It is my general policy not to review the work of my peers, a lesson I learned the hard way back while writing Maiden of Pain. However, I won a copy of The Shard Axe by Marsheila Rockwell when I commented on a recent article she wrote about media tie-in fiction, and was asked by the contest sponsors to write a review. I am, therefore, temporarily suspending my policy to fulfill that obligation.
Let me start by saying how much I admire Marcy. She humbles me with her productivity and her resilience in the face of the many personal trials she and her family have suffered and continue to endure. I am also a stalwart fan of many of her poems and short stories. I enjoyed her first novel, Legacy of Wolves, and looked forward to her next excursion into the world of Eberron. When it comes to Marcy’s writing, I am a little bias. Just so you know.
The Shard Axe did not disappoint me. Both Eberron as a setting, and sword-and-sorcery as a genre, tend to favor stories where Good and Evil come in shades of gray. Marcy capitalizes on that feature by populating her story with characters that all carry some sort of scar or baggage that taints them with suspicion at various points as the plot progresses. For me, that was perhaps the greatest strength of the story. I think I suspected everyone at least once of some culpability in the various intrigues–if not the primary crime–and some characters twice.
Sabira is a great female protagonist. Haunted by guilt and chased by creditors, she is a complex woman, and we are given full access to her thoughts, feelings, and motivations. That’s not to say the book is full of introspective soliloquies or angst-ridden dialogue. This is a sword-and-sorcery tale, after all. There is plenty of swordplay–or axeplay, as it were–and I really liked how low key the magic was, especially in a setting like Eberron where magic is a form of technology that powers the society. The vast majority of magic in the story is artifact-based; there wasn’t very much spellslinging. Sabira proves she can hold her own with her enchanted axe, but while she takes her nickname from it, the weapon is clearly not what defines her.
There were few things I didn’t enjoy about The Shard Axe, but in some sort of attempt to appear fair and balanced, I thought I’d mention a couple concerns I had. First, I didn’t buy the budding romance with the brother of her former partner, but I blame my own sense of suspicious cynicism, which Marcy played on perfectly. I also had a hard time orienting myself once the characters reached the dwarven city that serves as the setting for the second half of the book. I just didn’t get a good sense of landmarks and topographical features. The resulting confusion distracted me enough from the plot that once I finally got back on track, things felt rushed. Maybe compressed is a better word.
I’m happy to say that my lack of familiarity with Eberron or the Dungeons & Dragons Online MMO that the book is tied to did not inhibit my ability to understand or enjoy The Shard Axe, and to me, that is one characteristic of good media tie-in fiction. You’ll have to check some other reviews by fans of DDO and Eberron to see if Marcy stayed true to the themes and traits that are central to those intellectual properties, but I have a feeling she did. I recommend The Shard Axe to anyone who likes to read fantasy fiction, and I am pleased to learn she is already at work on a sequel.