Honeyed Words by J. A. Pitts
More Norse mythology! I’m a happy camper. The Norse myths are fertile ground for writers, given that British and Egyptian mythology have been used so frequently up until now. J. A. Pitts exploded onto the scene last year with Black Blade Blues, and the sequel, Honeyed Words, is just as satisfying.
(Description nicked from the back of the book.)
“Sarah Beauhall is a blacksmith, has a night job as a props manager for a low-budget movie, and her free time is spent fighting in a medieval re-enactment group. Her world falls apart when Sarah repairs an ancient sword that everyone suddenly wants. Just who is “everyone”? Dragons, for one, real creatures who live among us as shape-shifters, beings who in fact have been the secret masters of our world from time immemorial.
Sarah tries to make her way in this new world, and as she does, she discovers just how little she knows of the reality of existence. Fairies and dwarves and giants abound, the fault line of the Pacific Northwest is rife with ancient Norse magic, and Odin himself (in the guise of a homeless guy named Joe) appears at will, with ravens at his side and cryptic advice for the fledgling heroine. And the cherry on the sundae? The discovery that Sarah’s girlfriend is from a family that’s been battling these forces for generations. They look to Sarah as their last best hope and beseech her to take on her destiny and become humanity’s savior.
What’s a girl to do when the powers of the world decide that you’re responsible for cleaning up the magical mess?”
One of the things that I’ve noticed about Pitts is that he excels at combining action with character development. Sarah definitely fits the moniker “chick who kicks butt”, and yet both novels have given readers insights into her personality beyond what can be seen on the surface. And what we see is that Sarah is a deeply flawed heroine, giving trust with difficulty and berating herself for the least little perceived weakness. But it’s how she learns to handle these issues that charts her course towards being a strong character, and readers get to take that journey with her.
Speaking of characters, there are a couple of minor ones that stood out in Honeyed Words. The first is Qindra, the magic-user bound to the dragon Nidhogg. She’s enigmatic, but Pitts writes her with a wry wit and an iron will. Nevertheless, she faces some serious threats alongside Sarah and at those times comes across as a solid and powerful mage. The other interesting character is Bub, a kobold attached to a blacksmith through a magic amulet. He has a wary relationship with Sarah, but it’s one in which he gets a measure of respect for the first time. I enjoyed watching the dynamics between the two as they learned about each other.
The plot in this book seemed to be focused a bit more tightly on Sarah. In the first novel, we learned about her, but we also had the set-up for a huge world full of myths and monsters. Here, the immense and immortal beings are still present, but Sarah has some growing to do and the action is seen through that lens. That doesn’t mean that the plot is slow or lacking. On the contrary, readers will find plenty of chaos and mayhem to entertain them.
The other aspect of this novel that I greatly enjoyed was the atmosphere. A good chunk of the story takes place at the house and smithy of Anezka, a fellow blacksmith introduced to Sarah early on in the tale. Her house has something creepy going on inside, and both the description of the issue and the explanation of where it came from is eerily evocative. I almost enjoyed that part of the story more than Sarah’s main plotline, because the dark atmosphere—and its effect on Anezka—was really compelling.
Honeyed Words is a richly layered tapestry of tale-telling. It’s got great characters, high-octane action and complex worldbuilding. My anticipation for this novel was well rewarded and I can’t wait to see what Pitts comes up with in future novels.
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on July 26, 2011.