The Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off (SPFBO) Finalist Review: “The Mortal Blade” by Christopher Mitchell

I’m a judge for the first-ever SPSFC (Self Published Science Fiction Contest), but couldn’t help noticing the parallel SPFBO (Self Published Fantasy Blog-Off) contest happening. I always love finding some new indie authors and books, so I decided to read through the finalists of that contest and review them on my site. As always, let me know your own thoughts in the comments.

The Mortal Blade by Christopher Mitchell

The Mortal Blade follows several characters on their journey in a city that has an eternal siege from green skinned goblins. The only thing holding back the hordes appears to be the intervention of a massive dragon, whom the people of the city revere and take care of. Characters include a shape-shifting assassin, a new ultra-powerful warrior who takes the fight to the horde, a fairly stuck up nobleman, and a down-on-her-luck solider hoping to not join the cleaning crew.

At first, the diverse array of views makes several chapters verge on baffling at times as readers have to re-orient themselves to the new characters. Each character, however, is interesting enough to carry the story on his or her own. Mitchell strips away a lot of the filler that some epic fantasies have–almost a necessity given the number of main characters he’s developing–and presents a no-frills approach to epic fantasy. This approach is clear in the world-building. For example, the city in which the plot takes place is intriguing, but Mitchell doesn’t info-dump about it, either through characters or narrative. Instead, readers learn about the city only through individual characters’ viewpoints. There are no massive walls of text describing the political mechanics going on behind the scenes. Instead, readers get only what they “see” through characters’ eyes. As a setting, it works because the question of the Eternal Siege looms over it, making the city interesting because of the sense of impending doom.

The “no-frills” approach also characterizes the novel more generally. Mitchell takes readers straight to the action time and again. This doesn’t mean there is no room for reflection or character development, but it does mean some of the standard trappings of epic fantasy like lengthy descriptions of the setting, characters’ clothes, etc. aren’t there. This is both a blessing and a curse, as it gets readers right into the thick of things time and again, but also makes it hard to slow down and orient oneself as one reads it.

Mitchell weaves an interesting tale here that ultimately brings some characters together while also bringing up additional plot threads and broader conflicts. This city has quite a bit going on in it, and I was all-in from the beginning to several excellent hooks tied to each character’s story arc. Doing some more research on the series, I found that this book is the first book in the series, but part of a much larger series that has been ongoing before it. I will definitely be reading more, but not sure where I’ll start next.

The Mortal Blade was a fun–even refreshing–read. The characters give readers a great vision of a powerfully wrought setting. Meanwhile, the fairly relentless action and use of magic makes it feel like a fully-realized fantasy world. Recommended for fans of epic fantasy, especially if they like urban fantasy settings.

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