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WesternSFA
Blade Reforged
by Kelly McCullough
Ace Books, 2013, $7.99, 285pp
Release Date: June 25, 2013
The title lets you know to hope for a renewal of purpose in the soul of Aral Kingslayer, formerly a Blade of the Goddess of Justice, one of the divinely protected, magically assisted assassins whose task it was to bring justice to bear on tyrants, corrupt officials and degenerate priests whose use of power exempts them from the law. When the goddess was murdered – and yes, in this ‘verse, gods can be dispatched – and most of her Blades captured and put to death by torture, Aral was one of the few who’d eluded capture. He’d survived, in part by climbing into bottles of brandy in riverside dives, and he’d drowned his goddess-forged swords in the waters that covered the broken statue that had graced the temple. But when a beautiful young woman named Maylien hired him to help her claim her birthright, one which just happened to put her in line for the throne – as described in Broken Blade - Aral began to do more than grieve over the destruction of all he had lived for; he began to take an active role in changing things for the better again.

Over the course of Bared Blade and Crossed Blades, Aral has found allies in odd places, including other survivors, and repeatedly crossed paths with Devln, once his best friend, now his opposite: a former Blade who renounced the goddess in exchange for his life and is now oathbound to the present King, who’s turning out to be just as bad as the one Aral killed. He’s made tough choices, and if it weren’t for his familiar, the shadow-dragon Triss, it is certain he would not have stayed sane, let alone survived.

Now Maylien has returned once again to ask Aral for help, this time to replace, not an insane and power-mad sister, but the insane and power-mad King Thauvik.

Piece of cake – NOT!

At the very least, it means going up against Devin.

One reason that Aral and Devin have refrained from killing each other, despite provocation, opportunity, and really, really strong inclinations, is that to kill a Blade is to kill the Shade, the shadow familiar that each Blade is bonded to, and vice-versa, and there seems to be an unspoken concordance that to do so is utterly beyond the pale: Blades simply do not kill other Blades, period, because it would be like killing yourself, only worse, because you would be killing the Shade-familiar as well. But another Blade has shown up, one out of legend, Kitsune the Renegade, and she too is protecting Thauvik – for her own reasons. Even before Triss warns Aral that Kitsune’s familiar is like no other Shade, Aral knows he’s in deep trouble.

By the time Aral figures out what he’s up against, and just how impossible it is to do what needs to be done, it’s too late to call it off, and he’s up to his proverbial ass in alligators again.

One aspect of these books is how the protagonist struggles with addiction and the lure of addictive substances. These moments are well-written: poignant and, at the same time, spine-stiffening. This book has the best scene of them all, when Kitsune fashions a test and trap for Aral, using the one substance it is hardest for him to resist.

The beginning of the book is slightly different from the teaser included at the end of Crossed Blades. No teaser at the end of this one, but according to the Kelly McCullough’s author webpage, Drawn Blades and Darkened Blade are due out in 2014 and 2015 respectively. ~~ Chris R. Paige

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