Review: A Discourse in Steel by Paul S. Kemp

ADiscourseInSteel-largeTitle: A Discourse in Steel (The Tales of Egil and Nix #2)

Author: Paul S. Kemp

Publisher: Angry Robot

Where I Received the Title: e-ARC from Netgalley


Last year I wrote a glowing review of Paul Kemp’s first Egil and Nix novel. On the surface, it is a classic sword and sorcery tale, with buddy heroes that many liken to Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser or Jean Tannen and Locke Lamora. The first character, Egil, is a hammer-wielding tough man and priest to a deceased god. His partner in crime is a Jack-of-all-trades smart guy who dabbles in sorcery (sometimes to their own detriment). Together, they are a formidable pair against the most ruthless of enemies.

In A Discourse in Steel, Egil and Nix have settled into retirement from tomb-robbing. But sure enough, trouble finds them soon. It begins when they investigate a strange teleportal known as Blackalley. This magical conjuring feeds on the negative emotions of fear and guilt, putting the men at risk (particularly the repentant Egil).

Meanwhile, their psychic friend, Rose, is in the midst of giving a reading when an assassin shoots an arrow through her client’s neck, killing him instantly. Now, her mind is linked to the dead man and her own life is in extreme danger unless a sorcerer can break their interlocked minds.

Egil and Nix come to the rescue to help their friend, but a mysterious thieving guild who was behind the death of Rose’s client fears that the psychic knows too much. While Egil and Nix seek help for their friend, a band of guildsmen follow after them with a plan to dispose of them.

A Discourse in Steel continues with the same level of action and adventure that we read in the first novel in the series. As expected, Egil and Nix share good banter, teasing one another like long-time friends. Kemp has a strong ear for dialog and it shows in his writing (perhaps it’s a Michigan thing, considering dialog masters Elmore Leonard and Jeffrey Eugenides are also from the area). For a buddy adventure, good dialog is critical and Kemp delivers.

The plot of the novel is rather simple. So from a story perspective, the Egil and Nix novels do not achieve the reward of weaving through the complex twists and turns one gets from reading a Scott Lynch novel. Both of the Egil and Nix novels are relatively light reads. But they are fun reads, filled with adventure and emotion. I love Nix’s key that can open any lock, providing that Nix feeds the key whatever it demands (usually a token vegetable). I also love Egil’s conflicted character, struggling with his past sins and trying to remain a priest with a profession that is considered less than holy.

The second Egil and Nix novel, A Discourse in Steel, is more straight-forward in terms of plot structure than the first, but it is filled with new magic and mayhem that makes it a truly enjoyable read. If embarking on this series for the first time, I The definitely would recommend starting with The Hammer and the Blade. Once complete, run and grab the second novel. It is an entirely new adventure that builds off of the first book and will prove to be  a gratifying experience.


Review: The Hammer and the Blade by Paul S. Kemp

Title: The Hammer and the Blade

Author: Paul S. Kemp


Publisher: Angry Robot

Format: Kindle eBook


I must admit my shallow reasons for first turning to this book. After listening to Mr. Kemp on The Functional Nerds, I learned that like me, he is a father of twins and is also a fellow Michigander. Additionally he is the author of three Star Wars novels (none of which I have read, but consider myself a closet fan). Bearing these facts in mind, I decided to give his new series a chance.

The Hammer and the Blade is a novel about two thieves, Egil and Nix. Nix is the leader of the two, a witty, smart-assed treasure hunter with questionable skills in sorcery. Egil is the priest to a dead god with unquestionable skills using his twin hammers. Each knows the other like a brother and they play off of each other’s talents as they invade booby-trapped tombs to collect their prizes.

The novel starts out in similar fashion to Raiders of the Lost Ark. The two men are in a tomb, heavily guarded with enchantments. With strength and magic, they are able to overcome a pool of acid and an attack by a ferocious demon. With their treasure in hand, they return home to a run-down tavern they had recently purchased, contemplating their retirement from the grave-robbing business. But it seems that the demon they killed had made a pact with the House of Norristru. Rakon, the House’s male heir, reacts to the news by forcibly employing the two thieves to rob a hidden tomb with greater dangers than they have ever faced.

If I were to describe my reaction to the novel with one word, it would be “fun.” It is not a particularly complex novel and it makes no claims to try and be serious literature. It is a traditional Sword and Sorcery tale with smart writing, good humor (on occasion I laughed out loud), interesting characters, and great action. There are no prevailing themes or obscure references to ponder upon after reading the book, but it was a true pleasure to read.

Nix’s character is an archetype seen often in fantasy literature. His confidence overflows the brim of his talents and when facing death, he often resorts to chiding his enemy. One particularly humorous moment occurred around a campfire when one of the “doltish” guards asked Nix to tell a story of one of his past adventures. Nix, not wanting to make small talk with a man holding him prisoner, responded,

Once, Egil and I were forced to travel the Demon Wastes with some guards of a doltish cast. One of these, a young whoreson who couldn’t grow a respectable beard, insisted on hearing stories from me. I strangled him while he slept.

Nix is a jack-of-all trades, using his mind, his blade, and a little magic to get them out of the hairiest of situations. In the thieving profession, having a broad blend of talents is a prerequisite.

Egil, on the other hand, is more contemplative and peaceable in his dealings with their enemies. He is the stronger and more intimidating of the two (I know if I crossed a burly priest with the tattoo of an eye on his forehead, I’d be scared), but is also a sort of moral compass, alerting Nix when they are straying too far off the beaten path. He provides unconditional loyalty to both Nix and often to strangers, even when it is to his own detriment. Egil’s physical prowess is his greatest attribute. When facing enemies, he is merciless with his hammers and can fight off multiple foes at a time.

The strength of the novel is in the richness of these two characters. In contrast, I longed for more depth in the antagonists. I never truly came to grips with Rakon’s motivations and his two sorceress sisters remain a mystery (perhaps with more to follow in subsequent books?). The sisters were drugged throughout much of the novel, but we were given hints about their telepathic and coercive powers.

Despite my quibbles, The Hammer and the Blade reminded me once again why I enjoy reading fantasy — it is pure, escapist fun. Even though the novel was not particularly deep, it was far from shallow and the writing was excellent. For anyone looking for a fast-paced adventure with a little of magic and mayhem, this is the novel for you.