Review: The Sword Defiant

Posted: June 7, 2023 by in Books We Don't Like (2/5 single_star) Meta: Gareth Hanrahan, Dark Fantasy, Fantasy

It’s been a long time since I’ve been really disappointed by a read. Guess I was about due for one.

THE SWORD DEFIANT is the first in a new series by Gareth Hanrahan. Had a funny experience with this one. Pre-ordered it as soon as I saw an announcement go up. Figured it was the next in his Black Iron Legacy (EBR Archive) series, but after ordering, I noticed that it wasn’t. Tells you something about just how excited I was to see another book from this guy. After some wandering around, I found out that Black Iron Legacy is supposed to be five books, but only the first three had ever been put under contract, and for some reason, it was decided to go with a new series for now instead of letting the author finish it first. Seems like kind of an odd way to do things, but I’m sure there are loads of reasons for it that would make absolutely no sense to someone in my position. Life. Business. Grumble.

So. New series. First book. Here we go.

Many years ago, a group of heroic individuals banded together to destroy the reigning DARK LORD (TM) and save the world. They are called “The Nine”, and after the ashes had finally settled, The Nine made an oath to protect the city from which the Dark Lord had ruled. In the intervening years, everyone has pretty much taken their own path, but has ostensibly still been part of the Council that governs the city of Necrad. But now there’s more evil brewing about, and someone has to figure things out before everything hits the proverbial fan.

There are pretty much two PoV characters for this tale:

Aelfric (Alf, the Lammergeier): One of the original Nine heroes that saved the day. He took it upon himself to handle the evil sword that the Dark Lord made for his lead General and was taken after said General met a grisly end. “Spellbreaker” is sentient and hates the fact that he’s being lugged around by someone that won’t wield him to slaughter the masses. It wants only to cut and doesn’t care how it happens. For the last couple of years, Alf has been wandering around the countryside, and eventually finds Jan, another of The Nine, that gives him a portent of coming doom and then kicks the bucket. So, Alf takes the quest to find this oncoming evil before everything goes wrong.

Olva: Alf’s sister. Not much else you need to know here, as she mostly spends the entire book simply chasing after her son, who has just found out he has an uncle that is “The Lammergeier of The Nine” and runs away to find him.

I don’t know if I can overstate just how amazing the books in the Black Iron Legacy are on multiple levels. If you haven’t read any of our reviews on that one, go and do so. In fact, I still owe you one at this point, as I’ve already read the third in that series and haven’t put that down to words yet. The sheer magnitude of the author’s imagination is writ LARGE in that series. It’s staggering how much is packed into those books, and it starts being fed to you via fire hose from the very first chapter. Contrastingly, this book is very much more moderate in its offerings. The world here is very familiar fantasy fare, with elves, dwarves, “vampires”, and various breeds of human, with some new bits sprinkled, a la Vatlings (vat-grown blobs with personality), Dreadworms (short-term “dragons” that can be summoned and killed at will by Alf), and a chaotic spread of other monsters that live beneath the surface of the city of Necrad, all of which want to kill anything they can find.

The large majority of the emphasis in the book is on elucidating the details of the world and its history to the reader. By the end, I could absolutely say that I was mightily impressed by the vast swath of background information that has been put together for the foundation of this story. I don’t think I’d quite put it on par with what I found in the Black Iron Legacy, but by comparison against other fantasy books I’ve read, this one was absolutely impressive. The details are layered out a piece at a time as the two main characters make their way across the land. There’s lots of traveling, and lots of sitting in City Councils, and lots of trying to figure out where this new evil is supposedly coming from by Alf. Olva, on the other hand, runs into a friendly dwarf that wants to learn magic, and mostly bumbles her way into the hands of the elves while trying to chase after her son, spends a bunch of time with them doing nothing (lots of world-building though), and is ultimately taken to the city of Necrad to find her brother, The Lammergeier.

THE SWORD DEFIANT is a study in unimportant characters offering a multitude of history and world-building, that ends abruptly in confusion.

Outside of the work done on the world-building and history side of things, there’s very little that piqued my interest. I keep trying here to lay out the difficulties that I had with the read, but really what it comes down to is that I was very underwhelmed by both of the characters. Neither of them seemed to have any real drive to do anything outside of what would directly allow the elucidation of plot or world-building points. Neither of them had any real personality that hit me. At one point, Alf makes a choice that ends up mortally wounding an elf-child that has been living in the city. Alf makes another choice to allow the child to drink his blood and become a vampire, which tells us something of who the man is. Although, the child’s parents are none too happy about what has occurred, nothing else much comes of it. Additionally, Alf’s penchant to be so self-deprecating and the overwhelming absence of any of his “friends” (aka, The Nine), kind of hamstrung the entire story for me. So, it never really got off the ground in terms of telling a story that I actually cared about.

When the climax finally came around, and we had to learn via conversation about what everyone was actually doing and why they were doing it, I was completely checked-out. Not to mention mostly confused as to how that ending brought any sense of completeness to the entire story. Which left me feeling frustrated, confused, and utterly disappointed by what I had absolutely expected to be a fantastic new tale.

That being said, the Black Iron Legacy series (despite being unfinished) is completely awesome and you should read it. I just hope that if this series tanks, the author will still get to finish that one. It is seriously good.

  • Recommended Age: 15+
  • Language: Occasional f-words
  • Violence: Some war violence, some thug violence, nothing too bloody
  • Sex: Nope


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