Author: Paul S Kemp
Publisher: Angry Robot, 2013
While this is book number two in what seems like is going to be a series, and it took me a few pages to get the pair of tomb-robbing protagonists straight in my head, it didn’t take me long to become fully invested in Egil and Nix’s doings.
Egil’s a big bloke and a priest of a dead god (complete with an eye tattooed on his shaved head) who’s handy with his hammers; Nix is the nimble, crafty little blighter armed with a falchion and a bag filled with magical “gewgaws” that help when he’s in a tight spot. They’re inseparable and nigh unstoppable, it seems, and always willing to help a damsel in distress.
An initial brush with the sinister Blackalley – which at first seems like some sort of alternative dimension that exists within the darkest part of the city’s slums – turns out to be a dubious blessing later when Egil and Nix find themselves coming up against the somewhat sinister Thieves Guild. And their sojourn through Blackalley does result in some unexpected consequences later on in the story.
A Discourse in Steel is exactly what it says: a straight-up adventure filled with snappy dialogue, a spot of tomb-raiding, breaking and entering, and general asskickery. The magical key that opened any lock once it had a taste of a particular fruit or veggie was just one of the quirky touches strewn throughout the tale.
Paul S Kemp keeps up a relentless pace without flagging, and the characters are certainly kept on their toes throughout. The milieu they inhabit is built on the crumbling remains of an ancient culture, and Kemp deftly paints in snatches of ancient mystery and history in broad strokes that serve to tantalise.
Readers come in at the tail-end of an epic saga, and can only wonder at the cataclysmic events that shaped the Egil and Nix’s world. There are no gallant knights in this novel, the monsters are far more terrible than mere dragons, and the damsels themselves aren’t as helpless as they might appear.
Kemp delivers a solid, satisfying fantasy adventure populated with memorable characters and a setting so real you can smell the stink of the city streets.