Plot Summary: Sarah Beauhall is a young woman making ends meet by working at two jobs that she loves. By day she is an apprentice blacksmith, and she's either shoeing a horse, or making a sword for the Renaissance fair set. By night she's the props manager for a low-budget fantasy movie, and in between her jobs there's her girlfriend Katie. Money may be tight, but her professional and personal life are going great until one night the idiot actor breaks her favorite sword in two. Sarah decides to test her skills and reforge the blade, and once it's whole again, everything in her world falls apart. Some huge guy claiming to be a dwarf talks to her about the sword's power, and he says she must slay a dragon, who just happens to be the guy financing the movie. Sarah can't seem to control her temper anymore, and when she holds the sword she feels something... but dragons, dwarves, and magical swords are just too much for anyone halfway sane to swallow.
I really wanted to read Black Blade Blues after I learned that it's about a female blacksmith who is also a lesbian, but I was dying to read it when I learned that the author, J. A. Pitts, is a man. I wanted to know, could he pull this off?
The answer is yes.
Furthermore, Mr. Pitts gave himself a considerable challenge because Sarah is not a strong, confident gay woman, like I assumed she'd be. Oh no. She's absolutely conflicted about her lifestyle, she's haunted by her strict religious upbringing, and she can barely stand to acknowledge her relationship with Katie. Sarah has practically barricaded herself in the closet, and watching her break out will be one of the things I look forward to most in this new series.
One of the great things about this story is that Mr. Pitts was not afraid to build a large ensemble cast, and then go beyond the cursory sketches and flesh each character out. There are so many strong female characters in this story! I have to get a little excited about this, because most urban fantasies shine the spotlight on one woman, and the other females are usually criminals, hookers, or victims. Sarah shares the stage with Katie, her girlfriend, Julie, her blacksmith mentor, Melanie, an E.R. doctor, and Jennifer, one of her bosses from the movie production. I could list a few more, but these were the ladies who stood out in my mind after I closed the book.
I wish it had been more of a page-turner. I read this one over a three day period, and while it was always a pleasure to come back to, I didn't feel that junkie craving that tells me I love it, need it, want it more than anything else. At times, the pace was too slow, but I'm almost loathe to make that criticism because the details were so lush. I liked seeing Sarah during some utterly mundane parts of the day, like when she went jogging, but it did slow the story down.
To grab my attention these days, an urban fantasy has to bring something fresh and new to the experience, and Black Blade Blues succeeds. Sarah's character is a work of art, but the folklore surrounding the sword and the dragons is going to dive into some good stuff down the road. I can just tell. The dragons have the world divvied up like a bunch of mafia bosses, and they pull the strings behind the scenes. Humans are nothing more than cattle in their eyes, and Sarah's bond with the black sword is the first real threat they've faced in eons.
The good news is that Mr. Pitts has a deal for two more Sarah Beauhall novels with Tor, and we can look for Honeyed Words in the Spring of 2011, and Hearth and Home in 2012.