This is the second book of Alex's that I've read, following Blood Groove, which was from nearly three years ago. I'm sort of surprised that it took me that long to get back to it (though I really shouldn't; for whatever reason, none of my local bookstores tend to carry his stuff without me having to special order it, and I'm one of those "But I want to have it now" sorts of people), because Alex is someone I know. I used to work with him, I used to play card games with him over lunch, I used to be this guy’s boss, and I knew even then that this was what he wanted to be doing. Of course I'm going to support him and read his books.
Anyway, the book that I really wanted to read was The Hum and the Shiver, since it sounded a bit closer to the kind of fiction I prefer (I've never been a big reader of fantasy, at least not since I gave up Piers Anthony so many years ago), but I figured it would make more sense to go back to his first novel, and start from there. That way, I could get a good sense of how his style developed over the years.
The Sword-Edged Blonde is a mash-up of hardboiled mystery, like Raymond Chandler, and your typical sword-wielding fantasy novel. It leans a bit farther on the fantasy side of things, but several parts of the story are a neat throw-back to a typical mystery novel. The start of the story has Eddie, the main character, in his office when someone comes in to hire him for a job. It's not a woman with a shady background, with "gams up to there," but it sets the tone of the novel fairly well. Eddie is a private dick for hire, and he's not one to get sidetracked too easily once he's on the job.
One of the reasons I'm not a big fantasy reader is because of the names of the characters. I have a hard time keeping up with who's who, since names like Kvothe and Cersei and Aragorn don’t seem to stick in my mind as well as names like Eddie or Phil or Mike (though the fact that I could remember Kvothe, Cersei, and Aragorn well enough to cite them as examples probably proves me wrong). The Sword-Edged Blonde is a nice relief to traditional fantasy names, since the characters are named Eddie, Phil, and Mike. So I got what I wanted with this particular novel.
The thing is, now parts of the novel read like a parody of a fantasy novel, which The Sword-Edged Blonde clearly isn't. I first noticed it in the first 50 pages or so, when Eddie is taken back to the castle where he spent time as a young boy. He reminisces about his time there, when there had been a different king, and wonders if things have changed with this new king; I couldn't imagine Phil being any different, thinks Eddie. And I have a hard time envisioning someone named "King Phil" without thinking of John Goodman in King Ralph, which then totally takes me out of the moment in the story. This isn't a comedy any more than anything A. Lee Martinez writes is a comedy (that is, there are light-hearted moments, but the stories are still deadly serious), and the name suggests that this is supposed to be funny.
Now, I got used to it, but the point is that it was something to get used to, which was unexpected. Wasn't this what I always wanted out of my fantasy fiction? Didn't this make it easier for me to read the novel?
I'm not a fan of the hardboiled mystery genre, and have never read anything by Raymond Chandler (the closest I ever got was reading The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan, and I can't remember much about it), so I can't really compare this book to that genre. Regardless, the book was easy to read, kept me intrigued, and had a great ending that didn't cheat the reader on the hows and whys of the details.
The only thing I didn't like about the novel was the portrayal of the female characters. They all seemed to be defined by their attractiveness; they either were or weren't, and their status in the novel and in the culture of the story was based on it. Even Alex's stronger female characters were there for the men. They served the story appropriately, but it bugged me a bit when every woman was defined and described that way, first and foremost. I'm not sure if that's an intentional throw-back to the mystery genre or more a sentiment of the author's, but either way it wasn't something I liked.
Aside from that, though, the book was a solid read, and even had me giddy at some points (not that I was laughing or excited about what was happening, just that I was giddy with being wrapped up in a good story, well told). I’ll definitely be reading the rest of the series, but I'll admit that I'm still most curious to read The Hum and the Shiver, if only to see if the female characters are better represented.