By J L Worrad

Pennyblade, a novel by J L Worrad
Book details

The days of High Elves and spiffing adventures being the only choice in fantasy are long over. This is a vast genre that still has books of High Fantasy, but it also has Low Fantasy. This gritty version of the genre is more prevalent than ever with some of the best being made into TVs shows and films. But it is it a race to the bottom? How far low, dare you go? Pennyblade by J L Worrad has elements to recommend it, but it is also the lowest down and dirty fantasy I have ever read. 

Kyra Cal’Adra is a Pennyblade, a mercenary who makes their coin doing the stealing, kidnapping, and killing that others are too squeamish to undertake. She was not always thus, just a few years earlier she lived as a Highborn Commrach, a race of being separate from humans. Cast out, she must now live in the land of men. When the Church finally catch-up with her, the humans have a use for an excommunicated Commrach, but is Kyra willing to kill those she once called her own? 

Pennyblade is a rich fantasy world that Worrad sets out on designing well. The book is told via two timelines: before and after Kyra’s fall from grace. The two stories inform one another, but they also peak and trough throughout the book, giving it ebb and flow. The idea of the Commrach society is particularly interesting. A race that is breeding itself to perfection, each powerful family vies against one another to move up to a more prestigious tower nearer the centre of power. It turns out that Kyra, her twin, and Grandmother are very adept at political power plays. 

The human world feels more like traditional low fantasy. A grubby world in which most people are poor, just trying to get by. It is a cruel world and Kyra is a cruel character, so fits in perfectly. There is an interesting mystery about a violent cult that makes this part of the story quite thrilling, but it cannot live up to the battles that take part in the Highborn earlier years. The inter-house fights reminded me of Pierce Brown’s Red Rising books as the game can be played safely or with deadly consequences. 

The foundation of Pennyblade is a solid low fantasy, but in places it tries too hard to shock. The character of Kyra is a twin; therefore, she is attracted only to the same sex. She is already a highly sexed creature, but the Commrach also suffer from a Pon farr like mating cycle. Kyra becomes obsessed at times and we the reader are treated to these incidents, from solo, to duo to orgies. I am no prude, but it was all a little too much at times and became boring to read, rather than titillating. 

Establishing Kyra as a flawed character is important for the story, but the reader does not need to be told over and over again. Her fall from grace make for a good read, as does her days on the streets as a Pennyblade. More concentration on pushing the narrative and less on the sex would have made it an even stronger novel.   

Written on 29th March 2022 by .

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