Sword & Blood by Sarah Marques – Book Review [Shadowhawk]
Shadowhawk reviews the latest novel by author Sarah Marques (Sarah Hoyt), a vampires and Dumas’ Three Musketeers mash-up.
“An imaginative retelling with a twist, Sword & Blood is not for the faint-hearted.” ~The Founding Fields
I dimly remember reading Alexandre Dumas’ classic, The Three Musketeers, back in the day, and I’m much more familiar with its sequel, The Man In The Iron Mask. And I’ve seen various movie adaptations of both so I’m fairly well-versed with the general story. Sword & Blood still had plenty of surprises for me and it generally kept me interested through to the end although there were a few unwelcome speedbumps along the way that could have been handled a lot better. The premise itself is rather intriguing: a France that is on its last legs, resisting the vampire legions who have taken over the church itself and now rule large parts of the country. The only significant opposition that remains to them are the King’s Musketeers, that too only in Paris. Perfect grounds to tell a great story.
In all honesty this is an odd sort of novel for me to review since vampires and urban fantasy aren’t really my thing. But, I’m always up to try new things that’s why I went ahead with Sword & Blood, especially since I have a soft spot for Musketeer stuff. I didn’t expect much out of it, except to be told a great story that I could, by the end, say I liked. Sarah Marques met my expectations and she didn’t disappoint me.
The characterisation, well, that’s another oddity about the novel I’m not sure about. The characters are already there, the setting is there, the general mood is there. All the author has to do, seemingly, is to inject vampires into all of it, and turn the story into something darker than what its creator originally created/wrote it to be. As such, I’m not sure if I can give Marques full credit for the characterisation but I have to say that on the whole she did a damn good job with them. The characters are all distinct, all unique. They have their own attitudes and mannerisms that set them apart and it all works to the degree that you could identify each and every one of them (the major ones of course) easily if you weren’t told so explicitly.
In particular, Marques did a great job with Athos, capturing his desperation, his depression, his self-angst really well. Being forcibly turned into a Vampire helps of course. Getting into Athos’ psyche in this way was a treat and Marques handles his scenes with his friends, with D’Artagnan, Milady and others as I expected. A man who is ashamed of his past and who is struggling to remain righteous. What I didn’t like however was where the character himself ends up by the climax. He is, for want of a better word, a little too powerful and that isn’t satisfactorily explained. There are hints that Milady, who turned him in the first place, is herself not as she seems and is very powerful in her own regard, so I’m hoping that this book gets a sequel and that Marques explains this in more detail.
D’Artagnan was as good as Athos, with lots of twists and turns to his character arc. Surprising too, all things considered. The climax of the book is a significant departure from the established mythos but I like it since it freshens up the whole thing and is a good mark of Marques’ originality for the narrative. I would have loved to read more about him though, preferably some flashback scenes with his parents.
Porthos and Aramis we don’t get to see much, except in action, and I think that took a little away from them. I get that there is only so much room in a novel, and I don’t hold this against the author. Its just that these two really deserved to be explored in greater depth, I feel, and that they weren’t makes me just a little bit sad. The same for their manservants, who are all are very promising characters but are always relegated to the sidelines. Again, I’d love for the author to address this in a sequel.
In a changed world where Cardinal Richelieu and Captain Rochefort are both vampires, France’s churches and cathedrals are all overrun by vampires, the civilised world is on its last legs fighting against their corruption, and things have pretty much all gone to hell, the Musketeers are a beacon. Marques conveys that admirably in the novel. The mood in the novel is akin to the darkest of episodes from Buffy or Angel. (I’d put in True Blood here but I haven’t seen the show as yet). On the whole, even though this is a mash-up adaptation, I think the world-building is generally quite good. There is a mix of religions and beliefs here (Christian, Vampire, unspecified Pagan), lots of details on France and England at the time, the Musketeer culture, the vampires themselves, etc.
In terms of the pacing, the novel could have been better. It bogs itself down at times with minutiae of setting and character when the author gives it all to the reader as straight prose and not dialogue. Long run-on sentences in these parts don’t help either because then the reader (me) is just caught up in figuring out what the purpose there is, what the intention is. That was my one major problem with the novel. Things got almost…. boring in these parts and I seriously considered putting the novel down then. Sticking with it was a rough thing.
All, in all, the action scenes were great. They had variety, tension and mystery to them, which made them all fun to read. Visualising these scenes was easy as well. In all honesty, I wanted there to be more action in the novel, as I thought that it didn’t have enough of them. And since its all about Musketeers, the sword duels were the best parts.
If you decide to pick up the novel, be warned that Sword & Blood is a fairly adult novel. There are some graphic descriptions of sex and a few scenes involving sensuous foreplay. If that’s not the kind of stuff you read, then Sword & Blood is not for you, probably, although I’d say that you should still give it a try.
Other than that, it’s a pretty good book! And I mostly had fun reading it.