Crossed Blades by Kelly McCullough

Rating 9.0/10
Polished and fast-flowing.

Book of the Month

As I continue to plough my way through Kelly McCullough’s A Fallen Blade series, I am continually impressed with just how enjoyable each of these books are. It is a stark reminder that, not since I read Michael J. Sullivan Riyria books, have I so enjoyed losing myself in a series of books, and being able to just read one after another after another. Whether McCullough’s (or even Sullivan’s) writing would hold up if I had had to wait a year at a time for each book, I don’t know (though I can’t imagine I would have had a problem), but that’s not an issue I have to deal with, so I am able to wallow in the joys of a ready-made series, just sitting there waiting for me to read.

Crossed Blades is the third book in McCullough’s A Fallen Blade series, and it backed up my assumptions that the minor blip that was the degradation of writing in book two was only that, a minor temporary blip, for we are back to the fast-paced, smooth writing that so captured me in the first book, Broken Blade.

The only issue I would take with McCullough’s writing in general is the somewhat casual tone of his writing. This is not inherently a criticism, but in a book that is set so deeply into a fantastical world, with magic playing such an important and integral role to society, the number of casual use of English slang, everyday 21st-century words, and cultural-specific words (ie, origami) takes me (a writer and reviewer) out of the story at times, reminding me that I am in fact reading a story, rather than inhabiting a story.

But I am more than willing to acknowledge that this might be specific to me alone, and not to the average reader.

Regardless of my own personal quirks, however, Crossed Blades was a breathtaking romp through a different part of the world that McCullough has created, focusing on what I have come to think of as the “overall villains” of the story. Whereas in the past, the Sword and Hand have played a nuisance to Aral’s activities, attempting to capture him or kill him in turns, in Crossed Blades, they are the focus of Aral’s, and our, attention. There is no leniency given to those Aral encounters, as they all have his order’s blood on their hands.

There were numerous times when the author could have relied upon a tried and true fantasy trope to make his way to the end of his story: The powerful mentor; the betrayal; the sacrifice. However, in every instance, McCullough relies not on tropes but on the story itself for momentum, weaving a much more heartfelt and compelling story than would have otherwise been. Those who lived and those who died weren’t the predictable candidates, and the motivations behind Aral’s actions were an in-depth blend of anger, rage, betrayal, obligation, and love.

There is a sense of distance between Aral, the story’s main character, and the majority of the other characters who appear. Some are going to assume this is a case of bad writing, and in so doing miss the point of this story entirely. Aral is only just beginning to crawl out of the hole which is alcoholism, and is renewing a healthy relationship with his familiar, Triss, and a new relationship with Faran – expecting anything more of him at this stage is ridiculous, and that is portrayed well, with the character showing he has relational limitations at the moment.

In the end, Crossed Blades picks up a great story, and returns to the polished and fast-flowing writing style of the first book in the series. Kelly McCullough is definitely positioning himself alongside Michael J. Sullivan as a writer to be watched, writing compelling and fast-paced character-driven fantasy with a flair for the magical.

This Crossed Blades book review was written by

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