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Drawn Blades
A Fallen Blade novel
by Kelly McCullough
Ace Books, $7.99, 304 pp
Published: October 2014

The stakes keep getting higher for Aral Kingslayer. In Drawn Blades everything Aral ever believed in, fought for, killed for, bled for comes into question in such a stark way it took my breath away. And it’s perfect. Only this could justify the actions of Aral’s mentor, Kelos, the man who betrayed the Goddess of Justice to her death, and explain the strange goings on in the previous books.  Of course, Kelos is still wrong, but he sure has a compelling argument.

Aral and Kelos were both Blades, trained and goddess-blessed assassins whose targets, chosen by Justice personified, the goddess Namara herself, were the kings and queens, priests, politicians, and war lords who flouted human laws and customs, confident that their power exempted them from all accountability. Wielding enchanted swords that bore the emblem of the goddess’s all-seeing eye, accompanied and assisted by their shadow-familiars, the Blades brought reckoning to those who reckoned themselves beyond the reach of law.

When his goddess was murdered by another member of the pantheon and his fellow Blades killed, captured, suborned or scattered, Aral took refuge in alcohol and anonymity, until a lady appealed to him for help of an unusual kind – one only a Blade could provide. Since then, Aral has – with difficulty – sobered up, killed another despot king, found allies in odd places, prevented a war, acquired an apprentice, and refrained from killing the god who murdered Justice when he had the chance. (He had his reasons.) And those are just some of his adventures.

As is the case with all Blades, Aral’s closest relationship is with his familiar. These shadows can conceal and shield their human counterparts, as well as extend their senses and offer counsel. Blade and Familiar are soul-bonded for life: the death of one means the death of the other, a fact that has more than once stayed the hand of a Blade bearing enmity toward another Blade. No matter what human loves and alliances a Blade may have, his Shadow is his anchor to himself. Aral and the shadow-dragon Triss are exceptional in that they can now communicate mind-to-mind, an ability that proves invaluable in situations when silence is literally worth your life.

In Drawn Blades, Aral is once again drawn into adventure by a woman, this time a lady of smoke from his past, fellow Blade and former lover, Siri Mythkiller, who won her name by killing a god of the Elder days. The trouble is, these gods do not stay dead; they are too archetypal to truly die, and only the most powerful wards can hold them in check after they’ve been temporarily discomfited. Here’s the kicker: whoever slays them becomes soul-bonded to the slain-but-reviving god, and as the wards about the god weaken, their soul gets subsumed by the god. So Siri is in trouble, and, without hesitating, Aral goes to her aid.

This concerns Triss, and it infuriates Faran, Aral’s aforementioned apprentice. Aral, in effect, marries the smoky form of Siri, thereby bonding his soul to hers – and hence to the awakening god’s. This link with Aral helps Siri hold off the god’s compulsions for a while, but as the tide of time turns, Aral also becomes susceptible. Did I mention Faran was furious? Faran was forged by harsher conditions than Aral experienced, and she is much more inclined to let the dead sort themselves out in the afterlife; Aral is more concerned with motives and consequences, and points out to his reluctant apprentice that the dead can’t explain things, and sometimes killing a person triggers a metaphorical landmine to blow up in one’s face.  Plus, Aral’s sense of loyalty is one of the qualities that define him. In the wake of Namara’s murder and the destruction of the temple, the only thing that tempered his suicidal despair was loyalty to Triss. Now loyalty compels him to travel to the distant Empire of the Sylvani, whose entire realm is a ward to contain the Elder gods, and help Siri keep a key from the hands of any who would use it to wake a slumbering god, or render an awake one invincible.

Kelly McCullough was interviewed for The Nameless Zine in 2013 and his comments shed light on this series. The next book, Darkened Blade, is due out in May. ~~  Chris R. Paige

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