Swordheart – T. Kingfisher: Dual Journeys

When widow Halla comes into a major inheritance after the passing of her uncle-in-law, her other in-laws aren’t too thrilled about being skipped over. They end up locking Halla in her room until she agrees to marry her brother-in-law. Halla is about to take a drastic measure when she draws an old sword and a man materializes before her. Sarkis is bound to the owner of the sword and helps Halla gain back her inheritance. 

As I was reading about the hero’s journey I was hoping to find some variants of the formula, and I think I found my objective in Swordheart. Both Halla and Sarkis are on a quest to gain back Halla’s rightful inheritance from the world’s worst in-laws, but each is also on a personal journey of growth and redemption. 

Halla’s journey is the primary but I was equally invested in both, which is no easy feat. Countless times I read stories with dual main characters, usually jumping back and forth between both points of view, and I end up caring only for one of them. I wanted them to be together, but more so I wanted them, as individuals, to succeed. 

Romance in books is really hit or miss for me, I think it’s one of hardest things for writers to convey. Genuine attraction that builds and doesn’t feel forced or just plain gross. When I saw the way the winds were blowing I was already on Halla and Sarkis’ side, and I actually really enjoyed the slow build of this relationship. 

Since Pride and Prejudice one of my favorite stories is when two people from very different backgrounds, who seem to have warring personalities, are actually more aligned than they realize. Halla is from the soft and decadent South, while Sarkis is a man out of time, a warrior from a land with very different values. I’m also biased because Halla is a middle-aged plus-sized widow, which let’s be honest, this is not the typical woman we see as a fantasy romantic lead. Or a romantic lead in general. 

Recently there’s been arguments about diversity in many different genres, but especially in high medieval fantasy. The excuse for lack of diversity is that the author is trying to be ‘realistic’. (I also hear this when sexual assault is overused in high fantasy as well, but that’s a whole ‘nother rant).

Realistic?! That might be valid for historical fantasy, but the amazing part about high fantasy is that the author creates the world. Maybe the structure and feel is similar to the middle ages, but anything can be changed as long as it makes logical sense in the created world. 

I think that’s another reason why I really enjoyed Swordheart, not only because the heroine is not your typical damsel, but also because of Zale. Halfway through this road trip from hell, Halla and Sarkis are joined by Zale, a non-binary priest. Zale is a great character and it didn’t register that the character was non-binary right away, and I think it’s because they being non-binary is not treated as a big deal. They meld right into the group as a fully realized character. 

Just because your high fantasy looks like the medieval times doesn’t mean that diversity doesn’t belong there! While the hero’s journey is a tale as old as time, that doesn’t mean that medieval fantasy has to look like Tolkien’s world.

For me there was much to love about Swordheart. The world, the characters, the love connection, the quest, and most of all, the ending. I know that there’s a sequel in the works, but I’m happy that for the most part it can stand up on its own. I just have to read the other books in the same universe as I wait for the sequel.

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