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Black Blade Blues
by J.A. Pitts
Tor/Tom Doherty, $7.99, 398pp
Release Date: March 29, 2011

This is a debut novel and the first of a series about a female blacksmith, Sarah, who, while trying to figure out her personal relationship with her girlfriend, Katie, also has to figure out why she seems to have an ancient sword forged to kill dragons.

Sarah works days in a blacksmithy and owns a beautiful black sword she found at an estate sale. Nights she works as a props master for a small film company…and uses her precious sword for a prop. And that’s when everything changed: the day the movie star broke the sword. Sarah, being a blacksmith has the skills to reforge the sword. But it all starts getting strange when one of the movie extras asks to be present when she repairs the sword and shares with Sarah his belief that she owns Fafnir’s Bane – the sword created to slay dragons. Real dragons…really. And when the reforging is successful, he insists her destiny is to slay a dragon masquerading as an investment banker in Portland . At first, Sarah laughs off the suggestion and then violently refuses the idea that she’d murder someone; but that all changes when the dwarf (which is what that movie extra really was) manages to lure the dragon to the movie set. With the sword in her hand, Sarah can see through glamours and when she meets the banker she sees him for what he really is. And he really is a dragon.

From there on Sarah’s life is out of control. Her violent reaction to the dragon (which, remember, looks like a banker from Portland to everyone else) causes her to lose her job with the film company. One night in a drunken stupor she allows a couple of guys from a bar to engage in some sexual play – something that would be unthinkable for her – and one of the guys is dating her boss at the smithy. When Sarah gets back a little clarity and is appalled at what the two men are attempting to do to her, she lashes out and everyone gets pretty beat up. The encounter causes her boss to fire her from job at the smithy and lose her friendship. Meanwhile, Sarah is still trying to come to terms with her gay choice, coming from a religious and repressed childhood. And a public display of affection with her girlfriend causes her to feel shame and flee, angering her girlfriend who then shuns her. And then there’s the runes that appeared like tattoos on her leg and the one on her forehead that may have been put there by Odin, or a drunken bum in the neighborhood, Sarah isn’t sure of anything anymore.

Sarah still resists the idea that she has a destiny to slay dragons until the dragon kidnaps both her girlfriend and her former boss from the smithy. Sarah runs to her closest friends, an SCA group with fighters. She wants only equipment but finds much more – support, belief and more mystery.

The story climaxes with a stupendous fight scene that will look totally awesome onscreen with CGI someday. The epilogues after the fight went on and on but were useful and enjoyable.

This is the first novel I’ve read where the protagonist’s issues about her sexuality was so integral to the story. Sometimes it seemed a bit too much and I confess, in the back of my mind, I had my doubts that a male writer could competently portray such a character. I’m still not sure that he did. The plot was interesting although a bit convoluted at the beginning. Aside from the immediate need to battle the dragon to save two women, the bigger idea behind the plot was very compelling: dragons really rule the world and humans are unsuspecting pawns. And there is sufficient mystery to draw me to the second book like: what happened to the dwarf and what is the SCA group hiding?

A competent story, a good plot and good characterization of the main character although the supporting characters were a bit shallow. Watch for the next review of the second book in this series. ~~ Catherine Book

Book 2 Honeyed Words
Book 3 Forged in Fire

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