21 May 2014
“Sylvain watches Niklas reveal the pastries, watches how Ashe leans back and doesn’t mind in the least. They’ve met such a short time ago, and yet here they are: the very best and closest of friends. Walls are dropped, boundaries are gone…Sylvain doesn’t want this to end. The prospect of leaving these two makes his heart twist painfully.”
Swords, Sorcery, & Sundry by Mina MacLeod
Disgraced wizard, Sylvain, finds himself in trouble when he accidentally starts a fire in a tavern when he saved the woman he had been talking with. Suddenly he finds himself trying to pay back the damage to the tavern with the two people he helped in the fight, Ashe, (the woman Sylvain saved) a competent swordsman, and Niklas, an assassin. As they set out on an adventure to make back the money to pay for the damages, they all realize that for the first time in a long time, none of them feel lonely anymore. Sylvain realizes that he doesn’t want to lose this companionship so he suggests the impossible, that they stay together and form a business. When Ashe suggests the name “Swords, Sorcery, and Sundry” their fates are sealed. But what sort of jobs do people need to hire a wizard, swordsman, and assassin for? And will they be able to stay friends through the strain of starting a business?
One of the things that attracted me to this book was that it was from the Less than Three Publishing Company, and I have enjoyed most of the books I have read from them. Even better, I liked the idea of the three main characters finding friendship where they least expected it; I was looking forward to a book where romance was a minor part of the plot instead of a major part. I have to say, on these points I was not disappointed. I read the book in one day on the train to and from London.
The first thing that struck me about this book is that it reminds me of an anime. What I mean is that one of the main focuses is friendship, and while there are some small bits that form an overarching story, mostly the book is made up of a series of small adventures. I did not realize that Swords, Sorcery, & Sundry was made up of a series of small adventures, so I kept expecting one of the characters to be evil. I just couldn’t wait for him to show his true colors, and, instead, he seemed to be an honestly good character, which was a bit disappointing.
Clearly, the first thing I need to talk about is the friendship element of the story. I loved it. It was nice to read a YA/adult novel where friendship, and not dating, is the most important relationship, which is something I really respect. The book also showed a range of friendship: how friendships can start from very different circumstances, and how sometimes you may need to part and leave some friends behind. It was also really nice to see a mixed gender friend group, with Ashe being the one female but not being attracted to either Sylvain or Niklas (although the two men are attracted to each other). One thing I appreciate is the language used between the friends and their almost Sherlock Holmes style appreciation of what they have. “Ashe…I must say here and now that I do love you – but frankly, my friend, you are quite mad.” Sometimes the friendships blurred a little between friends and lovers, but it worked, and gave some great dialogue, such as, “I fell in love with her skill…I could not bear to part with her after. And once I met Cyrus and had a chance to spar with him, I realized I had just as much love and respect for him as I did for Ashe.” In fact, at the end, it felt almost more a family by choice than a group of friends.
Usually the romance aspects of books are my least favorite, but I really enjoyed how things were handled. Things developed between Sylvain and Niklas rather organically, and they were able to keep the snarky banter that they had from the first moment they met. However, when Niklas stops where things are going because of the threats because of his last job, while it is a bit silly to stop, they both respect it. Unlike most YA novels where this would only hold for a couple pages, they keep their distance even though they both miss what they had. Even through their longing, they still focus on their jobs, friendships and keep living, which is great to read. The other relationships are just as unique and fun, especially Ashe’s! Even better the characters are realistic about love, something that I think readers can learn from. “Love takes time, patience, diligence, and many other things that you may both have, but may also be lacking – at least, for now. No, what I’m saying is Niklas is very fond of you, and wishes to show you how fond, which may or may not amount to falling in love. Really, Sylvain, what kind of fairy-tale do you believe yourself to live?”
The characters are also rather engaging. Many of them have great sarcasm, which leads to some hilarious conversations. Even better is the diversity in the main cast. Ashe is not only a very competent swordsman, but she is black and deals with being an oddball. Almost all of the characters are outcasts of some sort, but Ashe especially talks about the trouble of being one of the few women to carry a sword and the problems she faces with that. Even though she doesn’t do very many feminine things, she is still a woman!
One problem with so many main characters was that I never connect completely with Niklas. It might just be that his character needs to blend in and not be noticed most of the time, but I never really felt like I got into his head. Whereas Sylvain and Ashe feel like they really are my friends, and I know what they want and how they will react to things.
This was a very enjoyable read, and, in fact, feels a bit like a guilty pleasure read as it was fun. Now there were never completely off the wall/new ideas in the book, but I just couldn’t put the book down. I can’t wait for the rest of the series to see what else Swords, Sorcery & Sundry get up to!
Final Verdict: A fun read for summer travels, which breaks many of the overused conventions in YA novels, and reminds you what good friends are! An added bonus is that it is just the start of a series.