Book Review! The Staff and the Blade

This is one of the best fantasy books I’ve read. Ever. Full stop.

“The Staff and the Blade” is the fourth book in Elizabeth Hunter’s “Irin Chronicles.” The first book in the series – “The Scribe” – is the very first book I read of Ms. Hunter’s…it was totally my gateway book. I’ve not regretted a Hunter moment since.

The Blurb

Warriors. Lovers. Enemies. Legends.

Their union became pivotal in Irin history, but to understand Damien and Sari’s ending, you must go back to their beginning. Four hundred years ago, a young singer and a hardened warrior met and loved each other, but their life was torn apart by violence.

Love. Desire. Grief. Betrayal.

No matter how much pain and anger stain their lives, bonds in the Irin race cannot be abandoned. Damien and Sari will never truly leave each other, because those who are destined cannot be ignored.

DREAMS: Damien of Bohemia was a legend content to live in obscurity. Weary from a century of human and Irin bloodshed, he took shelter among those who would not question his silence or the martial spells he wore over his body. Until an earth singer of raw power and no delicacy came to the village where he hid. Sari of Vestfold wasn’t intrigued by the mysterious warrior or his moody silences. And she wasn’t interested in listening for the whisper of his soul. Even when those whispers promised a connection that could tie them for eternity.

GHOSTS: A new posting in Paris during Napoleon’s reign leads Sari and Damien back to familiar faces and the Council politics Damien has tried so hard to avoid. But the Irin world has changed in the two hundred years since their mating. The singers have become more isolated. The scribes are more martial. And the Grigori flood growing cities and lay in wait. When Sari’s sister envisions the future, she sees emptiness, chaos, and a darkness that threatens to overtake their world.

MEMORIES: Hidden from Irin society, the Irina have learned to take their revenge on the Grigori. They answer to no one. They ask for no mercy. And forgiveness? That’s the last thing on anyone’s mind. Two hundred years after the Rending, Damien and Sari are thrown together to face a new threat, a girl who might be key to the healing of the Irin race. If they can survive the anger and grief that has separated them for two hundred years.

VISIONS: The Irin and Irina are together again. Society is being rebuilt. But what do you do when the foundation of your world has crumbled? Where do you go when all the boundaries have been redrawn? For Damien and Sari, charting a new path into the future means confronting the demons of the past. They’ve forgiven each other, but can they forgive themselves?

The Cover

tsatb cover

The Review

This review is one of the hardest I’ve ever written. Not for the usual reasons (those being that I’m really searching for the nice bread in the criticism sandwich), but because this book was so very good that I’m not sure how to really do it justice. Anything I say has already been said better by my PSM (if you can manage to ignore the seabug salad).

BUT, since I’ve already started this blog post (about a hundred times), I might as well give you my thoughts.

I received this book as an ARC a few weeks ago because Elizabeth is awesome that way. I tore through it in one sitting, going seriously short of sleep that day (a fact that the author does not seem to feel badly about at all).

I knew from the opening scenes that Elizabeth wasn’t going to go easy on my emotions. It’s a story of unbelievable pain and loss and violence and tragedy and yes – the occasional stubborn idiocy. I’m not going to lie, people. There were times that I wanted to step into the book and give the main characters a good shake (or maybe a swift kick in the pants).

This is more than just an epic love story. This is also a tale of some epic grudge holding (albeit somewhat justifiably).

Sari is still new to her role as official Singer for the Irin when she meets Damien – a warrior with more than a couple of centuries under his belt. They’re not new characters, so anyone’s who’s read the series has a general idea of what’s going on with them, but the opportunity to delve into their relationship, into their feelings, and into their reactions to the events that shape not only them and their love, but their entire people is priceless.

I was a little concerned that Sari would be an unsympathetic character (my worries were fed from outside), but in my mind, her reactions were justified and Damien was the one who needed the larger ass kicking. Fortunately for him, his beloved is not only willing, but able to provide it.

Reading through the Rending was heart-breaking. I felt for each and every person going through that in a way that hadn’t been quite real when it was presented as a past even in the earlier books.

The universe that Elizabeth Hunter has spun for Damien and Sari (and Ava and Malachi and the rest) is intricate and wonderful and perfectly balanced. There is never a jarring detail that pulls me back out of my willing suspension of disbelief. She looks closely at the flaws and the virtues to create well-balanced, realistic, and not always 100% likeable characters. This is a gift not given to every author and watching it unfold (and get better with each book) is marvelous thing for a reader.

The Verdict

Five hundred stars. My only real complaint is that I cannot read it again for the first time. When I finished, I was bereft. Now I’m jealous of every one of you who gets to experience the tumultuous lives of Damien and Sari for the first time.

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