"He's the bard. She's the blade."
So reads the opening blurb on the back cover of The Bard's Blade. It's only half right, because while the ‘he’ in that statement is the bard in the beginning, he actually becomes ‘the blade’ as the book progresses. And I'm not quite certain the ’she’ ever really is the blade at all. Accountant, business owner, prisoner, slave, servant, and so on, but never a blade. Unless we're speaking metaphorically, in which case you might consider her a weapon of sorts. But that means half the statement is literal and the other metaphorical, because he is a bard. At least in the beginning.
Confused? So am I, and that’s one of the biggest problems with this book.
I do want to thank the publisher for awarding me a free review copy of The Bard's Blade via a Goodreads Giveaway, but my high hopes were slowly dashed as I read further and further, and ultimately this book only earned two rockets from me.
However, just because this book didn't work for me doesn't mean it won't work for you, or that it’s all bad. The author does a nice job with some of the initial world building. Vylari is home to our two main characters, Lem and Mariyah. The town is quaint and idealistic, and also hidden away from the rest of the world by powerful magic. As long as one stays within the marked borders, one can live a full, rich life free of hardship. But venture past those borders and you'll find yourself lost, cast out into a wider world that is far more perilous than the peace one finds in Vylari. I found Vylari intriguing, and I wish the author had spent more time exploring this hidden oasis. Unfortunately, our heroes are forced to leave, stepping out into a world that is far harsher than their own and not entirely as interesting as we are presented with one featureless kingdom after another, each one filled with corrupt and greedy personas intent on nothing other than taking advantage of our heroes’ naivety.
Yes, of course Lem and Mariyah leave Vylari, otherwise there wouldn't be much of a story. The reason they leave is fairly typical for an epic fantasy series--dark lord coming back, chosen one, etc., etc. This in itself actually isn't bad. I don't mind seeing familiar tropes sometimes. However, the urgency in which they leave their home behind quickly is lost amidst new trials they must face, to the point where the entire reason they emerged into the wider world is almost entirely forgotten. I was expecting one of them to make finding out about this returning dark lord a priority. Instead, Lem goes and gets a job which winds up leading into numerous mishaps/distractions. Mariyah becomes a prisoner. They each experience various trials and tribulations, but the dark lord cometh is never a priority for either of them even though it's the reason for the entire premise of the book. Call me dumbfounded.
Yes, I know—this is “epic” fantasy, so nothing wrong with a slow build. In fact, it’s expected. But most of this book was more about the adventures of Lem and Mariyah more so than anything epic.
Last, I’ll discuss the characters, which unfortunately just weren’t very interesting. Lem never really endeared himself to me. He’s just too wishy-washy and I had a hard time imagining him in the role he finally settles into towards the end of the book. Mariyah started out somewhat intriguing, but ultimately fell flat as she naively gets herself deeper and deeper into trouble.
Sometimes a book just doesn’t work; this is one of those times. The Bard’s Blade may be the beginning of an exciting epic fantasy adventure for some, but I’m concluding my foray into this series with this first book.