about it. While I do love a seasoned, world-weary private-eye character – I grew up enjoying TV shows like Rockford Files and Magnum P.I., after all — I’m usually no fan of genre mixing when done this way. My thinking is, if you’re going to write a detective novel, then write one instead of repackaging it in a traditional fantasy story. So it’s a significant achievement that Mr. Bledsoe won me over with Eddie LaCrosse.
That’s not to say that finding many modern “real world” elements — names like Phil and Eddie and swords with model /maker names like “Fireblade Warrior” monogrammed on the blade — in a traditional fantasy setting doesn’t come across as a little corny. But where a less talented writer couldn’t have pulled that off, Bledsoe makes it amusing. This is fantasy after all. No rules apply here in our beloved genre, nor should they.
While fantasy authors do have freer rein than in other genres, the bottom line is: you’ve still got to be a good storyteller. Good storytellers sell us the unbelievable. They make us anxious to turn the next page and create interesting characters that have their own individual stories — just like real people. Good storytellers know what mysteries to solve, what to leave unsaid, and what to leave their readers pondering over after the book is closed. Alex Bledsoe is a good storyteller and in The Sword-Edged Blonde he does all these things in a fun way.
The Sword-Edged Blonde does not have the deep, multi-layered plotting of epic fantasy. While it is sword & sorcery with its fair share of violence and jaded characters, it’s not quite “dark & gritty” either. It’s the type of book I’d call a guilty pleasure or a “popcorn” read. (Who doesn’t like a fresh, buttery tub of popcorn?) I had a great time reading The Sword-Edged Blonde, and I’m definitely on-board for the rest of the EDDIE LACROSSE MYSTERIES: Burn Me Deadly and the just-released Dark Jenny.
Note about the Amazon Kindle version: Tor Fantasy needs to get with it when it comes to their eBooks. Other publishers realize that eBook readers still enjoy a good cover. (The Kindle books I’ve gotten from PYR even contain the maps.) Tor just uses a bland, generic title page for theirs.