Book: “The Bard’s Blade” by Brian D. Anderson
Publishing Info: Tor Books, January 2020
Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley
Book Description: Mariyah enjoys a simple life in Vylari, a land magically sealed off from the outside world, where fear and hatred are all but unknown. There she’s a renowned wine maker and her betrothed, Lem, is a musician of rare talent. Their destiny has never been in question. Whatever life brings, they will face it together.
But destiny has a way of choosing its own path, and when a stranger crosses the wards into Vylari for the first time in centuries, the two are faced with a terrible prophecy. For beyond the borders, an ancient evil is returning, its age-old prison shattered.
The two must leave their home behind, and in doing so will face sorcerers and thieves, con-men and assassins, treachery and greed. How far down this path will they have to go to stop the rising darkness and save their home? And how much of themselves will they have to give up along the way?
Review: I requested this book based mostly on the super cool cover art. It’s walking some line between hokey 70s pulp fantasy art and the neat modern covers you see on some of Brandon Sanderson’s books. Either way, I love it. The book description itself sounded kind of meh and familiar. In some ways, it surpassed these expectations, and in other ways…the cover’s still cool.
Vylari is an idyllic land full of happy people going about simple lives. Here, Mariyah and Lem have grown up each able to focus on their own particular skills (Mariyah’s business savvy with her family’s wine business and Lem’s amazing musical talents) while focusing on the future they will soon have together as a married couple. All of this falls apart, however, when a stranger arrives and brings news of an evil that is coming, an evil that not even the magical barrier protecting Vylari can stave off, and somehow they are connected to it. Now, out in a dangerous new world, Lem and Mariyah must not only learn how to exist in a place so different than their peaceful home, but they must also discover the secrets in Lem’s past and how to prevent the evil that is coming.
This book was kind of hit and miss for me. While I did read it quickly and it was enjoyable enough, looking back on it, there’s not a lot that stands out as super unique. It checked all of the right boxes: world-building, strong characters, a good balance of action and reflection. But there was never much more given to any of these aspects to make the book really rise above the mediocre.
For me, the strongest aspect was its two main characters. Lem and Mariyah are both compelling and interesting, each approaching their time in the strange new world they find themselves in with bravery and cunning. It was particularly interesting seeing them come across aspects of life that we would take for granted but are clearly new to them. We spend only a limited amount of time in Vylari, only enough to get a general idea of how peaceful and simple it is. It’s only once we enter the greater world that readers begin to realize just how limited Vylari was. Yes, conflict and violence are almost unheard of there, but also, horses? As a reader, I just assumed things like that exist until we come across Lem, when first entering a village in the outside world, describing some strange beast with a long neck pulling a cart. From there, I always had my eyes open for other things that one would take for granted but might be new to our main characters.
I was also intrigued by the religious institution that forcibly runs much of the world outside of Vylari. Through the innocent eyes of Lem and Mariyah, we see how shocking some of the choices are that people who are ruled by ruthless leaders would make. The people in this world expect darkness and deceit. Lem and Mariyah are completely out of their element when first experiencing it.
However, while these aspects of the story were interesting enough, I was never able to become fully invested in the story. I wasn’t able to sink into it and instead was very aware of the process of reading it. It’s always hard to pin down in a review the quality in some books that leads to a reading experience like this. This makes it doubly unfortunate: I don’t have an exciting read and then I struggle to explain why the book was a bit of a miss for me. Like I mentioned earlier, I think much of the problem was simply that nothing felt super new. Lem and Mariyah, while strong enough characters, didn’t really stand out in any particular way. They weren’t annoying or problematic, they just were…people. And the idea of a world kept magically away from another was a concept I’ve run across several times in other fantasy works, and there wasn’t a whole lot here that differentiated this book from those. It’s a fine read. But not much more than that, unfortunately.
Rating 7: Nothing made me super excited. Nothing made me angry. Ultimately, nothing made me really care that much.
“The Bard’s Blade” is a newer title, so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “Best Books 2020.”
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