The Sword Defiant by Gareth Harahan

The Sword Defiant
Lands of the Firstborn, book 1
by Gareth Hanrahan

Many years ago, Sir Aelfric and his nine companions saved the world, seizing the Dark Lord’s cursed weapons, along with his dread city of Necrad. That was the easy part.

Now, when Aelfric – keeper of the cursed sword Spellbreaker – learns of a new and terrifying threat, he seeks the nine heroes once again. But they are wandering adventurers no longer. Yesterday’s eager heroes are today’s weary leaders – and some have turned to the darkness, becoming monsters themselves.

If there’s one thing Aelfric knows, it’s slaying monsters. Even if they used to be his friends.

I loved Alf as our main character. He’s the capable, loyal hero from the legends, but when we meet him he’s an older, jaded man without a clear purpose in the world. He has ties to a lot of important people, each of whom he’s quite fond of. But when he returns to them after some time away, he finds that the world he loves in isn’t as black and white as it once seemed. His friends are on opposite sides of many issues and he isn’t as up-to-date on local politics or even personal matters to have the confidence to step up as the leader he’s supposed to be but never really wanted to be. Gone are the days when the Nine were united. Now, the good guys are doing some shady things, and the bad guys now include some really good people. Alf is stuck in the middle, doing his best to navigate this murky situation and make the right decisions without betraying his conflicting feelings and loyalties.

The world is large, with a rich history. Although the story centers around the city of Necrad, we get to see a number of other places and uncover the complicated and often strained relations between the regions and races. The story starts out strong, with plenty of adventure and intrigue. Once things are in motion and the conflict isn’t as clear as expected, nor are the leaders as united, the pace slows for a while to give us more world-building and lore. Although I do wish there was more action within these parts, all the stories we hear within this section of the book become important later on when the pacing picks up again. It starts out like a standard quest, but develops into so much more.

Each piece of the adventure introduces new characters and layers new information on top of we already know. There is a lot going on, but it’s delivered in an easily digestible way that I think would also work well for people newer to epic fantasy who are maybe intimidated by the amount of information that often comes with this genre. Having a very limited number of point-of-view characters also kept the story from running in too many directions while keeping a lot of the mystery alive regarding who’s behind everything happening.

Overall, I really enjoyed this. There is adventuring and politics, lots of characters, history, and magic. I love stories with complex character relations and conflicts that don’t always have a clear side. This book gave me both of those things while using a lot of fantasy elements that I like in a way that felt unique and engaging. I would recommend this whether you’re new or old to the genre.