The Sword-edged Blonde
Author – Alex Bledsoe
Pages: 320 pages
Publisher: Tor Fantasy/Nightshade Books
Release Date: June 30, 2009
The Sword-edged Blonde by Alex Bledsoe is one of those rainy-day kinda novels. You know the type. It’s not the deepest book on your bookshelf, but it’s fun. It won’t stick with you for weeks afterwards, but you can’t put it down while you’re reading it. It’s got problems, but, for some reason, you’re willing to look past ’em. The Sword-edged Blonde doesn’t set out to be anything more than what it is: a pulpy homage to Raymond Chandler, set in a world not unlike those found in any other Fantasy world. Bledsoe knew what he was aiming for, and hit the mark on the first try. Mostly.
It seems obvious: take the tried and true detective novel formula and plunk it down in a standard Sword & Sorcery world. Like Urban Fantasy throwing werewolves and vampires into the mix, putting a traditional story in a new setting can make the old feel new again and that seems to be exactly the angle Bledsoe was trying to take. He pulls more or less every cliche out of the book – a case with a personal connection to the
gumshoesword jockey’s past; amnesia; a murdered prince; gangsters, gambling dens and thugs; pretty girls and dangerous fellows – but uses them all with tongue firmly in cheek, and comes out the other end with a novel that’s fun for all the right reasons.
The old man produced a small engraved image of a dark-haired, dark-eyed beauty. She wore a low-cut court gown that revealed her assets quite nicely; her liabilities were less obvious. She had a pronounced, sharp nose that gave her an earthy air at odds with her finery. “Kids these days,” I said, and pocketed the picture.
After the old man had gone, I swung my chair around and looked out the window toward the river. The odor of drying mud and dead fish filled the air. It would take several normal rains to get all the crap off the streets, and in the meantime the thought of a little time away from home, even if it meant tangling with border raiders, seemed like a good idea.
I studied the girl’s picture. This missing princess could be one of two types. The first kind, protected and sheltered from the harsh realities of the world, retained their childhood innocence throughout their lives, and were unconditionally honest, kind and loving no matter what the world threw at them. I’d known at least one princess like that.
The other kind, much more common, grew up spoiled, selfish and arrogant. Where I needed to look for this one depended on which type she was.
Bledsoe’s prose is easy to tear through, but oftentimes falls into being anachronistically modern. From characters named Cathy, Eddie, Phil and Mike, to casual language that has no right existing in Bledsoe’s Medieval-era world, The Sword-edged Blonde takes the reader through a Fantasy world that at once feels archaic and exceedingly modern. This seems to be an intentional move on Bledsoe’s part, to further attach the novel to its Noir roots, but requires a leap of faith from the reader. Though I was able to adjust to it rather easily, it could certainly be a deal-breaker for some readers.
World-building is light. Rather than seeming vague and skipped over, though, it gave me the sense that LaCrosse, and even the King he is working for, are just small fish in a vast ocean. So many Fantasy novels fall back on having protagonists who are important to the fate of the world, but in Eddie LaCrosse’s case, he’s just another guy doing his dirty job. Bledsoe, for the most part, keeps the magic and Fantasy elements light. There’s forms of magic there, but not in the throwing-fireballs-and-calling-lightning-down-from-the-sky kind of way, but to say more would spoil the ultimate twist of the novel. There are no elves, and the only dwarf is no different than any three-foot tall gangster you’d find here in our world.
Like any good mystery novel, The Sword-edged Blonde is full of larger-than-life characters. Character interaction and dialogue are top-notch, and everybody stands out from the crowd, from the lowly barmaid who works below LaCrosse’s office to the mysterious Queen, charged with her son’s murder, to the monstrous father/son combo living deep in the woods and up to no good. Luckily, standing even further above the crowd is Eddie LaCrosse, the aforementioned Sword Jockey and narrator of the novel. LaCrosse is a private eye, so, naturally, he’s got a past he’s not too proud of and would sooner forget. Though the novel is ostensibly about a missing prince, the real meat of the novel is discovering who Eddie LaCrosse really is, and the direct connections his dark past has on the case he’s working. Bledsoe sublimely intertwines two concurrent storylines, past and present, shedding light on the mysteries at just the perfect clip.
The actual mystery-solving is one of the less satisfying portions of the novel, especially when held up against the characters and the action. For a mystery novel to be truly successful, the author needs to lead the reader along, laying out clues and red herrings alike, giving them a sense that they’re playing along, solving the crime alongside the detective. The best Agatha Christie novels will give you that ‘Eureka!’ moment several times throughout, then pull the rug fully out from underneath you. The Sword-edged Blonde, however, spends too much time simply telling the plot twists, giving you huge chunks of the puzzle, after they’ve been interpreted by LaCrosse’s sudden leaps of intuition, rather than doling out each piece of the puzzle to be played with individually, allowing you to try to find the answers on your own. Thus, The Sword-edged Blonde lacks the satisfaction of seeing all the pieces fall into place, and finally having that moment when you finally get it.
At times funny, at others gritty, brutal and relentless , The Sword-edged Blonde pulls together the best of Jim Butcher and Joe Abercrombie, deftly mixing Noir and Fantasy into a novel you can’t help but love. Did it have problems? Sure. But I didn’t care. I just wanted to know what came next. With Butcher paving the path for Noir Fantasy, the future is looking bright indeed with the addition of novelists like Alex Bledsoe. We’d be so lucky if the number of Eddie LaCrosse novels ever reach those of Harry Dresden. With the sequel, Burn Me Deadly, just released, Bledsoe’s on his way, but has a long way to go yet.