Lace and Blade
by Deborah J. Ross
Review by Colleen Cahill
Norilana Books Trade ISBN/ITEM#: 9781934169919
Date: 30 December 2007 / Show Official Info /
Many of us are familiar with the pairing of sword and sorcery, a genre of magic and fighting, often typified by the works of Fritz Leiber and Marion Zimmer Bradley. This is not quite what Deborah J. Ross is aiming at in her new anthology Lace and Blade.
It is true that every story will have a sword and some contain elements of the fantastic, but the focus in this is a certain atmosphere, a time when duels were fought for honor, riches or a lady's hand. There is a wide cast of characters, and as the introduction states, "There are highwaymen here ... and rogues, and moonlight and damsels fully capable of rescuing themselves."
The first story in the collection, "Virtue and the Archangel" by Madeleine E. Robins, is more of a swashbuckling mystery centered on a stolen jewel and one daring young woman who needs all her wits and fencing skills to return the gem to its owner. In the next piece, more elements of fantasy are present, as a young French man in Brazil seeks to save the family emerald mines from a greedy man, but must pay the price of a mysterious woman in Diana L. Paxton's "The Crossroads."
Robin Wayne Bailey's "Touch of Moonlight" has even stronger fantasy elements, with a young woman under the curse of a magician who joins forces with a highwayman to protect her little brother and maybe get a bit of revenge.
These stories vary in their genre makeup but all have the element of sword play. Tanith Lee emphasizes this in "Lace-Maker, Blade-Taker, Grave-Breaker, Priest" with almost continuous duels between a pair of proud young bucks. The most amusing moment in this story is when both are shipwrecked on the same island and cannot fight because they lost their swords.
A second common story element is romance. In Sherwood Smith's "Rule of Engagement," relationships are a key element; a duke kidnaps a court favorite to offer her marriage. Smith offers a nice twist on this favorite romance theme, especially in who comes to rescue the damsel.
Catherine Asaro is known for the romance elements in her works and she does not disappoint in "The Topaz Desert," where a young magic user seeks to escape a death sentence and ends up the wife of a lone man digging rocks out in the desert. It takes a very smart woman to see the hidden treasure in both the man and the rocks.
Several of these stories have a darker edge, as with "Night Wind" by Mary Rosenblum: Alvaro returns home to find his father very ill, the harvest dying in the fields and a powerful duke maneuvering to take the lands. Only with the help of a local bandit does Alvaro stand a chance of keeping his inheritance. Even darker is "In the Night Street Baths" by Chaz Brenchley, which follows a young eunuch and a dwarf from his novel Bridge of Dreams set out for a night in "Maras, the glittering eye of empire, the Sultan's own" as they seek adventure.
What should be the darkest tale is Dave Smeds' "The Beheaded Queen," but this story of a head kept alive for years by a vengeful king also has a great deal of passion and love, especially as the old queen advises her future daughter-in-law who is walking down the same possible path to ruin.
Even through this collection only holds eight works, it is not small, as each piece is a novella and the authors have plenty of space to explore their ideas. As the publisher states in her end notes, "lace and blade referred to a kind of elegant and romantic 'soft' flavor of sword and sorcery." This is a fitting description for this book, but it does not tell you of the spirit and surprises that await within.
Lace and Blade is for those who love ambiance and derring-do tempered with style and a good read.