Review: Crossing Swords by Kirsten Saell

I’ll use the official blurb for Crossing Swords lest I bungle things up or give too much away: One duel. Easy money. Then Gil fell for his opponent. A straight duel to the death. A professional opponent who’s paying him to win. This was going to be the easiest money Gil had ever earned. Except he never counted on his opponent being a woman. And he never counted on falling for her. After avenging the brutal murder of her lover, all Lianon wants is to die a clean death. Too bad the man she hired doesn’t do women, and he’s furious over her deception. Not only does he renege on their contract, he has the gall to lock her up in his apartment—naked, no less!—to punish her for her ruse. If she could just get her mind out of the gutter, she’d cut him a new smile. But ever since he saw through her boy’s clothes, all she can think about is getting him naked, too. But just when she’s found something to live for, the father of her lover’s murderer surfaces. He wants Lianon to die screaming—and he’s all too happy to take Gil down with her.

This is a Samhain title I’ve been meaning to get around to for a while, largely because of the cover–hey, platinum blonde with a sword in a fantasy setting–that’s me! Okay, take off thirty years and put me in a fantasy setting, but hey, I have a sword…

Right, right, the story. I don’t think this book has received the attention it deserves, probably because of the tremendous number of offerings out there and Kirsten’s somewhat recent arrival onto the groovy scene.

So, I like to get my biases out of the way and out in the open: I love fantasy, but I’ve read enough of it to be a little hard to impress. Kick-arse heroines, as they say, are fine, as long as they really are. One can be a stay-at-home mom and be a kick-arse heroine. A smart tongue doesn’t count. A sword helps. I’m very, very leery of too much sex (as my husband is quick to point out, harde-har-har). That is, give me the story, and make it good, cause I have too many dings in the wall already.

Ms. Saell’s book isn’t all about sex, not by a long shot, but it comes really close to having sex on every page. Phew. I’m worn out! She’s managed to write a real fantasy plot and indulge the senses with enough sex for…for anyone. There’s a lot of meaningless sex (purposefully–prostitution figures heavily here), meaningful sex between lovers, sexual healing, and brutal villainous, heinous sex (one note: I’m not sure this book is for those who have been abused physically, unless you want to see the villain get his ass kicked mightily).

While the sex is almost overkill for me, the writing is superb. Ciar is a green-eyed monster superb. Ms. Saell’s descriptive talents are really amazing. If you’ve read fantasy, then you’ve read a tavern scene, with grime, a fireplace, floozies and quirky characters aplenty. What could have been really cliche is dead on here. The setting reminded me of the film Gangs of New York, or Oliver Twist. Am I comparing the description to Dickens? Gosh, guess I am. That’s a first.

The first chapter is so good, ending with such a bang and a twist, you’re totally hooked. Gil is a great hero and Lianon is a very, very sympathetic heroine. Their motivations ring true, their actions makes sense. Ms. Saell writes with what I’d call a masculine voice, really suited to fantasy. This is not a “worship the goddess” fantasy, but more a “slit the bastard’s throat in the night so I can get back to my lover” fantasy. The romance is secondary to the lust, but there’s promise of a happy-ever after.

So, my complaint: I want the whole shebang, the whole ball of wax, the big kahuna. I want a long, fully fleshed out fantasy from Ms. Saell, with quests, great adventures, taverns and fortresses, battles, intrigue, tons of secondary characters…something much more involved and much longer. Like Robert Jordan longer. Her voice is like that, and she has that in her. Hey, maybe it’s not what she wants to do, and you little oversexed-pots can carry on with this great new writer!

In the meantime (kidding, why would she listen to me), it’s good to know that Crossing Swords and two more works in the series are available. Two thumbs up!


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