From the Parallel Worlds Magazine archive.

Egil and Nix are idiots. There’s really no getting around that fact. They’ve made a reputation, lost a few fortunes and risked life, limb and soul plundering tombs, crypts and other unwholesome places with a habit of killing people. And they keep doing it. 

The Hammer And The Blade (henceforth referred to as H&B) is the beginning of my favourite sword and sorcery series ever. I’m saying that now and abandoning all notions of impartiality because this is a criminally underrated addition to a genre that always seems to play second fiddle to the likes of epic fantasy, or grimdark, or whatever the flavour of the month is. 

Just some hearty, low-stakes adventure with a pair of lovable rogues as the heroes. 

The book opens with our dynamic duo performing “one last job”. Yeah right, as if. Their seemingly prosaic looting of an ancient tomb, and the slaying of the demon within, sets in motion a chain of events that will… Well, it’ll see them dead if they fail. No end of the world or all that melodrama, thank God. Just some hearty, low-stakes adventure with a pair of lovable rogues as the heroes. 

Sword and sorcery can trace its lineage back to Fafhrd and The Grey Mouser, a dynamic duo who go around having adventures in and around Lankhmar, a rotting city-state full of magic, peril and darkness. Egil and Nix basically do the same thing, with one key difference: they’re actually self-aware. They quip about the structure of their adventures, make light of the stock thugs they face, and don’t strut about with the appalling sexism and racism of their predecessors.

This is sword and sorcery for the modern age, and it’s simply fantastic. There’s tomb robbing, evil magic, snake people, and a welcome lack of damsels in distress. Without spoiling anything, the lines between saviour and saved are blurred indeed. Seeing rich, nuanced characters who interact, hint at their pasts and snipe at each other is one of my biggest ‘green flags’ in a sword and sorcery series, and being able to read one without wincing at dated terms or foul belief systems is a huge boon for the genre. 

It’s good to point out, however, that H&B misses a key element of traditional sword and sorcery: moral ambiguity. A bit of desecration aside, Egil and Nix are good guys. I want to have an ale with them. They laugh, cry, banter and kick ass in a way that makes you root for them, even if they keep cack-handedly falling into adventures like a screaming toddler colliding with a mud puddle. Seriously guys, you can just retire. 

They laugh, cry, banter and kick ass in a way that makes you root for them.

It’s a recurring theme in Egil and Nix’s lives; any trouble that occurs inevitably begins with something they’ve done. What Paul S. Kemp has done is create a cascading series of events that put our boys in hot water. It’s a Rube Goldberg machine of karmic malarkey, and I love it. 

This would usually be the part of the review where I go into the problems with the book. I’m going to make a valiant effort, but seriously, this is all nitpicking. This isn’t epic or high fantasy. Please don’t shit up online forums if you went in expecting that, because I’ll laugh at you with great and terrible scorn. 

Nope, that’s not a problem with the book. Dammit. I am absolutely biased here. But you will be too, once you’ve read it. Or maybe someone will write a much more nuanced review and tell me exactly why I’m wrong, fake, stupid and wrong. Maybe. 

Anyway, enough rambling. Buy the book. Read it. Forget about grim people in chain mail being horrible to each other and enjoy this throwback that ditches the nasty bits. 

The Hammer And The Blade

Author: Paul Kemp 

Pages: 410

Formats: ebook, Kindle, paperback

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