In Gareth Hanrahan’s The Sword Defiant, it’s been twenty years since the Nine vanquished Lord Bone and saved the world. Now those heroes have changed. Some have passed, some have become politicians, some have become magnates, and some are lost. And some continue to fight even as they realize they’re getting too old for it. But now something is coming. Something as dark and dangerous as the threat they faced all those years ago.
Alf is trying to bring the heroes together but they’ve grown apart in the intervening years and not all of them are interested in reconciling. The only companion Alf really has is a dangerous, sentient sword that was created by Lord Bone. But the sword is devious and has its own desires. Leaving Alf with no one to trust and a world to save again.
[Note: While I am reviewing this novel independently and honestly, it should be noted that it has been provided to me by Orbit for the purpose of this review. Warning: My review of The Sword Defiant contains some spoilers!]
A reluctant hero bears a heavy burden in The Sword Defiant
When Alf was a young man Lord Bone was using dark magic to try and take over the world. Alf and his eight companions were the only ones who saw the danger. And in the end, these nine heroes defeated Lord Bone and took back the cursed city of Necrad. But it came with a heavy price.
As the hero who actually slayed Lord Bone, Alf took possession of his cursed sword, Spellbreaker. The sword is imbued with many magical properties as well as many (obnoxious) opinions that it loves to share. If Spellbreaker was to fall into the wrong hands the results would be disastrous so Alf keeps the sword with him at all times.
A few years ago, Alf was badly hurt while slaying monsters in the Pits of Necrad. He (his friends) decided he needed a break so he left Necrad and has been traveling the land ever since. But now he’s troubled by a dream. It is calling him, warning him of danger.
Alf goes to visit one of his old companions, Jan. Jan is a priestess of sorts and she warns him that darkness is coming and that the Nine may not be as valiant as they once were. He returns to Necrad bearing this prophecy, searching for his old friends, and terrified of what he might find.
A jaded sister
At the same time as Alf is investigating a possible threat in Necrad, his sister Olva has her life upended in the Mulladales. She hasn’t seen or even thought much of her brother Alf since he left home many years ago. She knows about his adventures in the north and that he’s one of the heroes that saved the world. But she hasn’t heard from him in all those years and she can’t reconcile the brother she knew with the hero she heard about.
So when a stranger shows up at her door with a bag of money and a letter, claiming they’re from her brother, she’s distressed, to say the least. She burns the letter without reading it. Then she throws the money back at the messenger, saying she wants nothing to do with it. Olva hopes that will be the end of the matter but no such luck. Her son, Derwyn, overheard her conversation with the stranger and wants answers. She’s never told him about Alf and he is both shocked and ecstatic to hear about his famous uncle.
Derwyn wants to run off and join Alf, but Olva is dead set against it. But like most teenagers, Derwyn does what he wants without thinking of the consequences. He runs off in the night to find his uncle. His mother is understandably upset. With the help of Bor, the man who brought her Alf’s letter and money, she takes off after her son and begins her own incredible adventure.
The Sword Defiant is the beginning of an epic
Gareth Hanrahan likes to write series and he continues this with The Sword Defiant. It is the first installment of a new series called Lands of the Firstborn. The Sword Defiant does the job of a first entry by introducing important characters and places. It gives us the backstory so we know where we’ve been, lays down the current conditions of where we are, and sets up a problem so we can see where we’re going.
That being said, all this setup does make for a little bit of a slow beginning. It often feels like our hero Alf is just running around willy-nilly to make sure we meet everyone while being caught in a fog of nostalgia until we get all the backstory in. But as first installments go, that’s somewhat normal and I’ve certainly read worse.
Hanrahan crafts some pretty interesting characters from good ol’ boys who made it big to half-crazy shape-shifters to smartass swords. Alf is that big loveable jock that is just trying to do the right thing and that makes him very likable. His sister is so fierce in her motherly love that she’s inspiring.
And perhaps my favorite character (to read, he’s hilarious) is actually Spellbreaker. As they say, villains get the best lines, and Spellbreaker is funny. His sarcasm is a riot, even if he’s a bloodthirsty sword that is happy killing literally anyone. It was his antics that helped me get through the slightly tedious setup at the beginning.
Prepare for a long commitment for a continued series from Gareth Hanrahan
As I mentioned, The Sword Defiant is only the first book in the Lands of the Firstborn series. The second book was promised at the end of The Sword Defiant but no definite dates or timelines have been released for when it and other sequels will be released, or how many there will be.
The Sword Defiant was released on May 2, 2023, and it has over 500 pages. Most likely later installments will be similarly sized so it’s likely that in terms of both reading and waiting time, you’ll need to be prepared for a sizable commitment before starting on this one. That being said, if fantasies that center around defeating dark magic tyrants in medieval settings are your thing, consider making some time in your schedule for The Sword Defiant and its companion books.
My Rating: 7/10
The Sword Defiant by Gareth Hanrahan is available now! Will you be adding this one to your TBR list? Let us know on Twitter or in The Cosmic Circus Discord. And if you haven’t already, check out our review of A Sleight of Shadow!