Meet Egil and Nix, the latest sword & sorcery duo to attempt to soften my jaded heart. Can they do it? Well, they’ll never take the place of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, that’s for sure, but they’ve still got my attention and I’m willing to give them at least a second try.
Egil is a warrior priest — the only worshiper of the obscure god who manifests himself as a tattooed eye on the top of Egil’s bald head. Nix is a clever half-educated magician who got expelled from the mages’ conclave (he wants you to know that he didn’t drop out — he got kicked out). The two friends are grave robbers who make their fortune digging up treasure that’s been buried with rich people’s corpses. It’s a hazardous job because the tombs are protected by dangerous wards.
During their latest excursion, which they promise will be their last, Egil and Nix kill a demon that was protecting a corpse. Unfortunately, that demon was allied with the mayor’s evil sorcerer. When he finds out that he’s lost his patron devil, he wants revenge.
The Hammer and the Blade, the first in a series about Egil and Nix, is a promising start. Egil and Nix are tough, clever, and have a touching long-lasting friendship that indicates that they’re more than just a couple of rogues. For example, Nix loves and takes care of the woman who raised him, and both men are horrified when they’re forced to vividly confront the way they think about women.
Most of the text of The Hammer and the Blade is banter that’s often funny but Kemp’s prose and dialogue can’t quite compare with Fritz Leiber’s in his LANKHMAR stories (I make this comparison because Leiber’s stories are an obvious influence). The plot also drags in places, but Leiber is guilty of that, too.
I listened to Brilliance Audio’s production of The Hammer and the Blade which was performed by Nick Podehl whose voice I like very much (I’m always happy to see his name on my audiobooks). For this production I thought Podehl’s voice for Egil was perfect, but his voice for Nix was a little too weaselly for my taste. I also thought he spoke ploddingly during the narrative — something I’ve noticed before with Podehl. Still, he’s got a great voice, he continues to improve, and I was mostly very pleased with this audiobook. I unhesitatingly recommend it to audio readers.
I’ll be reading the second EGIL & NIX book when it arrives. Kemp has teased us with just enough background on both characters to make us want to get to know them better. The Hammer and the Blade is a solid sword & sorcery story in the vein of LANKHMAR, Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones.