The Bard’s Blade: A solid enough first book that left me wanting more bite

The Bard’s Blade, by Brian D. AndersonThe Bard’s Blade, by Brian D. Anderson The Bard’s Blade by Brian D. Anderson

The Bard’s Blade (2020), by Brian D. Anderson, is the first book of THE SORCERER’S SONG trilogy and as such it’s a perfectly serviceable fantasy, a comfortingly welcome invitation into a new series. If that seems a bit like damning with faint praise, that’s because while the novel goes down easily and smoothly, I can’t say there’s anything that makes it particularly stand out. I’d say it’s the vanilla flavor at a Ben and Jerry’s, save that vanilla is actually my favorite flavor. Maybe it’s a peanut-butter sandwich. It satisfies, it fills that need in your stomach, assuages your hunger, but you won’t be grabbing someone in the grocery store while they’re shopping and telling them, “You really have to try a peanut-butter sandwich!”

The story opens in Vylari, an isolated, quiet, peaceful land cut off from the rest of the world by a magical barrier meant to keep out evil and violence. When a stranger breaches the barrier, though, bringing a prophecy of impending doom, the young couple at the novel’s center are forced out of their home and into the wider, uglier world.

Mariyah is a smart, capable young woman who has been happily (and quite successfully) running her family’s winery, while her betrothed, Lem, is the best musician in all of Vylari, a unique talent. The stranger’s message drives first Lem out of Vylari, and then, in an attempt to follow him, Mariyah, accompanied by Lem’s uncle Shemi. Unfortunately, the differently-timed exits mean that the two young lovers are set on separate paths. Lem makes his way as a musician in the outside world, though he quickly gets first in trouble and then deeply embroiled in the dark murderous underworld of things. Mariyah, meanwhile, is arrested as a heretic (both she and Lem are clearly oblivious to this world’s religions and politics) and forced into bondage, though all is not what it seems. Anderson moves us back and forth between their two storylines, though as you’ve probably guessed, they eventually converge. And that’s all I’ll say about plot so as to avoid spoilers.

Brian D. AndersonAnderson is a clear, fluid writer, and The Bard’s Blade, as mentioned above, goes down easily and quickly. Pacing is balanced, world-building is handled efficiently, we get in and out of scenes quickly, dialog is realistic and moves apace, the characters are likable and at least moderately interesting in how they have to find new facets of themselves to adapt to this strange world. I can’t say it pulls you along in that compelling “I have to know what happens next” kind of way. More so it eases you along, smoothing your pace and setting you downhill, like kid sledding down a gently sloped hill.

So what’s not to like? Well, really nothing. I can’t say I so much “disliked” anything so much as I didn’t “love” anything. Nothing in language, plot, structure, or style was startling, unique, or stepping expectations down a notch, unfamiliar. We’ve seen all these elements before. Isolated land? Check. Magical barrier? Check. Dark evil from the past threatening to rise again? Gazillion check. Naïve young character facing harsh new realities. Strong capable woman facing the strictures of society. Fundamentalist religions. Authoritarian figures. Acting troupes. A young person with prodigious magic talent they were unaware of and now have to learn. And while I won’t go into plot details, I’ll just note that plot, as well, was both familiar and predictable. In addition, sometimes things, I’d say, go down a little too easily, particularly in Lem’s plotline, where his character undergoes a pretty major shift that goes not unmentioned but too un-reflected upon. The novel skates (or sleds) too easily over what should be an intensely conflicted characterization.

So, “serviceable.” I read The Bard’s Blade in a single sitting. I happily went along scene to scene. But always with the sense that something was missing, that the book was too smoothed over (creamy peanut butter vs. crunchy). I’ll pick up the sequel, but less in eager anticipation and more in hope that some of what was familiar gets subverted, some of what was smooth gains an edge.

Published in January 2020. The Bard’s Blade is the start of the new Sorcerer’s Song fantasy adventure series from Brian D. Anderson, bestselling author of The Godling Chronicles and Dragonvein. 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. Then a stranger crosses the wards into Vylari for the first time in centuries, bringing a dark prophecy that forces Lem and Mariyah down separate paths. How far will they have to go to stop a rising darkness and save their home? And how much of themselves will they have to give up along the way?


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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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