Blade Reforged by Kelly McCullough

Rating 8.0/10
McCullough writes with confidence and his characters flourish.

It’s been a fortnight since I discovered author Kelly McCullough’s A Fallen Blade series, and having just finished book four, I can safely say that I’m still utterly grateful to have found these books. The opportunity to lose yourself in a pre-made world with more than one title available is a real selling point, to be honest, but that shouldn’t be seen as anything taking away from the talent that has gone into these books.

Blade Reforged is the fourth book in the series, and continues building up the lead character of Aral Kingslayer, as well as the greater world around him. From the get-go it hasn’t been an obviously sequel-reliant fantasy series – rather, each book more than able to stand on its own, if you so chose to read it that way. But reading each in order creates a much grander and wider tapestry, and the growth of the character from drunken jack to nearly-whole Blade has been rewarding.

On top of that, the slow reveal of greater forces at work in the world around Aral has been an impressive tool. Instead of setting out the massive world-ending threat that will inevitably need to be dealt with, Kelly McCullough has built a series of individual stories that each build atop one another and will eventually create a climactic conclusion.

But in the meantime, we have wonderful one-off stories.

One minor drawback from McCullough’s writing is the amount of dialogue that takes place inside Aral’s head. Normally this would be a character talking to themselves, revealing a characters emotions, drive, and plans for the reader. Normally, this would simply be bad writing. In this case, however, we are faced with the fact that Aral is mentally communicating with his familiar, Triss, but I can’t help but think a lot of information is poured out unnecessarily between the two, resulting in numerous pages in a row of silent back and forth “telling” rather than showing.

The psychology behind Aral’s character has proven to be an interesting one, especially as the character is dealing with addiction issues – primarily with alcohol, but also a world-specific drug that his order were fond of using to hone their skills. The continual dialogue that Aral continues with himself over how to beat his addictive habits could read as tiresome for readers, but I would recommend you keep an open mind and see the value in opening up such a rare look into the psychology of someone with addictive tendencies. Whether or not the author is similarly afflicted, I don’t know, and I don’t think it matters. The writing is raw, brutal, and at times lengthily honest – which can sometimes feel a drag, when all you want is the action, but in reality, only heightens our relationship with the story’s protagonist.

The seeming contrivance of a man taking blame for deaths beyond his control has always driven me crazy – more so when that blame is confirmed by others looking in. It creates unnecessary storylines that the author feels “adds conflict” which, I admit, is one of a writers greatest tools, but can also be an easy fall-back.

But despite this seeming contrivance, and lengthy info-dumps between Aral and Triss, Blade Reforged barely suffers detrimentally. There are times when I may have skipped a paragraph or three, and as a reviewer I need to be somewhat aware of what makes me do such things – but in the end, I loved this book almost as much as book one and three (slotting it in as the same as book two).

The realistic interpersonal relationships between everyone make for some of the most interesting parts of this book, including the ever-evolving relationship between Aral and Fei, which has turned out to be one of my favourites across the whole series.

McCullough writes with a confidence of someone on his fourth book in a series, and his characters flourish, blossoming off the page and making you love, hate, or remain completely undecided because you feel both at once (I’m looking at you Devin).

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