Monday, May 8, 2023

Review: The Sword Defiant (Lands of the Firstborn #1) by Gareth Hanrahan


The Sword Defiant by Gareth Hanrahan
Publication Date: May 2nd, 2023
Paperback. 608 pages.

About The Sword Defiant:

"Set in a world of dark myth and dangerous prophecy, this thrilling fantasy launches an epic tale of daring warriors, living weapons, and bloodthirsty vengeance.​

Many years ago, Sir Aelfric and his nine companions saved the world, seizing the Dark Lord's cursed weapons, along with his dread city of Necrad. That was the easy part.

Now, when Aelfric - keeper of the cursed sword Spellbreaker - learns of a new and terrifying threat, he seeks the nine heroes once again. But they are wandering adventurers no longer. Yesterday's eager heroes are today's weary leaders - and some have turned to the darkness, becoming monsters themselves.

If there's one thing Aelfric knows, it's slaying monsters. Even if they used to be his friends.

The Sword Defiant is a memorable start to a new fantasy story from Gareth Hanrahan, author of the incredible The Black Iron Legacy trilogy, brimming with a richly detailed world and complex characters. It's grittiness and magic really makes it stand out from other books in the genre and I was so excited to have a new Hanrahan book in my hands again. 

The Sword Defiant centers around Sir Aelfric, part of the famed Nine who once saved the world from the Dark Lord Bone. Now, the Nine are spread out throughout the world doing their own things while also maintaining threats of evil and the city of Necrad from any new threats that may pop up. Alf is dragged back into things when he is told of a new prophecy that hints at a new darkness rising up and he is forced to return to Necrad to find out what's going on.

This book is filled to the brim with intricate, immersive world-building that seemed to have endless opportunities for expansion in future books. This world has so many different sides to it, from the dark city of Necrad to the more countryside-like areas of Mulladale to the beautiful lands of the elves. I really loved how gritty and almost creepy this world felt on the whole, and I think Hanrahan really excelled in building up this world that is bold and interesting while maintaining a strong, ever-present sense of dread and disturbances in the air. Let's just say that 'necromiasma' exists in the air of Necrad and leave it there. I also really loved spending some time in the land with the elves and seeing what their life was like–fantasy books always make me want to just live with the elves in their beautiful lands. 

I really liked our main POV characters of Alf and Olva and how real they felt. Alf is like any hero of the past who sort of just wants a quieter life away from those who worship him for his deeds in the past, but he also doesn't really know how to do that and still wants to be fairly useful dealing with threats. Olva is also just like any mom who is desperate to find her child who has embarked upon some ill-advised journey and now is nowhere to be found. And let's not forget the cursed demon sword Spellbreaker who, dare I say, almost stole the show in every scene in which it was present (for me, anyway). Spellbreaker can speak to Alf and is somewhat half the epitome of evil and also half the snarkiest sidekick you'll ever meet who has no problem causing trouble or calling trouble to you so that you can kill it–with no remorse. Spellbreaker added an extra layer of intrigue to the story. 

The pacing is a little up and down throughout the book, but overall I'd consider it a little on the slower paced side and a bit of a slow burn with regard to uncovering new plot points and following along after our characters as they discover things. I will admit that the latter middle half of the story did feel like it lagged ever so slightly and there didn't seem to be quite as much going on. There was a perceived sense of urgency in relation to some new, rather large and immediate threats, but the characters seemed to be getting distracted and having long conversations and explorations that made me question just how urgent things were. I didn't necessarily mind them as someone who prefers a slower pace to rushed action, but it did sort of feel at odds with the general pacing and plotting at times.

The magic is definitely on the softer side because I didn't really notice too much in the way of consistency and rules just yet, but I do think that there is a lot more to learn about the magic in this world. I do have the sense that future books will dive deeper in the magic due to one of the characters in this book's desire to actually study magic. Still, I loved the magical elements, from the dark magical creatures that existed to the healing cordials to the curses and everything in between. I can't wait to see more of this world and the magic that exists within it. 

One thing that I really loved about Hanrahan's previous trilogy and that holds true in this one is his sort of casual yet epic prose style. This one's a bit hard to explain, so bear with me. The Sword Defiant feels like an epic fantasy in scope. There's a huge world with tons of world-building, legendary characters and evils, and so much more, yet the story doesn't feel like it takes itself too seriously. Our characters are not necessarily all noble heroes with perfectly epic battles and events, but rather are all fairly messy people with messy lives and battles and obstacles. Much in the way that the world itself is gritty, the general writing and atmosphere feels gritty and here to be honest, and I really love that about Hanrahan's writing. 

Overall, I've given The Sword Defiant 4.75 stars!

*I received a copy of The Sword Defiant courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Buy the book: Amazon |

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