The Sword-Edged Blonde (Audiobook) by Alex Bledsoe, Stefan Rudnicki: This Hard-Boiled Fantasy Mixes the Best of Both Genres

The Sword-Edged Blonde

The Sword-Edged Blonde

by Alex Bledsoe, Stefan Rudnicki (Narrator)
Series: Eddie LaCrosse, #1

Unabridged Audiobook, 8 hrs., 28 min.
Blackstone Audio, 2012

Read: April 22-24, 2020
Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!


I’ve read this novel at least twice (13 and 11 years ago), and apparently have forgotten almost all of it. In fact, what I did remember as the climactic scene must belong to the second novel in the series, Burn Me Deadly. I can do better with the rest of the series (and not just because I actually wrote something about them—but I’m looking forward to taking another look at them in the coming months.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, I should introduce you to Eddie LaCrosse and his world. It’s your basic Fantasy world—swords, rumors of sorcery, small kingdoms, and so on. Eddie’s an ex-soldier, ex-mercenary, now “sword jockey” (basically a private cop). He’s got a little more on his résumé, but you’ll learn more about that as you dive in yourself. He’s been hired by an old friend, the King of a neighboring country to clear his wife of the horrific murder of her son. She doesn’t remember him, but when he meets her, Eddie realizes that he knew the Queen long before the King did.

Eddie’s investigation takes him through multiple kingdoms, into the remains of a cult, and into a criminal network that rivals anything that Varys put together for efficacy or ruthlessness. At the same time he does this, Eddie takes a trip through his personal history, reliving the time he knew the Queen (and events leading up to that). The two storylines are interwoven to help Eddie solve what seems like a perfect crime.

Both in the narration, LaCrosse’s character and the kinds of people we meet along the way, Bledsoe channels Chandler. LaCrosse is casually violent in a way that Marlowe indulged in a bit too often for me, and the (for lack of a better word) grotesque (in physical appearance and morality) criminals Eddie deals with in the latter parts of the book felt particularly Chandler-esque to me.

There’s some things that happen at the end that point to Eddie coming to terms with parts of his past that he’s been unable/unwilling to acknowledge existed. The character won’t change as a result of this (at least not much), but I think it opens the door for some of his rougher edges to be rounded out. How well that actually happens, I’ll have to see (I don’t trust my memory enough right now)—but at the very least, Bledsoe made it possible for the character to grow and evolve here.

Rudnicki’s narration didn’t really work for me initially—there was a quality to his voice that just didn’t click with me. But, I kept going because I liked the novel. Before the halfway mark, however, he’d won me over. I can’t put my finger on it (either good or bad), but he sold the emotional moments, the humor, and Eddie’s general attitude. Which is good enough for me.

It’s hard for me to rate this one on its own terms—I remember liking it. I remember what Bledsoe does with the characters. And those things color my rating, leading me to probably giving this another half-to-whole star more than I would otherwise. But also, for the world. The merging of Fantasy and Hard-boiled genres in a way that’s seamless and well-executed. I recommend this one and will be back for more soon.

Bookstooge posted about this book yesterday. It’s probably worth a read (I’ll read it later today, I didn’t want his voice in my head as I wrote this).


4 Stars

This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase from it, I will get a small commission at no additional cost to you. As always, opinions are my own.

Quick Takes on Some Quick Reads: The Time Traveler’s Guide to Dating; Ice by Neil Lancaster; Shall We Gather by Alex Bledsoe

The point of these quick takes posts is to catch up on my “To Write About” stack—emphasizing pithiness, not thoroughness. These three were all short reads, making it very difficult to write much more than this, anyway.

The Time Traveler's Guide to Dating

The Time Traveler’s Guide to Dating, Issue 1

by Todd Gilbert, Brandon McKinney, Zachary Brunner, Daniel Bruckner
Series: The Time Traveler’s Guide to Dating, #1
PDF, 22 pg.
Read: April 4, 2020

I saw an advertisement for this on Instagram last weekendsomething about a Time Travel Rom-Com in six free issues. I decided it was worth a shot.

This is the story of an assistant manager at a “big box” store, angry and resentful over being denied a promotion (a series of them, I think). He sets out to exact his revenge by (the reader can see) future versions of himself.

So far, I’ve read the first issueit’s a clever story, I like the art. I really don’t like the protagonist, but have hope he can be redeemed (or another major character emerges to get behind). But for the moment he’s an impetuous, selfish fool, and I’m sort of rooting against him.

I’m not going to check back in on this until I finish the series, but I’m looking forward to the rest of it.

Ice

Ice

by Neil Lancaster
Series: Tom Novak Thriller
Kindle Edition
Read: April 4,2020

So, it seems that a Mexican drug cartel is trying to bring a new, extra addictive variety of Meth into London. We see both a user recruited by the cartel’s representative and a less-than-ethical tax specialist who finds himself laundering money for them. Novak comes into both of their lives in his efforts to stop this incursion.

So, here’s the cool thingminor spoilerNovak takes on a criminal enterprise and doesn’t hurt/shoot/kill anyone. That’s a nice thing to see.

But, this just wasn’t a good story. It feels like an outline, there’s no real drama or suspense. There’s a lot of talking, a lot of exposition.

I don’t like not saying good things about Novak or Lancaster, but aside from the novelty of Novak not leaving a trail of death and destruction, there’s not a lot of positive things to say. I like the idea of this, I just didn’t dig the execution.

Shall We Gather

Shall We Gather

by Alex Bledsoe
Series: Tufa
Kindle Edition, 18 pg.
Tor Books, 2013
Read: March 24, 2020

There’s not much of a plot here, eitherbut there is one. This is primarily a way to look at two charactersthe outsider desperately trying to make a home in Cloud County, Rev. Craig Chess, and Mandalay Harris. Someone (no one we’ve met before) is dying and he asked for Chess to come. Outside, Chess meets Mandalay for the first time and the two have a couple of interesting conversations. There’s a bit more to it than that, but that’s enough for this.

I really liked watching these two interact, sizing each other up. Mandalay is at her creepifying best and Chess is his earnest, loving self. As much as he and I would debate essentials of the Faith, Chess has always been one of those fictional characters that’s easy to respect as well as like. I always appreciate the way that Bledsoe writes him.

Short (very short), but absolutely worth the time. It’s the one thing that I’ve taken off the TBR list since I started those Down the TBR Hole posts because I’ve read it. Will hopefully not be the last.

My Favorite Non-Crime Fiction of 2018

When I was trying to come up with a Top 10 this year, I ran into a small problem (at least for me). With 44 percent of my fiction, Crime/Thriller/Mystery novels so dominated the candidates, it’s like I read nothing else. So, I decided to split them into 2 lists — one for Crime Fiction and one for Everything Else. Not the catchiest title, I grant you, but you get what you pay for.

I do think I read some books that were technically superior than some of these — but they didn’t entertain me, or grab me emotionally the way these did. And I kinda feel bad about leaving them off. But only kind of. These are my favorites, the things that have stuck with me in a way others haven’t — not the best things I read (but there’s a good deal of overlap, too). I know I read books that are worse, too — I don’t feel bad about leaving them off.

Anyway…I say this every year, but . . . Most people do this in mid-December or so, but a few years ago (before this blog), the best novel I read that year was also the last. Ever since then, I just can’t pull the trigger until January 1. Also, none of these are re-reads, I can’t have everyone losing to my re-reading books that I’ve loved for 2 decades.

Enough blather…on to the list.

(in alphabetical order by author)

Lies SleepingLies Sleeping

by Ben Aaronovitch

My original post
I’ve read all the comics (at least collected in paperback), listened to all the audiobooks, read the books at least once . . . I’m a Rivers of London/Peter Grant fan. Period. Which means two things — 1. I’m in the bag already for this series and 2. When I say that this is the best of the bunch, I know what I’m talking about. Aaronovitch writes fantastic Urban Fantasy and this is his best yet. The series has been building to this for a while, and I honestly don’t know what to expect next. Great fight/action scenes, some genuine laughs, some solid emotional moments . . . this has it all. Everything you’ve come to expect and more.

—–

5 Stars

The Fairies of SadievilleThe Fairies of Sadieville

by Alex Bledsoe

My original post
I was very excited about this book when Bledsoe announced it was the last Tufa novel. Then I never wanted it to come out — I didn’t want to say goodbye to this wonderful world he’d created. But if I have to — this is how the series should’ve gone out. It’s the best installment since the first novel — we get almost every question we had about the Tufa answered (including ones you didn’t realize you had), along with a great story. It’s just special and I’m glad I got to read this magical series.

—–

5 Stars

Dragon RoadDragon Road

by Joseph Brassey

I haven’t been able to get a post written about this — I’m not sure why. It’s superior in almost every way to the wonderful Skyfarer — the idea behind the caravan, the scope of the ship and it’s culture are more than you might think anyone has done before. A fantasy novel about wizards and warriors (and warrior wizards) in a SF setting. I had a blast reading this and I think you will, too.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Kill the Farm BoyKill the Farm Boy

by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne

My original post
Probably the best comedic/parody/satire fantasy since Peter David’s Sir Apropos of Nothing. The characters are fun, well-developed and pretty strange. This is a great fantasy story, it’s a great bunch of laughs, but there’s real humans and real human reactions — it’s not all laughs but enough of it is that you won’t have to work hard to thoroughly enjoy the book.

—–

4 Stars

Kings of the WyldKings of the Wyld

by Nicholas Eames
Like Dragon Road, I’ve been trying to write a post about this book for months. An epic story about brotherhood, about family, about heroism, about integrity — but at its core, it’s a story about Clay Cooper. Clay’s a good man trying to stay one. He worked really hard to get to where he is, but he has to get back on the road to help his friends’ daughter. It’s a fantastic concept and set up, with an even better follow-through by Eames. Possibly the best book I read last year — and I don’t say that lightly.

—–

5 Stars

All Those Explosions Were Someone Else's FaultAll Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault

by James Alan Gardner

My original post
A Superhero story, a SF story, an Urban Fantasy, a story about friendship and destiny told with just enough of a light touch to fool yourself into this being a comedy. From the great title, all the way through to the end this book delivers.

—–

4 Stars

Smoke EatersSmoke Eaters

by Sean Grigsby

My original post
I started my original post about the book like this: Really, the case for you (or anyone) reading this book is simply and convincingly made in 13 words:

Firefighters vs. Dragons in an Urban Fantasy novel set in a futuristic dystopia.

That could’ve been my entire post, and it’s all I’m going to say now.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Dark QueenDark Queen

by Faith Hunter

My original post
This could have been the series finale and I’d have been satisfied. I’m thrilled that it’s not. Hunter’s been building to this for a few books now — and it absolutely pays off the work she’s been doing. Better yet, there’s something else she’s been building toward that doesn’t get the attention it needed — and it’s devastating. The series will be different from here on out. Hunter’s as good as the genre has, and this book demonstrates it.

—–

5 Stars

Jimbo YojimboJimbo Yojimbo

by David W. Barbee

My original post
I don’t have words for this. I really don’t know how to say anything about this book — especially not in a paragraph. Click on the original post and know that even then I fail to do the book justice. It’s strange, gross, funny, exciting and thrilling.

—–

4 Stars

Beneath the Sugar SkyBeneath the Sugar Sky

by Seanan McGuire

My original post
As much as I appreciate McGuire’s Toby Daye, Indexing and InCryptid series, her Wayward Children books are possibly the best things she’d done. This allows us to spend time with characters I didn’t think we’d see again and the family — and world — of my favorite character in the series. It’s like McGuire wrote this one specifically for me. But it’s okay for you to read it, too. I’m generous like that.

—–

5 Stars

The Fairies of Sadieville by Alex Bledsoe: I hate to say good-bye to the Tufa, but this is the way to do it.

I’ve got to stop doing this. I had most of a post written about this book for yesterday, didn’t like it and trashed the whole thing. This isn’t as analytical as I wanted to be, but it does a better job capturing what I felt about the experience, and I think I happier about that than I’d have been with my planned post.

The Fairies of SadievilleThe Fairies of Sadieville

by Alex Bledsoe
Series: Tufa, #6

Kindle Edition, 368 pg.
Tor Books, 2018

Read: May 9 – 11, 2018

For many years [the Tufa] were on the wrong side of the South’s color line, and suffered for it. Their secretive ways and legendary musical aptitude spawned rumor and legend, which in turn prompted more and more withdrawal.

But now the twenty-first century, with its pervasive interconnectedness, pushed against this isolation. More and more Tufa risked the consequences of leaving and sought their way in the world. They all knew they would someday have to come back, since all Tufa were inextricably tied to Needsville. But they also knew that the seclusion of the past was no longer practical. Like it or not, the world now knocked on their door.

Such a depressing thought, but a pretty good summary of the State of the Tufa.

I still remember some of the reactions I had back in 2011 during my first read of The Hum and the Shiver and met the Tufa. There was something otherworldly, ethereal and haunting — and yet, very human, and even fun. It was, in short, magic. I thought the same when I re-read it before the sequel, and maybe it impressed me more that time. Each book since has felt the same — not all have them as successful as the first, but they’ve all had that same core magic.

When it was announced a couple of months ago that this was going to be the final novel in the series I was struck by two thoughts — the first, and strongest, was lament. The second was, “how?” There’s not an overarching narrative that needs tieing up, a goal to meet or anything. Partway through this book, I started to understand how Bledsoe was wrapping things up and concluding the series — and it felt perfect. I should add at this point that I was wrong about what he was doing, and that the reality was better than my guess.

As it’s the final book, all bets are off — the first novel contained many hints about the nature of the Tufa, but the successive books were less and less subtle in that regard, and ended up telling more than the previous. At this point, there’s no hinting, no suggesting — not only that, Bledsoe answers many questions readers have had since the beginning, and probably a few we should’ve had. And he does so in a way that enriches the series and the Tufa, not just something that reveals. There were so many little tidbits that came out that just made me smile or utter a quiet “Ah ha!”

I actually haven’t talked much about the plot yet — how odd. There are a couple of graduate students from a university in Tennessee — one in psychology (would be parapsychology if she could get away with it) and one in English with a focus in folk music as a way to improve his own music (minor spoiler: I spent a few pages waiting for him to be revealed to be a Tufa — nope, just a kindred spirit). These two have come across an old film — silent film old — shot near Needsville, showing a young woman losing her glamour and flying off on wings. There’s no way that it could be silent film quality FX, it’s a woman with wings. This town it was filmed in, Sadiesville, disappeared shortly afterwards. The two want to find this town and explore what happened to it.

Which brings them into contact with the people of Needsville — and the night winds have instructed them to help these two find what they’re looking for, despite the fact that no one in Needsville has a clue about the town. For readers, the idea that Tufa have forgotten anything that happened in their area is pretty astounding the kind of thing that piques your curiosity.

What happens next is wonderful, and horrible, and beautiful — awful in every sense, archaic and otherwise. I loved it and hated it while admiring how Bledsoe played this out. Structurally, tonally, thematically different from the rest (as each book in this series has been), yet undeniably part of the series. I loved seeing friends who’ve been around since The Hum and the Shiver or those as fresh as Gather Her Round just one last time (not that the new characters are slouches. For example, Veronica, our aspiring parapsychologist, is someone I’d hope to see if there was going to be a book 7).

There are a million little touches here — none of which I can talk about without ruining something, that make this good-bye the best installment of this series since The Hum and the Shiver. This is a must for Tufa fans (not that they need me to say it), and one more chance for me to suggest that people who haven’t started the series yet get on it. I don’t believe in actual magic — but Bledsoe’s series make me want to, especially if it looked like this. I hate to say good-bye to this series, but this is the way to do it.

Bravo.

—–

5 Stars

Gather Her Round by Alex Bledsoe

Gather Her RoundGather Her Round

by Alex Bledsoe
Series: Tufa, #5

Hardcover, 315 pg.
Tor Books, 2017
Read: May 29 – 30, 2017

Man, it’s hard to write much that doesn’t boil down to: It’s the new Tufa book by Bledsoe — it’s great, go read it. Which is essentially a tautology followed by a natural conclusion. And isn’t that interesting (then again, I never promised you interesting, Dear Reader).

So, what sets this one apart? Well, there’s the pretty mundane nature of the inciting incident (mundane meaning not magical, not mundane meaning ordinary), the framing device, and the . . . I don’t want to say resolution (because there are a few — and yet none), I guess the way things end.

The framing device is perfect for a Tufa novel — Janet Harper, a noted musician and actress is at a story-telling festival and brings her guitar onstage to use with her story — one that’s true, but that no one in the audience will believe, as much as she says it. She does change the names of the participants (which makes her different than Ray Parrish) to protect everyone involved — including herself (see Ray Parrish).

Janet tells the story of Kera Rogers, who goes for a walk one morning to go play a little music, relax a bit, sext a little with a couple of guys, think a little about cutting out one or both of the guys when she’s attacked by a wild animal and is never seen again. At least not most of her — a small body part or two shows up. The community is horrified that this happens and her parents grieve the end of her young life. Duncan Gowan is one of the boys she was involved with — and thought he was the only one — is wrecked by her death and learning that she was also sleeping with someone else.

The rest of the tale traces the ripples from this event over the next few months (almost a year) — and the next victim to fall prey to the animal — Kera’s family moving on, Duncan getting involved with another woman, the hunters that come in to track the beast (which will also hopefully prevent any police investigation). One of the hunters gets involved with a Tufa we’ve known since the first book, and is introduced to the real culture of Needsville.

While all this is going on, we get the best picture of how things are going with the faction formerly led by Rockhouse Hicks, now led by Junior Damo, and it’s clear to everyone that Junior is not the new Rockhouse — which is mostly good, but there are some real drawbacks. Mandalay Harris takes it upon herself — even though the dead are Junior’s — to get to the bottom of what happened. Sure, it was a wild animal attack — but is that all it was? Her methods aren’t exactly anything you’ll find in a police procedural, but produce results that Gil Grissom and his kind would envy.

The best parts of these books is the way that people like Junior, Mandalay, Bliss, and Bronwyn are secondary characters; while people we’ve never met (or just barely) like Kera, Duncan, Janet, and Jack Cates (the hunter) are the focus. Yet somehow, we care about them almost as much — and through the eyes and experiences of the new characters we learn more about our old friends and see them grow and develop. Bledsoe is fantastic at making each of these books very different from the rest, yet clearly part of a series.

Like every novel in this series — this can be your introduction to the world. Actually, this one may be a better intro-book than any but the first (even as I write that I can think of arguments against it, but I think I can stick with it). You don’t have to have any advance knowledge of this world to appreciate 98% of the book.

There’s heart, magic, fun, wonder, vengeance, a dash of romance and mystery wrapped up in this novel — expressed through very human characters. The humanity shown by these people who aren’t all that human shines through more than anything else.

—–

4 Stars
2017 Library Love Challenge

Chapel of Ease by Alex Bledsoe

Chapel of EaseChapel of Ease

by Alex Bledsoe
Series: Tufa, #4

Hardcover, 315 pg.
Tor Books, 2016

Read: November 19, 2016

“Sometimes the best mysteries are never solved, because the mystery is too important to lose. This is the story about one of those mysteries. Most of it’s true, and the parts that ain’t, well, they still sound true.”

It’s time to return to Needsville, TN, the home of the Tufa for the latest installment in one of the best ongoing Fantasy around. One of the best things about this series is how every book is completely different from its predecessors, but they all clearly belong to the same series.

After a quick tease, we enter the story in New York City where an up-and-coming musical writer/composer and a well-established director are casting for an off-Broadway musical (the opening line of which was quoted above). There’s something about the story and songs penned by Ray Parrish that draws everyone who reads and/or hears them in as surely as moths to a flame. One such person was Matt Johanssen, who becomes friends with Ray as well as one of the more dedicated cast members.

The twist in this tale comes from the source of Ray’s material — old (and not-so-old) Tufa stories and music. As anyone who knows these people realizes, people back home are not going to look kindly on this. There are a couple of people on the fringes of Ray’s world that make it clear that the Tufa want something out of Ray — ideally, a cessation of any musical or play or anything ending up in public. Ray will not be dissuaded, this is the story he wants to tell — whether people in Needsville want him to or not.

Just before the much-talked about play opens, Ray dies in his sleep and it falls upon Matt to bring his ashes home to his family. While there, he has the opportunity to look into the places and people this play is based on — and maybe get an idea what the central mystery of the play is about. Ray’d played his cards close to the chest on this topic and without him around to tell the cast, someone has to do some first-hand research. So, while mourning his friend and getting to know his family, Matt finds himself on the verge of instigating a feud while doing his research.

Now, it’s not unusual for a Tufa novel to feature an outsider’s first encounter with the Tufa. But this time, the book is just about that — there’s so little action outside of this story that it really doesn’t merit attention (at least not now). In these pages we have a first person narrator as the person encountering the culture. This gives everything an immediacy, an intimacy that we don’t normally get to these. Also, the narrow concentration keeps the reader focused on what’s going on with the Parrishes and Matt, without worrying about the Tufa politics, shifting power, and so on (it’s there, and there are changes in town, but that’s not what the novel is about).

In many ways, it’s not a novel about the Tufa — it just happens that they’re around, it’s a novel about Matt and Ray. But once you throw the Tufa in, you end up with something that’s not your typical story about a dancer/actor from NYC returning his friends’ ashes to the Appalachian town he grew up in.

I thought Matt was great — as was his dawning realization that he wasn’t in the world he knew anymore, and how he reacted to that realization. The way he stepped into parts of the culture he was exposed to was well handled, second only to the way he went about fighting against or struggling with the rest.

You do get to see your favorite recurring characters and they make references to events in the other novels, so readers of the series do get to check in on things other than the Parrishes — please don’t misunderstand. The novel’s focus isn’t on that, however.

If you even glance at the cover blurb, you know that someone has to die so that there’s an urn for Matt to bring to Cloud County, but Ray’s inevitable death was a doozy — and the memorial service held for him was one of the more moving things I’ve read this year (the impromptu memorial in New York held by friends/cast, that is — the wake the Tufa held was a different kind of experience). Making you care about a guy you know is going to die before you open the book and meet him that much takes a special kind of writer — and that’s what Alex Bledsoe is. Naturally, that doesn’t just apply to Ray; it works for Matt, the Parrishes, C. C. and several others who actually survive the book (and one that doesn’t).

I feel like I’m in danger of becoming the Chris Farley talk show host character here, “Remember that part in the book where Matt does ____? That was cool.” I really don’t know what to say about this book — or the others in the series — that I haven’t before. It’s a great setting, with a culture and people you want to see again and again, for both understanding and entertainment. Plus the overwhelming desire to actually hear the music they keep talking about. This is Bledsoe at the top of his game, you should be sure not to miss it.

And, like the play itself — it all sounds true.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

The Key to the Coward’s Spell by Alex Bledsoe

The Key to the Coward's SpellThe Key to the Coward’s Spell

by Alex Bledsoe
Series: Eddie LaCrosse, #?

Kindle Edition, 27 pg.
Tor Books, 2016

Read: September 3, 2016


This over-before-you-realize-it short story is a welcome dip of the toe back into the world of Eddie LaCrosse, sword jockey (i.e., medieval private eye). Bledsoe’s Tufa series is one of the best things around, but man, I enjoy this series so much.

LaCrosse has been hired by a local blacksmith to find his kidnapped son. LaCrosse is sporting a broken arm, so he’s going to need a little more help than normal, Jane Argo, for one — and some new faces, too. There’s really not a lot to say, here — half of the action takes place before the story starts. LaCrosse gets a little more intel, and then jumps into action.

The action is brief and to the point — with a nice twist or two along the way. Nothing special, but it’s a good couple of sequences. And a brief reminder that no matter what you dress it up in — modern time/tech/clothing, generic fantasy tropes, SF, whatever — there are some forms of evil that transcend those details and are just evil that need to be fought in whatever little way we can.

Yeah, it was fun to spend some time in this world and with LaCrosse and everyone. But man, just as you get into it, the story’s over. Just not enough to really satisfy, but it was a fun taste. I don’t know that this is a good intro to the character (it might be), but it’s a good reminder for those who’ve met him before that they want to read more about him.

—–

3 Stars