Black Blade Blues is the first novel in a planned trilogy by new Tor author J.A. Pitts. This urban fantasy novel follows the exploits of Sarah Beauhall, a young blacksmith trying to get by in Seattle and struggling with how she feels about her sexuality. As she starts to repair a black blade broken in a recent movie shoot, a strange man who claims to be a dwarf shows up and warns her the blade is Gram, the legendary mythological sword Sigurd used to kill the dragon Fafnir. If she repairs the blade she risks the wrath of Odin and a curse that would haunt her for the rest of her life. Oh, and there is the little task of stabbing Gram through the heart of a dragon masquerading as an investment banker in Portland too.
It is refreshing to read a fantasy novel that explores and utilizes aspects of Norse mythology. Durin’s people (dwarves), dragons, valkyries and Odin all make an appearance in the book. I am really interested in learning more about the world. I want to know more about the dragons and their history and culture. Are there more dwarves in the world? What other mythological creatures exist? Pitts gave us a taste of the possibilities and I am eager to learn more about the universe he created.
Sarah is a believable young lesbian, struggling with coming out. She worries about how her body looks, she’s haunted by her childhood, and she constantly battles the voices in her head that make her feel like a freak because of her sexuality. However, this overtakes the narrative at times. I found myself getting annoyed when she once again bemoaned that her body doesn’t look the way she feels a woman’s body should. She is fine with being a lesbian in private but balks at letting anyone else, outside of her girlfriend, know. The theme or moral of the story—or whatever you want to call it—is a little heavy-handed, but no less true.
It’s not often that a hero, much less a heroine, is a blacksmith. This, added to her love for reenacting SCA-style with Black Briar and going to auctions to buy ancient weapons, makes Sarah an interesting character who feels real. The supporting cast is interesting as well, but they feel a little more cardboard, perhaps because we spend so much time in Sarah’s head and see them so little. Thus some of the deaths at the end of the novel have no emotional impact for us because they were all stock characters to fill slots where Pitts needed them.
I think the novel is a good length but suffers from some issues of pacing. Perhaps this is because we spend two-thirds of the book in Sarah’s head, with sporadic third-person narratives of other characters in the other third of the book. This pulled me out of the story somewhat. I would have preferred if Pitts didn’t use first-person at all to make the reading more fluid. Maybe this would have fixed the issues I mentioned above and I wouldn’t have gotten annoyed with Sarah. Having said this, though, the book still managed to get me emotionally invested and this is a major plus in my opinion.
Why should you read this book?
Black Blade Blues is not your standard urban fantasy. From the lesbian blacksmith heroine, to the new take on dragons, dwarves and witches, to its basis in Norse mythology, this debut novel is solid and fresh despite the hiccups in pacing and voice.