A Discourse in Steel: a cinephile’s book review


A Discourse in Steel is a fall-off-the-wagon-and-keep-tumbling swashbuckler set in a dirty, gritty realm of both magic and crime.   Paul S. Kemp not only takes us back to the world he created in The Hammer and the Bladebut also checks in with the most lovable scoundrel duo since Han Solo reunited with Lando.

Egil and Nix, worn out from their last upended scheme, have decided to ease off the throttle, take a little more time imbibing their ales, and maybe even call it quits from the treasure-hunting game entirely.  But, as most scoundrels can attest, the game isn’t so eager to be quit.

The book opens with a mysterious late-night hunt, giving Egil and Nix a very Mulder/Scully feel, as the two attempt to rescue a damsel’s father from a phenomena called Blackalley.  I, for one, was so entertained by this supernatural rundown,  I could’ve easily followed this particular tale cover to cover, but that was Kemp just giving us a taste.  From there, the story quickly spirals into a more personal quest for the two heroes, as one of their own gets caught on the wrong end of a crime syndicate.

I’ll say this without spoiling anything:  the way the boys get reeled back into the seedy underbelly of Ellerth is a brilliant twist on an old crime noir trope.  It certainly sets the tone for the novel, as Kemp seems to give just about every crime (and fantasy) cliche a new edge.

To give Discourse the ol’ movie pitch treatment, think of it like Boondock Saints meets Highlander, with the buddy-cop zest of Die Hard 3, and splash of, dare I say, The Goonies for color.

Perhaps that was more of a cocktail recipe, but I think that Egil and Nix would approve of that too.

Whether it’s more like a movie or a drink, I can safely say this book is the full package.

For starters, you get to experience a truly unique system of magic that gives casting a spell the same nerve-racking feel of mishandling a gun.  With every ‘gewgaw’ Nix uses, you have the feeling he’s truly dipping into the ‘dark arts’ and doing something he’s not supposed to.  I’ll tell you right now:  you’re going to fall in love with that damn key.  Trust me.

On top of that, Kemp delivers a well-thought-out crime syndicate that will leave you wanting to hear as much about the “bad” guys as the “good” guys.  Maybe it’s his background in law that gives him a leg up in this area, or maybe he just watches a lot of great gangster flicks.  Either way, Kemp nails it.

Furthermore, you have the honor of going on the road with two of the most likable SOBs in literature.  Remember those movies I listed?  Take all those great team-ups, add in MiB Agents J and K, shake vigorously, pour into a fantasy setting, and you’ll have Egil and Nix.  One’s a bulky, soft-spoken “priest” that wields a pair of hammers (read: giant meat tenderizers) and the other is a smooth-talking, low-level magic-wielder with a penchant for daggers and swords.  Seemingly different types, but put them together and you have some of the best, honestly funny, believable banter you’ve ever read.  You don’t even need to read Hammer and the Blade to pick up on the chemistry between Egil and Nix (although I still recommend it!)

Short story:  this is the fantasy you’ve been craving.  If you’re looking for that typical dwarves-and-trolls, chapters-written-in-flutey-singsong crap, look elsewhere.  But if you’ve been dying for some real originality in the fantasy realm–with a scene of revenge that would make even Kick-Ass‘  Hit Girl do a double take–then Discourse in Steel is your next stop.

And like all good action flicks, I think Discourse needs a soundtrack.  So check out the playlist I was listening to as I read the latest tale of Egil and Nix, and pick up your copy of Paul S. Kemp’s A Discourse in Steel  tomorrow (June 25th, 2013) from Angry Robot Books.

Available on Amazon

Add Discourse on Goodreads

Paul S. Kemp’s Website


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