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Review: Black Blade Blues (Sarah Beauhall #1) by J.A. Pitts

Friday, July 13, 2012

Black Blade Blues (Sarah Beauhall #1)Black Blade Blues by J.A. Pitts

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a really neat urban fantasy book with a strong dose of Norse mythology, but what really made it shine for me was the human story. The main character is a young woman blacksmith who has no idea that any of the stories from the ancient lore could possible be true, despite spending her weekends with her friends The Black Briar clan swinging a sword in mock battles at renaissance fairs and Society for Creative Anacronism events. But when she meets a guy who says he's a dwarf who needs her to slay a dragon, all hell breaks loose for poor Sarah on fantastic side of the story.

At the same time, she's wrestling with her personal life, which is going through some turmoil as well. Sarah was raised by some emotionally suppressive and damaging people on several levels, and she has the self esteem to prove it. And she's gay and in the first relationship of her life with the outgoing and lovely Katie, a bard she met at the renaissance fairs. And boy is Sarah wrestling with the situation. Katie just told Sarah that she loves her, but there's still a part of Sarah that feels shame about what her family and community indoctrinated into her as being an inappropriate way to live. And as much as I do not believe that to be true, when I was reading the book I couldn't help but feel deeply for her and the internal battles that she was going through, for her self-esteem issues, her confusion over her identity, her hopeless love for Katie, her jealousy of Katie's friendship with her ex-girlfriend, the consequences all of this caused, Sarah's sorrow over screwing up her relationship with her boss, Julie, and on and on; there was just so much great real life depth and emotion in this book. It's funny actually, I saw a review where the guy didn't like it because he thought it was more of a romance than urban fantasy (despite the dragons, dwarves, giants, goblins, Valkyries, sword fights, explosions, helicopter crashes, etc.). Usually that's my complaint, romance usually just isn't my style. But this didn't feel like romance to me. It's certainly a more sophisticated love story than the love-at-first-sight, based on nothing, they barely know each other but somehow they both just know that this is meant to be, love stories that I really don't enjoy. This is a real adult romance with all of the bumps and bruises that go along with that. And even though it was a theme that is often explored in traditional romances, a woman who has always felt awkward for whatever reason and is now in the middle of her first adult relationship, it felt fresh and real and true. And having the relationship take place between two women gave the author a lot of issues to explore in addition to the usual issues of insecurities and first mistakes, and made the newness make more sense than in some of the romance books I've read when the woman is supposedly awkward and the guy is the most desirable guy on the planet.

I also really like how much the author seems to respect women too. It's pretty rare, from female or male authors, to see women heroes portrayed as just so darn human, really brave but also fully vulnerable, smart and witty without being obnoxious, strong and capable, occasionally stupid, and with so many well-balanced characters throughout the book. I liked what I saw from the men in the book as well, but I would like to see more from the guys as the series develops.

As for the urban fantasy aspects of the story, that was the most inconsistent part of the book. There were a lot of things that I liked, but the storytelling was a bit up and down pacing-wise. And the depth of Sarah's personal story took up a bit of the time that might have been given to developing a deeper plot. It was good, but not stellar. I liked the way the mythology was woven into the story, it wasn't too heavy-handed. And there were some great moments. Like pissing herself in terror when she first saw the dragon, that was a good realistic moment. I liked the humor of the stuff with the Valkyries. And I really liked the way she actually kept telling everyone what was really going on once she figured it out instead of the secrecy that abounds in every other urban fantasy book. She may not have known what to say in her personal life, but she was good about trusting the right people when it came to the crazy stuff that was going on, it was a refreshing change. I also like that when the battles happened it was really a mess, people died, things burned, it was a disaster, it wasn't all magically neat and clean somehow. Big stuff happened, people's lives were changed and I'm eager to see what happens next and how they deal with it. There is actually quite a bit that I'm intrigued about the more I think about the things that were revealed in the book about the dragons' society, as well as the Black Briars, so I'm definitely glad that I have books 2 and 3 already lined up to start right away.

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