A review by bklassen
Swordheart by T. Kingfisher

adventurous lighthearted medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Plot
  • Strong character development? No
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? No

2.0

 
The synopsis of Swordheart sounds right up my alley – a magical swordsman (I should mention here that he is not only a swordsman, but also a man in a magical sword) becomes the bodyguard of a woman who is trying to save her late husband’s house from her scheming in-laws. 

This book has been described by others as cozy fantasy, and for many that’s a good sign. For anyone with a cynical bone in their body (that’s me), this is a potential warning. 

The fantasy setting feels like the lightest of set dressing. It was very shallowly examined, EXCEPT for how the sword works. And how do we know how the sword works? Because the book takes a hard stop for Zale and Halla to perform experiments on the road, like if he eats too much, does he have a full stomach if he goes in and comes out of the sword? What happens to his urine? Does he poop? 

Yes. I kid you not. And multiple pages or even chapters are dedicated to the most banal sections of explaining how the most trivial and unimportant parts of the world work. It feels very much like JK Rowling embarrassingly tweeting that you can vanish your poop and pee away. Smh. I believe there was also an in depth and extraordinarily boring part where the characters describe the minutia of engagement details, like which family pays whom and how to calculate that.  

The characters also do not speak like you think they would in a fantasy novel, especially one set in a medieval (or close to) fantasy world. They say “Ugh” and “Er” and other similar fillers that make the book feel too modern and also too annoying. 

Speaking of characters, they’re all also very flat – you won’t find a ton of nuance. Or character growth, come to think of it. Halla is one of the most annoying characters on the planet whose dialogue is almost always filled to the brim with run-on sentences, trivial questions, and just the most annoying chatter you could expect. It’s supposed to be the funny and lighthearted counterpart to Sarkis’ scowling and grumpy demeanor. She found a way to weaponize dithering, and it’s truly flabbergasting. More often than not, I found myself completely skipping her paragraphs of dialogue because nothing interesting or noteworthy is revealed during them. 

At least Zale is an interesting character, especially one who is a lawyer and a priest, and demonstrates some complexity or at least whatever comes closest to that here. 

The worst part is that the entire book is BORING. Nothing happens. They spend most of the book traveling on the road, upon which Halla just asks questions and talks at people who stop them until they get so annoyed that they go away. When they arrive at the house and have conflict with the in-laws, it’s resolved rather quickly and anticlimactically. 

And for the piece de resistance, the nail in the coffin, I didn’t particularly care for the relationship between Halla and Sarkis. It goes from begrudging acceptance that he’s now her bodyguard for a particularly unexciting event (escorting her to a city to get a lawyer and back; A Hobbit’s Dullard’s Tale) to attraction to feelings of love far too quickly. I wanted to see more push and pull, and instead it devolves almost into instalove for my taste. 

Furthermore, this book exhibits one of the worst and most contrived reason for conflict and a breakup that I have ever seen.
SpoilerSarkis reveals finally that he was put into the sword for being a traitor to his country. Which was like, 500 years ago. And Halla gets mad at him for letting her believe he was a hero, so she throws the sword on the ground, renounces ownership of it, and stalks off. Which leads to the final act of the book in which Sarkis then becomes property of Halla’s late husband’s friend and some bad guy from another religious group, so Halla and Zale must rescue him. Which they do, pretty uneventfully. I think there was some sort of reveal following this, that this new cult guy was tied to the events that happened earlier in the book, but it felt like such a stretch and not that important.
 

Another reviewer described this book as cheesy, having sitcom-level dialogue and sitcom-level hijinks, and at the end of the day, a slog. I found myself in complete agreement.