My first two reviews were pretty scathing. I know. I was pretty harsh on them, and that’s because I was reading outside of my comfort zone in both cases. So let’s get back in the zone, and read something that I should like.
I picked up Sword Sisters on audible purely by chance. I was looking for something else, but noticed that Alex Bledsoe was a co-author, so couldn’t stop myself. I read and loved Alex’s Eddie LaCrosse series (starts with The Sword Edged Blonde, I highly recommend it!), so his name alone got my buy in. I will admit that the book length, at under six hours made it a bit of a tough sell on audible, as for the same credit I could easily have picked up a twenty hour fantasy that I had actually been looking for. But, here we are.
After picking it up, I realised it was not simply fantasy, but YA (young adult) fantasy. I keep trying YA books, and I’m not against them in theory, but I’m really starting to think that me not being the target audience is what’s tarring my opinion of them. Yeah, so my bad about letting you think I was getting “back in the zone” with this review. Still! I like one of the authors, I like half of the genre mix, I’m all about the strong female characters, so maybe it will be okay. (Spoiler: it really won’t be. I go into these books blind without even reading the blurb. I am the opposite of the target audience for this book)
Tara Cardinal decided to narrate the audio version herself, and she did a good job, no complaints with her performance, and she has a good voice. As they co-wrote this, I am placing the blame on both shoulders, and won’t even try to guess at who wrote what, because ultimately they both would have checked it, and anything that got through had both of their hands in it.
First critique? The name. Nothing wrong with the name, but just typing “Sword Sisters” into Amazon returned a whole load of other books. I had to type the title and the author to find it. Annoying, but, I suppose, not the author’s fault.
Let’s get to the real first critique. The Prologue. It’s rather in vogue these days to bash the very existence of a prologue, and I get why. I mean, surely it should just be Chapter 1? If it’s long enough, could it be its own short story? If it’s an exposition dump… what the hell are you doing starting your book with an exposition dump? All good points. Their prologue sits firmly in the realms of “exposition dump”. A fun quirk of mine is that, actually, I don’t really mind those. I’d rather have a few pages of upfront lore, than awkwardly weaving it throughout the story, giving me too much at time, and too little at others. So, exposition dump, no problem for me. If you don’t like them, feel free to skip it, because they actually do an okay job of giving the reader what they need to know as if the dump wasn’t there. I liked it, and yeah, the entire thing reads as very cliched, with no new elements coming to the fore, so possibly a weak start to a book, but it gives you the warm snuggly feeling that you know exactly what’s coming. No surprises here. Which isn’t a negative. The surprises come from the characters, so the known setting is fine.
So what’s the critique? Rape. I’m not a precious little flower that demands trigger warnings on all media. In fact, there isn’t any actual description of the act. But the entire premise of the book is “Demons raped women, bad stuff happened, now demons are trying to be good but rape woops”.
Now, I don’t like hearing about rape in any form, but the beauty of writing is that I have a legitimate reason to say it’s bad. It’s bad because it’s lazy writing. If a female character’s only motivation is rape – you’ve written a shit character. Congrats.
If the only thing you can think of as something that would motivate a female character is rape? Shit author.
I am aware that rape happens, but I do not want it in my fucking relaxation time. What is this, the fucking news? I stopped reading that for their bullshit scare-mongering, so stop putting this fucking garbage into things that are meant to be fun!
Side-rant over. No character in here is motivated solely by rape, but instead rape defines the entire human race’s attitude towards demons. Let’s get into what the actual story is, instead of my highly condensed, not entirely fair, summary above.
Humans were hanging around doing human things. Demons came down and invaded. They raped all the women. These women died in childbirth, and gave birth to half demons called reapers. Turns out, reapers? Even worse than demons. What a shit, huh? So these reapers carry on a raping and a pillaging, as you do. This time, the rape leads to quarter demons, which, confusingly, are also called reapers. The difference this time? Well, the women still all die in childbirth, which for the standard fantasy period of medieval Europe is highly accurate at the sign of any complication (I mean, really. Back then, a stiff breeze during a contraction? You ded), so not knocking that, but this time, there was a difference. These new quarter demon reapers were human enough to feel guilt at the death of their mothers.
Don’t question it! Why were these reapers being raised by human fathers that would be teaching them about their mother? Were they able to remember childbirth and killing their mother? Were their demon parents taunting them about it? Don’t question it!
The these new reapers feel bad, and decide to help the humans, and they manage to fight back the demons, and the world is saved yay, and now the reapers all live with the humans, but also retain the eternal guilt of what “they” did, and so are subservient to humans. To make amends. Which is fucking weird, because they didn’t do anything, but okay.
Also, some human witch was raped by a demon, and managed to survive the childbirth, so there is one rape survivor. Great news, no?
And that brings us to our main character. A 12 year old reaper, the daughter of this survivor. In the first chapter it’s also stated pretty definitively (again, no actual description) that she was raised by demons for a time, and they raped her a lot, so she doesn’t like anyone touching her. Top notch.
Okay, so, with all of that out of the way, we get to what’s actually happening. A young boy, while out hunting, finds our protagonist, Aella, lying between some rocks with an arrow sticking out of her back. He assumes he shot her and drags her back to his hunting hide. She doesn’t want him to cut away her tunic, as it will then become obvious she’s a reaper, and humans treat them with mistrust, if not outright fear. He does it anyway, and doesn’t care she’s a reaper. He pushes the arrow through her, knowing that her self healing will save her life, and everything’s good. He kisses her on the cheek twice, because, I don’t know about you, but that’s what I’d do when a nearly dead girl is put in front of me!
She gets better, and is taken back to the reaper training castle by her mentor.
Six years, to be precise (Well… she’s 18 now, so that’s 6 years. BUT reapers age much slower than humans, so it might have actually been about 30 years. Unclear). We learn that, as the king’s future bodyguard (the king is in hiding), she has a servant, so that she can see how the king would feel. The servant is a human, and Aella is pretty sure this servant mistrusts her. A big point is made about how the servant has to leave the room while Aella changes, because of the whole uncomfortable rape thing.
Also, in the past six years, she’s totally idolised the kiss on the cheek from this unknown stranger, and has been trying to find him, but doesn’t even know his name.
We meet some of her peers, who all dislike her – apart from one guy, of course. One of them, who is much older, already famed for her martial prowess, and just generally better than Aella at everything, is jealous that Aella has been earmarked as the king’s bodyguard. And you know what? I agree. Really though. Why is Aella the– oh right, the prophecy. Aella, as the last of her kind, the Red Reaper, so to speak, is potentially the reaper of prophecy.
Side note here: good banter between Aella and the reapers she doesn’t like. Authors nailed that feeling of saying what you wished you’d said in an argument a few hours earlier. That’s the advantage of book-snark. Good stuff, and a few of the lines endeared me to Aella a bit more in this scene.
Next, when she’s out sitting on a tree that overlooks the forest that she met the mysterious boy in, her friend suggests that Aella looks for the rocks where he first found her. Fuck me, six years, and that’s the first time they considered looking for landmarks? Eighteen year olds are allowed to be naive, and not world-weary, but they can’t be fucking morons. Come on, authors, get with it.
A little bit more is said about the “king in hiding”, in the same breath as she’s searching for her mysterious kisser boy. I wonder if the two might be related at all? Hmmmm? Well, you know what? I hope they are. Damn right, that’s what I want. Hit those tropes for me!
Finally, we meet the sister. The sword sister, I mean. She’s being dragged around by men, and just to mix things up, they’re not actually trying to rape her. Shocker, I know! Instead, they’re tying her to a sacrificial altar for a God to consume. Of course, there are no Gods, and most likely it’s just a wild animal that kills of the local village’s offerings, but those silly men and their religion. They do enjoy hazing the local virgin women. Classic men.
Aella frees the woman, Amelia, and they are immediately set upon by a giant spider! When the human is threatened, Aella blacks out, and comes back after her reaper instincts took over and did the killing for her. Day = saved.
Just going to throw this out there: would have liked the two main characters to have different first letters of their names. Bit confusing. Onwards!
Aella is taken back to a human village after she passes out. When she wakes up, she realises she’s naked, and of course feels much shame at this fact.
Some stuff happens and we meet Amelia’s family. The father is a dick. The village elder is a dick. Every adult male is a dick, basically. Now, I’m starting to take issue with things at this point, but I’m conflicted. One could say…
So, the book’s entire premise is based on rape and men being misogynists, right? There’s no argument there, it’s obvious, and that’s part of the problem. I mean, this is some serious on-the-nose commentary of modern society. Social commentary is great, fantasy is a perfect medium for that, and I fully support it, but this is… it’s making caricatures of all the male roles. I can’t take that seriously, and it’s detracting from the story. However, not only is it detracting from the story, but it’s also detracting from the point the book is wanting to get across!
Frankly, at this point in the story, I was feeling like this was a particularly long tumblr post.
If there’s no subtlety, there’s no realism. THIS is the issue I take with MOST young adult books (sweeping generalisation, happy to discuss specifics when it’s not a side rant).
So why am I torn?
Well, because, despite my personal prejudice, we’ve got to accept that, the way the world is presented so far… these males are acting the way they probably should act. With everything that’s happened, the ye olde timey of the setting, the religious beliefs etc. I mean, yeah. These men are realistically portrayed.
But if we’re allowing that idea to ring true, then we have to ask are the women realistically portrayed, given the setting as presented? I mean, multiple generations of women were massacred via demon baby rape, so shouldn’t the women actually be a highly sought after commodity, and they are protected and few in number, most likely leading to men revering them? Well… let’s move on, shall we. I’m trying to review a book, not launch a fucking social justice crusade.
Okay, FINAL point on the whole, at this point very annoying, men vs. women thing:
“Men always underestimate me because of my size and my gender.”
Now, because the authors are being SO on the nose here, I’m going to have to take this as a realistic thing. Let me hit you with a direct quote from the book: “In battle, size really doesn’t matter.” Of course, in the story, she’s a reaper and so has superhuman strength. But… I’m not going to actually go into why this is so wrong of a message to try and impart to young girls, but it’s very not helpful, and it’s triggering me.
Okay, rants and spoiler review over.
Moving forward, the SJW issues are only mentioned every other page instead of every page, and it becomes a touch more bearable (or Stockholm Syndrome set in, hard to tell). There’s still issues, like the different power levels between various people (an untrained swordsman lands a hit on a reaper, but this same reaper a few chapters later goes on to do some spinny crazy shit that would one shot a demon with perfect accuracy. Doesn’t make sense.)
Should you buy it?
I don’t like the rape thing, even when it’s never made graphic. Frankly, the theme and cast seem like a made to order “let’s cash in on the YA market while it’s booming” project, and that is exactly what gives YA a bad name.
I have read and enjoyed female-centric and female positive books in the past. Hell, I’ve written a YA urban fantasy with a female protagonist. I don’t just not mind it, I love it! I think they can be a great influence on people’s lives. Sword Sisters, sadly, is not. At least, it’s not for me.
Ignoring the annoying SJW overtones, this was a fun book, I liked the main characters, and would thoroughly recommend it to anyone that enjoys the YA fantasy genre, and is of a VERY specific demographic!
Unfortunately for me, there was nothing to elevate it beyond standard YA, and frankly almost had me joining #notallmen.
Alex Bledsoe has also written The Sword Edged Blonde in the Eddie Lacrosse series, which I highly recommend!
Tara Cardinal is an actress, filmmaker, and author. I can’t speak to the quality of her other media, but I for one won’t be holding my breath for further literary work from her. I will admit that I’m tempted to see her film, as I believe it is the sequel to this book!
Rating: 1/5 (15%)
Favourite Character: Amelia
Favourite Quote: “In battle, size really doesn’t matter.”