Adrienne Martini Reviews Swordheart by T. Kingfisher

Swordheart, T. Kingfisher (Argyll 978-1614504634, $24.95, 426pp, hc) November 2018.

Hugo and Nebula Award-winning Ursula Vernon, best known for her middle-grade Hamster Princess books, writes as T. Kingfisher when the work is more suited to adults. Swordheart, which is set in her Clocktaur War world but has nearly nothing to do with the events of Clockwork Boys and The Wonder Engine, is most definitely a book for grown-ups.

Not for every grown-up, mind. This title is a witty romance between a very respectable widow, Halla, and Sarkis, a warrior trapped in an enchanted sword. Halla’s uncle Silas has just died and left her his worldly goods. The financial support is exactly what Halla needs, but her aunt and cousin connive to keep it from her. Halla is about to fling herself onto a sword in order to escape a forced marriage to the cousin when Sarkis appears. And our plot is wound up and released.

While Sarkis and Halla are wonderfully drawn, fully fleshed-out characters, what makes the story really crackle is Vernon’s silliness and heart, both of which thrum just under the story. Her touch feels light, but is a skilled breeziness that is surprisingly deep. The romance unfolds organically, rather than as an enforced meet-cute. The banter between the two would make any screwball comedy fan shiver with glee. Vernon also expands the boundaries of this world from what we saw in the also excellent Clocktaur duology.

Compared to those books, not much is at stake in Swordheart. No one is saving the world as they know it, nor will anyone perish if Halla’s quest to have Silas’s will honored fails. Look elsewhere if an epic hero’s journey tale is what you want. Dive in, however, if you are looking to be charmed and delighted.

Adrienne Martini has been reading or writing about science fiction for decades and has had two non-fiction, non-genre books published by Simon and Schuster. She lives in Upstate New York with one husband, two kids, and one corgi. She also runs a lot.

This review and more like it in the February 2019 issue of Locus.

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