The Sword-Edged Blonde
Just to make it clear: Alex Bledsoe’s The Sword-Edged Blonde is not a romance. Instead it is a mixture between a hardboiled detective story and a sword-and-sorcery fantasy novel, with a lot of sword and very little sorcery. The hero, Eddie LaCrosse, gets a happy ending of sorts, or rather a happy new beginning – after all, this is the first installment of a series. But don’t read this book as a romance.
Eddie LaCrosse is what he calls a “sword jockey” – an investigator and agent – in a small backwater town. He is hired by a neighboring king to find the latter’s runaway daughter, but it is in the course of this investigation that the main plot catches up with him. Another king, Philip of Arentia, Eddie’s childhood pal, needs his help to solve the question how Phil’s baby son was murdered. Eddie hates going back to Arentia, as he has some extremely bad memories of the place, but he feels he owes Phil, and so he investigates, only to discover the present events are tied up with another very unpleasant period in Eddie’s past. Now it’s up to him to find the connections.
I enjoyed Eddie’s voice a lot. The novel is told in the first person, and the mixture of dry self-deprecating humor and shrewd self-confidence that you can find in similar novels like Lindsey Davis’s Falco series, for instance, works very well here. Eddie is neither a knight in shining armor nor a cynical mercenary: He has failed spectacularly in the past and acted atrociously at times, can be quick and harsh in his actions even now he has matured, but he is also good-hearted, generous and doesn’t take himself too serious.
The mystery plot held my interest throughout. At first I was annoyed because Eddie holds back a lot of information for a first-person narrator, but later I came to enjoy the way Eddie’s present and past experiences are presented in turns, mirroring each other. For those readers concerned about violence: Several very violent incidents occur, but they are never described in gory detail and often take place off-stage, so this didn’t bother me.
The world-building worked only half for me. Alex Bledsoe doesn’t expend a lot of effort here. All characters bear present-day US names, for instance, with no attempt to distinguish between the several countries and, one assumes, cultures among which the novel is set. All those little kingdoms appear the same, with dodgy taverns, rich villas, etc. That said, some of the individual places Eddie visits do gain an atmosphere of their own which can be very effective.
The Sword-Edged Blonde is a quick, engaging read and made a very nice break from the heaving emotions in the last romance I read. I plan to read its sequel, Burn Me Deadly, as soon as it is released as a paperback. If you enjoy fantasy novels that do not stretch plotlines over several volumes, this might very well be for you.