The Sword-Edged Blonde - Alex Bledsoe

~~Moved from GR~~


The Sword-Edged Blonde

by Alex Bledsoe

Eddie LaCrosse has been on the run from his past for years, slumming it in backwater towns and trying--mainly unsuccessfully--to make a reasonably ethical living as a private detective and sword for hire, or, as he says, "A private sword jockey with a talent for discretion". However, when an old friend, King Phil, seeks him out, Eddie travels back to his old kingdom to help. Phil is certainly in need of assistance: his beautiful wife Rhiannon has been accused of murdering their young son, and as she was caught literally red-handed, there seems little doubt of her guilt. Yet matters are made even more complex when Eddie thinks he recognizes Rhiannon and she maintains ignorance due to a mysterious amnesia. Eddie straps on his sword--an old Fireblade Warrior three-footer--and sets out on a quest to uncover Rhiannon's past in the hope of saving her future.

The Sword-Edged Blonde is fun and light, a noir pastiche set in a Celtic-mythology-based alternate world. My favourite aspect of it was the mythology it invoked: the basic story is a retelling and enhancement of one of the branches of Y Mabinogi from Welsh mythology. It's actually one of my favourite stories: the tale of Pwyll (which means "thought"), his wife Rhiannon, and her apparent murder of their baby son (named Pryderi, which means "worry.") It's a great story to retrofit into a comic mystery, as the original story is bizarre, funny, and chock-filled with puns. (Yes, Pryderi is intended to be "worry son of thought.") I have a special fondness for the oft-overlooked Welsh mythology and therefore loved Bledsoe's retake on the classic tale. I think I gave it an extra point in my rating solely because of its allusions to Y Mabinogi, because otherwise, I have rather mixed emotions about the story. The plot is very light; not only does it fail to invoke any complex or interesting themes, but it actually must be read at the farce level: the sheer number of casual deaths, as well as certain other aspects, are extremely troubling if considered more seriously. For example, there is a scene in which Eddie meets up with a pair of inbred hicks; the scene is so unrelated to the remainder of the plot that I can only imagine it was intended as rather gory comic relief.

Another troubling aspect was Eddie's treatment of Rhiannon. I was very weirded out by their sexually-charged conversations, but that's nothing compared to the moment where he forcefully grabs her and looks up her dress to see her birthmark--yes, she thinks he's raping her--and the other point where he grabs her and she tells him he's free to rape her if he wants. Yuck. What a great protagonist. I also wasn't too fond of that moon scene, or what it implied.

(show spoiler)

I think much of the humour is supposed to be derived from stereotypes and situations involving "rednecks," gays, dwarves, etc, and it irritated rather than amused me. I also had some issues with the flow of the plot itself, especially the ending, which seemed to me to be an inexpertly-tacked-on afterthought.

Seriously, twins? You lose one, so just replace her with another off the shelf? The end is not only absurd, but seems to directly indicate that most of a character's "personality" is really just their physical appearance. I really have no words for what a disappointment that was.

(show spoiler)

Evaluating the story at a very light, superficial level, however, there were other aspects I appreciated. I liked Eddie himself; I thought he had an entertaining voice and an interesting backstory. I read a lot of books in this genre, so I'm automatically predisposed to like any detective who isn't tall, dark, and ruggedly handsome; Eddie's rotund form and lack of youth made for a pleasing change. The medieval world combined with noir pastiche was very reminiscent of Glen Cook's Garrett, PI series. The major differences I saw were in tone (I think this was intended to be even more of a lighthearted farce than the Garrett books) and Bledsoe's incorporation of various myths into his story. I very much enjoyed the allusions to various legends; for example, one of the characters is identified by a specially-shaped birthmark on her thigh, which to me invoked the various Greek myths in which gods disguised as humans were marked in the same fashion. (I have no idea why the Greeks had such a fascination with birthmarks on thighs, but it comes up in more than one story.) Bledsoe also invokes the myths of Circe and Epona, and melds these various legends into an interesting and coherent whole. Although the story is not particularly groundbreaking and the story and characters rather superficial, The Sword-Edged Blonde makes for a fast and funny read. If you share my fondness for the generally unappreciated Welsh myths, you're sure to enjoy this entertaining retelling of the Pryderi story.

Dda iawn, neu efallai eithaf da, dw i ddim yn siwr.