Sometimes when you finish a really good book, you do not want to pick up another because you want to linger in that world just a wee bit longer. And on those rare occasions when you get immersed in a book that is so much better than what you’ve been reading, you just cannot read anything else because you know it won’t compare. For me, that perfectly describes Kate Cudahy’s fantasy novel Hal.
Kate is a new-to-me author, and honestly one that I probably would have never taken a chance on if she hadn’t contacted World’s Edge Tavern. The truth is that photo covers like the one of this book really turn me off, especially in the fantasy genre. I know, I know, the old saying is that you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover. But I do. We all do. So, if you have the same hangups about photo book covers like me, do not let that steer you away from this book because you will truly be missing out on something spectacular.
Before reading any further, know that the review below contains some minor spoilers.
I knew that I was in for long haul when … as soon as the character of Beric was introduced in the beginning I knew that if the rest of the book was a disaster, that at least this character would be a fun one. I wasn’t wrong, he remained one of my favorites throughout the entire book. Then, a few paragraphs later at Marc party there is a scene where Hal gets sassy with someone who bet against here – that’s the point when I knew for sure that this was going to be a fun read all the way through.
Style snippet …
“Well Hal, looks like you’ve done us proud today, girl.” She winced as he squeezed her shoulder beneath a bear-like paw. Unlike Marc, Beric was incapable of gentleness or subtlety. His silvery hair and beard gave him an unnervingly metallic appearance which, combined with brutish strength made him an intimidating character. That was, at least, how the young cadets in his duelling academy saw him. But Hal had learned long ago that beneath the rough exterior lurked a paternal spirit, if not a soft heart.
“You know,” he continued, “I was a mite worried in that last round, girl. Tiring were you?” He leant forward, his eyes narrowing to slits as he scrutinised her. Hal looked away.
“I won. That’s all that matters, isn’t it?”
“No, lass, as I’ve told you many times: style can make or break a good fight, especially as far as the punters are concerned. Now, I suppose you’ll be wanting your prize money?”
“The thought had crossed my mind.”
“Half for you, half for me, right?” He leaned back again, a tight, provocative smile concealed beneath his brindled moustache.
“As always.” Tired and irritated, Hal was in no mood for banter.
“Very well. Don’t go throwing it away like the last time. I won’t be bailing you out again before the next fight.”
“Beric, please just give me the cursed money, I’m tired.” Crossing her arms she glared at him, aware of how much pleasure he derived from dragging out these little deals.
Beric shook his head, unoffended, and handed her the winnings.
“There you go, just give me another such success in your next duel.”
“Your confidence in my abilities is overwhelming, Beric.” Snatching the bag of coins from his outstretched hand, she turned to go.
“And your respect for your elders and betters is the talk of the town, girl.” She stopped, contemplating a response, but then thought better of it. The prospect of quarrelling with Beric was not an appealing one. Instead, she made her weary way across the arena, aware that she had just granted another victory to the old master.
A very small part of her conceded that he was right. Sometimes vanity got the better of her and she flaunted her skills instead of reserving her strength. Only the previous month her opponent had sliced open her arm as she attempted to somersault across the circle. Beric had been furious.
“I can see you don’t need any more training,” he’d yelled, “when you’re prepared to throw away a duel for the sake of looking like a damned acrobat!”
Although she would never have admitted it, the reprimand had remained with her during this fight, As the Easterner had swung, blocked and parried she focussed upon his weaknesses, using his own strength against him to bring him down. Not such spectacular fighting, but certainly more effective. The last thing she wanted was another armful of Beric’s crooked stitching.
What surprised me about this book … I was really surprised when Hal actually had to kill her ex-lover. Often in books when a scene like this is set up, you expect the main character to find another way. I guess that’s because most books are written like that! But not this one. And what’s great about this is though it is gut-wrenching to read, you can actually see that it is just as terrible for Hal, yet she knows that she has to do it. It really has some emotional depth that you don’t get in a lot of fantasy books.
My favorite character … is still Beric. I loved him at the beginning and he remained my favorite. I think of him as a lovable brute. He’s hard on Hal but he really just wants what is best for her. Of course, it is the same with Marc and I really enjoy the banter between him and Hal. And finally, I can’t leave out the small band of thieves that Hal hangs out with. They’re a fun bunch as well.
At the end of the day, I simply cannot recommend this book highly enough. I know I said that Lindsay Buroker’s Warrior Mage was maybe my favorite book this year, but it has now been replaced by Hal. Though I do want to make sure that I point out that a romance is at the core of this book, since that is not everyone’s cup of tea. That being said, it is still a fantasy book at it’s core – you’ve got the duelling, the setting off on a quest to go after someone, a battle and lots of other goodies.
This book seems to be available now from Amazon.
And, if you’re interested in reading a review of this book as a LGBT book, visit Wilde Times Tavern.