The Swordsman’s Lament by GM White

The Swordsman’s Lament by GM White

swordsman's lament gm white the heron kings eric lewisUsually I have to concoct an excuse to put swords in the picture. No need today.

The Swordsman’s Lament is a debut novel by GM White, and occupies the same subgenre niche that I tend to squat in, which is fantasy without much or any magic. I hope this style is becoming more popular as people get their fill and then some of magic systems that require a master’s thesis to comprehend. In contrast, what we have here is a quick, easy adventure characterized by clear, unaffected writing, told in a brisk 213 pages. This is not the typical grimdark fantasy I often review, but might still appeal to those readers as a kind of palate cleanser in between having one’s soul crushed over and over. Funny story, I first heard about this book on an episode of Jed Herne’s Wizards, Warriors, & Words YouTube channel/podcast where they were crapping all over people’s cover art, including the original for this one. The updated cover is an improvement, but it just goes to show there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

The setup will feel familiar to the casual fantasy or mystery reader: the hero is framed for a murder he didn’t commit, and must escape and prove his innocence. In this case we have Belasko, the king’s champion and famed but aging duellist. A lifetime of fighting has left him with injuries of both body and mind that will never fully heal, and he’s looking forward to a well-earned retirement as an instructor. When the king’s ne’er-do-well son is murdered, Belasko is framed for it and thrown in prison. From there, he proceeds through story beats that although we may expect them, like the best comfort foods they still manage to surprise and delight in the execution. “Inevitable yet unexpected,” Sanderson might say. With the help of allies old and new he must discover the real killer and clear his name.

The story is told mostly in the POV of Belasko, with some flashbacks to earlier episodes of developing or using the skills he employs at the moment. I’m not sure they’re strictly necessary as the character’s ability with a blade is already established, but they don’t really get in the way except for a few parts that flip back and forth where the time frame is not explicit. There are a couple POV switches to other characters which are necessary to tell the story, but they’re established early enough that I was never confused. The story takes place in a city-state called Villan in a roughly Renaissance level of development. The political situation is reminiscent of Guy Gavriel Kay’s books, where the machinations of foreign powers with foreign-sounding names mimicking real world ones may or may not influence the plot. We also have criminal underworld elements that are referred to ahead of time, building intrigue and expectation until they appear. All this gives hints to a wider world that we’re only shown a glimpse of in this first story, which is an effective strategy to generate interest for future volumes.

As you might expect, the pacing is quick, with a lot of running, fighting, hiding, finding allies to hatch the next move, rinse and repeat. This works well for the plot since the main character is after all a wanted man with a whole city after him. The pacing slows a bit with sometimes overly detailed descriptions of certain acts- climbing, sneaking, etc. There is also a good amount of telling versus showing, or more often telling then showing with a little more expository dialogue than needed. I would suggest White put a bit more trust in the reader in the future, and I well know this can be a tough balancing act for a newer author. The prose is clear and straightforward, though can feel a bit basic at times, with certain characters filling very archetypical roles. A bit of Abercrombian acid wit would pair with the setting very well I think. But these are minor issues which I feel will be ironed out in future works by the author. I wasn’t at all surprised by the ending, but I was pleasantly impressed in some ways. I tend to skip over fight sequences because I find them tedious to read, but in this case it proved rather poignant.

Since The Swordsman’s Lament is explicitly the first in a series, it accomplishes its primary task of grounding the reader in the world and establishing the major characters quite well, and sets up the reader to jump right into future volumes without much additional effort. The sequel, The Swordsman’s Descent, is available for pre-order.


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Pairs well with: Magic Hat #9

Despite winter’s eternal attempts to cling to the ragged edges with grasping claws forever, spring is slowly but surely creeping upon us, though you wouldn’t know it by today’s snow flurries. So I’ve chosen to pair this book with something appropriate to the season. Magic Hat Brewing’s #9 is a “not quite pale ale” coming in at 5.1% abv and 20 IBUs, which makes for easy drinking on a spring day. It has an amber, definitely not pale color with a light head that dissipates quickly, and a light malty aroma. The first flavor you get is dry but not too dry crisp fruity apricot, though it gets less intense over time, and a lightly toasted malt underlying that. There’s no bitterness to speak of, so this could never be mistaken for an IPA. The finish is mild and slightly sour, slightly caramelly. This is an ale that drinks like a lager and goes down quickly, leaving a clean palate for whatever comes next. Like The Swordsman’s Lament it’s a deceptively light, quick option with enough darkness to be interesting, so the two pair well.


heron kings logo The Heron Kings by Eric Lewis dark grimdark fantasy novel