Review – A Conversation In Blood by Paul S. Kemp (2017)

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Hardcover, 288 pages
Published January 24th 2017 by Del Rey

I have a weird relationship with the Egil and Nix series.

On the one hand, I’ve got some significant criticisms with some of the aspects, writing decisions, odd resolutions, overused plot points. On the other hand, something about the buddy relationship of Egil and Nix, the comforting banter between them, the way their relationship makes you root for them always. The kind of lighthearted nature of the stories, the shorter format that makes them great ‘junk food’ style reads, the ones you plow through in a short amount of time because they’re so entertaining and a great quick reprieve from heavy doorstoppers.

A Conversation In Blood, the third in the series, is no different from my previous feelings on the series. Despite giving somewhat lukewarm reviews to the previous books, including some hefty criticisms, I had found myself eagerly awaiting this entry, a seeming eternity between it and the second edition, due to Kemp’s other writing obligations. When Goodreads showed it out last summer, I got extremely excited, and was very let down to find out that it was in error and not out until January 2017. There’s *something* about this series that keeps drawing me back, keeps me excited for the next edition, and keeps me intrigued as to where it will go. It’s ‘junk food’ for sure, but has a lot more serious aspect to it, an underlying story, a dark side that a lot of the other junk food series lacks.

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The novel picks up with a restless Nix eager for something to shake up his bland existence. Egil is in a depressive state after the happenings of the second book, drinking away his sorrows on a daily basis, in a funk he cannot seem to get out of, nor has any interest in such. Pushed on by mutual friends, Nix manages to snap Egil out of it, and with the help of a returning friend from a previous adventure, the duo embark on yet another of their serial adventures. This time, they find themselves in possession of some mysterious metal plates (straight up Mormon-style), of which they soon find themselves the target of the hunting of a mysterious creature hellbent on recovering the plates.

The story unfolds as the trio learn the unfortunate reality of the plates, and of the creature chasing them to recover aforementioned plates. There’s some depth to this storyline, as well as the creature – The Afterbirth – that slowly unfolds and becomes more and more intriguing. It also opens the door to take a bit more of a view into Nix’s past as a sorcerer in training, as well as into the true depth of the friendship between the pair (hetero life mates). I thought the majority of this was very well handled, and very interesting – the plates did not feel overly original at first, even when we started dealing with the history of them, and the magical school Nix was an outcast from. However, I felt no real sense of familiarity when it came to the actual details, especially when The Afterbirth was involved, as it was a fairly unique character to me, one which Kemp gives just enough depth to in order to keep it interesting, but also leave it mysterious until the unraveling of the story details at the end.

Oh, and what an ending. An emotional rollercoaster to conclude the book – even feeling as though Egil and Nix were protected by obvious plot armor, there was significant drama and excitement, and I found the conclusion to be very heartwarming. That said, it was not without flaw, which is part of my frustration with each book in this series. Jime (guessing at spelling, I did audio), the third character in the novel, felt from the very beginning as Ensign Expendable, an additional side character that served no purpose other than eventual sacrifice, and – spoiler alert – that is exactly what he was. As the ending was unfolding, I was riveted, but I knew that somehow he would end up being sacrificed for the sake of the story, and it went down almost exactly as I imagined. It was interesting, it was a fun ending, but it was VERY disappointing to have such an obvious sacrifice along the entire time, serving little to no purpose aside from dying while the main characters lived. It was almost frustrating that it played out the way it did, because I wanted MORE from Kemp in this instance.

Some of my criticisms are the same as previous books. I love the banter between the duo, their familiar nature, the jabs at each other that were so obviously well-meaning, despite seeming harsh. Kemp does a terrific job showing their appreciation of each other, the deep bond the pair share, and how their adventures have shaped and changed them. However, the whole Egil-as-a-priest-of-an-obscure-god thing is just as worn out and lame as it was before. It’s brought up constantly, he’s referred to as ‘the priest’, or Nix will make comments about how he’s the one who is a priest, etc. However, as with before, there is ZERO impact on the story related to his worship of this god, there’s just no reason for it to even be a thing other than to mention it constantly. I wish there was more substance to it, but there still is not, after 3 books.

That said, I could nitpick it just like I could with any book, but in the end I still enjoyed this one quite a bit. I blasted through it quickly, enjoying the ride and especially the conclusion, even with the Ensign Expendable aspects of it. The pair continue to be so endearing, the dialogue between them entertaining as hell, and there’s always multiple laugh-out-loud moments in the stories. I like Kemp’s style in general, and this series does fit a very specific niche for me, one that only a series like this can fulfill, and it’s my favorite of the junk-food-sword-and-sorcery style books. It’s what Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser would be if they were more modern, I think. I enjoy that the series is fairly ‘adult’, not necessarily with graphic sex or violence, but with just enough profanity, dark plot pieces, and adult themes to separate it from some of the similar, but more lighthearted, stories of it’s ilk.

Overall, a flawed but fun adventure, the books continue to get better with each edition.

Rating: 4 / 5

 

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