The Sword-Edged Blonde by Alex Bledsoe
I only know the detective genre through parodies of it on Whose Line Is It Anyway and in Calvin and Hobbes–while it sounds like campy good fun, I’ve just never read it (unless you count The Yiddish Policemen’s Union as such). When I saw a review of Burn Me Deadly, The Sword-Edged Blonde’s sequel in Publishers Weekly, the conceit of marrying high fantasy with a hard-boiled detective just charmed me so much that I immediately added The Sword-Edged Blonde to the old reading list.
The Sword-Edged Blonde follows middle-aged sword jockey Eddie LaCrosse on a simple case- a king wants his lost daughter back. But while on that case, Eddie is summoned to Arentia to solve a particularly nasty piece of business- Queen Rhiannon has apparently murdered her own infant son. LaCrosse reluctantly agrees, knowing that taking on the case will force him to face a past he thought long over.
Eddie is a great character–snarky and gruff, but ultimately likable and honestly repentant about his past. He makes the same gritty poetic remarks like any other P.I., but with the requisite fantasy twist. His supporting cast is equally well executed, from King Philip of Arentia (who gets my favorite line) to the big bad to various underlings Eddie interrogates about the case. I have to admit, I was a bit worried about the women, given the hard-boiled detective genre, but my fears were mostly misplaced. Eddie prefers women his own age and turns down a proposition simply because he’s not attracted to the lovely lady in question. (That might sound like a little thing, but I am sick to death of the assumption that when Dick and Jane, being unattached, straight, and fictional, are together, they’ll end up together.) Rhiannon is, while beyond perfect, sympathetic, and the women of Eddie’s past are interesting and diverse. But my favorite woman was the little seen Angelina, the woman who rents Eddie his office space. I am going to warn for violence against women, but it’s always presented as an evil act.
I quite enjoyed the pacing and the pot. It’s similar to The Gaslight Dogs in the respect that while there’s no deadline, it’s compelling. Bledsoe does this by withholding information from the audience and occasionally Eddie himself. It’s quite well done; obviously, Eddie doesn’t like to dwell on his past anymore than he must, and people are going to assume he knows some things he doesn’t. It creates suspense without unnecessary tension. Bledsoe is quite good at cutting out the unnecessary flab that I usually find in mysteries. The plot is tight without being too constricted, and even the clues are honestly clues–nothing yelling “CLUE HERE” but honestly surprising clues that take a good eye to figure out.
The worldbuilding, though, is a bit haphazard. Bledsoe references at least a dozen countries in Eddie’s world, but it never feels exactly cohesive. Usually, Bledsoe strikes a good balance between the detective and the fantasy, but it occasionally unravels. Eddie’s swords sound a bit too much like mass-produced guns, despite being handcrafted, and Bledsoe occasionally lays too heavy on the modern–he refers to what could have easily been a gambling parlor or opium den as a club, which was a bit too much. Still, it’s mostly works. I especially loved the lack of magic in Eddie’s world. While there’s wizards and moon priestesses, they’re religious orders rather than magicians. Bledsoe also keeps things simple with English and occasionally Celtic names–while different languages are referenced, they’re never actually shown. For some reason, I liked that.
I feel compelled to mention that I found two typos in the book, which makes me sad–it’s such a good book that I would hope an editor would be more careful with it. (Or perhaps they enjoyed it so much that they missed them!) The cover is also just odd; the scene never occurs in the book, and it’s too generic fantasy for my tastes. I can only hope that one day The Sword-Edged Blonde will be reissued with a cover parodying the hard-boiled detective genre, which it richly deserves.
Bottom line: The Sword-Edged Blonde succeeds at marrying high fantasy and hard-boiled detectives, with a gruffly likable hero and a tight plot. While the worldbuilding can be a little shaky, the novel itself is quite solid.
I rented this book from the public library.