Welcome to the first of my reviews as part of the Speculative Fiction Indie Novella Championship, or SFINCS, which I am judging as part of Team Jamreads alongside a cohort of other lovely judges. For my SFINCS reviews, I will be judging each book on the following five criteria: Characters, Setting, Plot, Writing, and Enjoyment with a bonus point for Cover Art and Formatting. This review contains my honest thoughts and does not represent the opinion or final rating of the team.
This review is for Blades of The Ice: Age of Rekindling: A Prequel by Luís Falcão de Magalhães.
In a land ruled by patriarchy, an assassin sisterhood delivers justice from the shadows. Now, their mysterious patron has charged burly fighter Erika Langeshen and lithe shadow-stalker Annah Barksdottir with uncovering a plot against the very rulers that have mistreated and oppressed them their whole lives. Their quest will take them to a faraway village on the borders of the Razor Teeth Woods, where they will need to use all the tricks of their trade to build a base of power and expose the machinations of the local lord and his allies. But before they do, they must break into one of the Patriarchate’s fortresses and retrieve an unlikely ally…
Blades of the Ice is the prequel novella to The Daughter of The Ice, the first book in the Legends of Age of Rekindling series. Expect a fast-paced sword & sorcery adventure in the style of R.A Salvatore and an homage to the Forgotten Realms fantasy series. Readers and reviewers alike have compared it to The Witcher and The Wheel of Time.
Based on the cover art and description of Blades of the Ice, I went into this one thinking it may be YA fantasy, though it soon proved my assumptions incorrect. Female authors often have their books miscast as YA, even when books are clearly labelled as adult, and here I was falling to those same prejudices. Doubly so, when the author is male! But I digress. Blades of the Ice is more of a traditional fantasy with a nordic flavour, as you may guess from the Ice part of the title. It centres around a band of female assassins with a job to do.
Blades of the Ice is written from the POV of two of the assassin characters; Annah, the stealthy one, and Erika, the burly fighter, and the story switches between them throughout. Both bring their own strengths to their missions and are aided by an additional companion, Mariza, who spends more time getting high than getting her hands dirty, and Martha, a druid-like woman who was captured for being a ‘witch’ and who aids the team in more subtle ways. I love seeing all-women bands coming together for a cause, especially if that cause is violence. The team work together well and I enjoyed the banter between them. However, Mariza and Martha’s names are a bit too similar for my liking. The POV chapters between Annah and Erika weren’t too dissimilar either, meaning I sometimes couldn’t tell them apart. Throughout the story it’s Martha who undergoes the most character development, emerging from a shy prisoner to a force to be reckoned with.
The problem with assassin characters is that there’s a risk of them being overpowered or over skilled, which I think is the case here. Despite the threat they face and the many challenges and battles, Annah and Erika handle them with minimal effort and largely come out unscathed. There’s simply not enough tension or reason to worry about these characters. They also moonlight as sex workers frequently throughout the story, and take a rather blasé attitude toward it. I’ve nothing against sex work in reality and prefer sex-positive characters, but the frequency borders on tasteless to me, especially when they’re scrounging up money for stew. They’re assassins. Surely stealing some food wouldn’t be above their abilities?
This, and their skills as assassins, makes the story read as a power fantasy to me. For some readers, that may be what they’re looking for, but for me, it came across as juvenile and lacking in character development.
The setting is perfect for this time of year and is based on a nordic/medieval settlement during the winter that gave me Skyrim and Elden Ring vibes. The author did a great job of establishing the setting and also the atmosphere, especially during scenes where the characters were forced to huddle together around a campfire. The world veers on the grimdark side of gritty as the lower classes, and women especially, are often abused.
As mentioned above, I felt as though the plot didn’t have enough tension or stakes. The plot itself is quite straightforward – our assassins are tasked with taking down the lord of a northern town who threatens the ruling leaders, who are a literal patriarchy. The patriarchy itself is considered to be ‘bad’ and yet the assassin group takes on a mission to keep them in power. This part confused me, as reading the blurb to the book, I was expecting a ‘smash the patriarchy’ plot going in, and throughout the book we read descriptions of how terrible the world is for women. As this is a prequel book, I’m not sure if this will be addressed and our plucky assassins actually set out to get rid of the patriarchy as promised.
The plot, then, moves at a fairly fast pace, with plenty of action and fighting scenes as our assassins attempt to take down the lord and their minions. As this is a prequel, there’s much of the larger world we don’t know about, including how the assassins came to be and what their goals really are. However, I feel like Blades of the Ice works well as a standalone story and doesn’t require knowledge of the series to read. There’s also a scene at the end that obviously hints at the main series.
I found the writing style easy to read and with a fast pace, though some of the battle scenes were hard to follow.
There were parts of Blades of the Ice that I enjoyed, and parts, such as the character development, that I found frustrating. If you can ignore some of the logical inconsistencies of female assassins helping to maintain the patriarchy, then this novella is a short action-packed romp. For me, however, I couldn’t ignore those aspects.
Cover Art and Formatting
I absolutely have to mention the beautiful cover art, which is what instantly drew me to this book. The illustrated character does look a bit young, hence why I misjudged it as a YA book, but the detail of the character and cover in general is absolutely gorgeous and one of the best covers in the competition. The ebook is also beautifully formatted throughout, though sadly, no map!