by Alex Bledsoe
320 pages, Tor Fantasy
Review by Melissa Conway
I liked this book. A lot. But I’m not going to start this review by squawking about plot, characterization or dialog.
Let’s talk titles.
I’m not sure if the average reader knows this, but most authors, especially the newbies, have little control over what ends up on the cover of his/her book. Even though the author most likely submitted the manuscript with a title s/he may be highly attached to, it’s the publisher’s prerogative to assert control over both the title and the cover art. The artist commissioned to do the cover may not even have read the book. This is why a reader may spot an inconsistency between a description of a character inside and his appearance on the outside cover. For instance, say, one of the bad guys has “military-short” hair, but the cover artist portrayed him with long red locks. While the author might stress over such a discrepancy, the reader trolling for a good novel at the bookstore won’t notice until they’ve already bought the book, if at all. Cover art accuracy isn’t a priority as long as the artwork conveys to the reader—immediately, viscerally—what the book is about, but the title…that can be another thing altogether.
Non-fiction notwithstanding, titles don’t always tell us much. The goal of most titles, I think, is to employ a word or phrase that doesn’t necessarily make sense in and of itself, but turns out to be a clever play on words based on the book’s content.
I’m a woman who’s read a lot of fantasy novels, but I’ve also been exposed to hard-boiled private eye fiction (admittedly, it was mostly through reading my dog-eared Calvin and Hobbes comic books, but nevertheless, I recognize the genre when I see it). I did not “get” the title of Alex Bledsoe’s excellent novel until I’d gotten sucked quite inextricably into the story. If I hadn’t had an ulterior motive in choosing this book (I do not know Mr. Bledsoe, but we share the same agent and, given that I’ve got some Bledsoe genes from way back to Abe Lincoln’s time, may even be distantly related), I might not have picked it up based on the “Who what now..?” title.
It’s not that “The Sword-Edged Blonde” doesn’t roll properly off the tongue. It even passes the “say it three times fast” test with flying colors. It just brings to mind—my mind—mind you, an unusual combination of mental images. “Sword-edged” makes me think of something sharp, dangerous and medieval. Toss in “Blonde,” however, and my mind’s eye jumps to a whole different place. I see a buxom Marilyn-Monroe-esque lady-in-distress pouting her blood-red lips. Cigarette smoke optional.
After giving it some thought, I’m pretty sure Bledsoe’s title is meant to convey to the reader that this book offers something outside the box, a clever cross-genre that, and don’t quote me on this because I really don’t know, Bledsoe may very well have invented. If you substitute the word “hard” for “sword,” the title makes sense from a strictly hard-boiled mystery stance, as in “The Hard-Edged Blonde.” “Sword-Edged” therefore, is intended to clue the potential reader in that the genre is a blend of fantasy with private-eye mystery. Or not.
Either way, the title threw me, but not for a big enough loop to prevent me from devouring the contents.
Bledsoe’s hero, Eddie LaCrosse, is every bit Raymond Chandler’s “moral and intellectual force [who] gets nothing but his fee, for which he will, if he can, protect the innocent, guard the helpless, and destroy the wicked.” All accomplished without the help of a snub-nosed metal friend, because Eddie inhabits a world of kings and queens, sword-wielding thugs and the occasional life-altering magical being. As the mystery sweeps you along through castles, forests, tombs and ruins, little details, like names you’d find in a modern-day phone book, constantly remind you this isn’t your average fantasy.
I don’t know whether Bledsoe or his editor chose the title, or if the intention all along was to make the reader go, “Hm, what’s that all about?” I do know I’m looking very much forward to reading the second novel in the Eddie LaCrosse series, “Burn Me Deadly.”
Wait a minute. Burn Me what now?