STARRED REVIEW
February 18, 2020

Sword of Fire

By Katharine Kerr
Review by

Sword of Fire is centered around a socio-political struggle against the unjust courts of the Kingdom of Deverry. While that certainly could be a backdrop for a bleak, dark struggle, Kerr’s novel is instead a lovely quest with an ever-optimistic, wholeheartedly enthusiastic crew of brilliant women and chivalrous men.

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As a child, when I played with my friends, we acted out heroic victories and rampaged through our enemies with peerless joy. In the minds of my friends and I, we were all equally amazing, invincible heroes. No villain could match us; we were the good guys! How could we lose? The glee of a jaunt through an imaginary world thrilled my 12-year-old self like nothing else could. In Sword of Fire, Katharine Kerr recreates the feeling of that rose-tinted romp, full of triumph and camaraderie.

Sword of Fire centers around a sociopolitical struggle against the unjust courts of the Kingdom of Deverry. While that certainly could be a backdrop for a bleak, dark struggle, Kerr’s novel is instead a lovely quest with an ever-optimistic, wholeheartedly enthusiastic crew of brilliant women and chivalrous men. Alyssa, our primary heroine, embarks on a trip to recover a book that can help usurp the old traditions of the courts with even older, supposedly more fair traditions. Kerr spends just enough time describing the world to let the reader know the important points. First, Deverry is a blend of medieval Norman, Celtic and Anglo-Saxon mythology and history. Second, there’s enough anachronistic attachment to writing, laws and education to make the plot an intriguing mix of political protest, violence and legal procedure. And finally, the world is much bigger than any of the main characters realize, and they are all perfectly happy to be proven wrong.

With a lightly magical, extremely familiar setting and lovable cast of characters, Kerr sets out to take the reader through the Kingdom of Deverry’s evolution to a (hopefully) more just world. She doles out plot points via chatty gossip between noble families and secret messages sent by way of servants. At no point, however, does Sword of Fire contain any real tension. Kerr tells a delightful, relentlessly joyful story; all anxiety is resolved within six pages of its introduction.

Alyssa is bold and well-spoken, robustly constructed as an independent, self-driven character with her own agendas and plans. Each character in Sword of Fire similarly serves as a gentle rebuke to genre tropes, crafted by Kerr as hilarious rebellions against those classic, somewhat simplistic themes of chivalry, damsels and maniacal villains. Rather than rolling plot pressure up to a grand battle of epic proportions, Alyssa and company instead try to establish a legal precedent in a court of law and hope to avoid war entirely. At each point where Kerr could fall into a trope, she subverts expectations.

Meandering through the pages of Kerr’s Sword of Fire was escapism of the finest quality. For readers looking for a dark drama of epic proportions, these 380 pages will hold nothing for you. Here, you will only find charming banter, happy endings and optimism in prose form.

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Sword of Fire

Sword of Fire

By Katharine Kerr
DAW
ISBN 9780756413675

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