Audiobook Review: Swordheart by T. Kingfisher
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Romance
Series: The World of the White Rat
Publisher: Tantor Audio (March 23, 2021)
Length: 14 hrs and 32 mins
Narrator: Jesse Vilinsky
Speaking as a recently converted fan of T. Kingfisher/Ursula Vernon’s who discovered her work through The Twisted Ones and The Hollow Places, I was absolutely thrilled when I discovered that Swordheart was coming to audio. Of course, it’s a very different kind of story—not horror or paranormal, but a fantasy romance. Still, I enjoyed it very much, and it drove home the sheer talent and versatility of this author and her ability to spin an entertaining tale that is well-balanced with adventure and humor.
When we first meet our protagonist Halla, the thirty-something-year-old widowed housekeeper has just inherited the entirety of her great-uncle’s estate but is feeling quite depressed about it, to the point of contemplating her own suicide. For you see, the family of her late husband want all that money, and they’ve imprisoned Halla in her home until she agrees to marry her contemptible cousin. Childless with no one to support her, Halla knows taking her own life would be the only way to ensure that the inheritance will pass on to her nieces, and so, after spotting an ancient sword mounted on the wall of her room, she decides to take it down and use it to end it all.
But once she unsheathes the sword, something miraculous happens. An armored man appears before her, calling himself Sarkis, claiming to be the immortal spirit who has been trapped in the enchanted sword, which now rightfully belongs to her. Throughout history, Sarkis has been called upon by the sword’s previous wielders to serve and protect, and he’d be damned if he’s going to allow his latest owner to use him as an agent of her own demise. Together, Sarkis and Halla foil her husband’s despicable relatives to make their daring escape from the house. Next stop: The Temple of the White Rat where Halla can get in touch with a priest to secure her inheritance and the path to her own future.
The story of Swordheart is pretty straightforward; nothing too surprising in terms of twists and turns, yet it still contains many of the hallmarks of a Kingfisher novel, like a seriously creative inventive premise and delightfully hilarious dialogue. This makes the lowkey plot feel much fuller than it actually is.
Of course, we also have the author’s amazing characterization to thank. From her background, you can probably tell Halla isn’t like the typical heroine you’ll find in a romance. She’s sheltered but she’s curious, filled with questions about the world and constantly driving Sarkis to exasperation (which was yet another source of endless amusement for the reader). Sarkis himself is certainly intriguing as romantic interests go—can’t say I’ve read too many books where the hero is a sword, at least! He’s also battle-hardened and jaded, but still retains enough of his humanity to be sensitive towards Halla’s needs, not to mention a wicked sense of humor to go toe-to-toe with her in their witty banter wars.
Still, one thing to keep in mind is that Swordheart is a romance first, and a fantasy novel second. There’s plenty of vivid worldbuilding, but it all comes in second to the relationship development between Halla and Sarkis. Expect some of the usual fluffy tropes that go hand in hand with the genre, like unnecessary drama caused by miscommunication and angsty overreaction, etc. I probably would have been more okay with this had it not led both Sarkis and Halla to make some inexplicably stupid decisions. Thing is, I don’t mind a bit of melodrama in my romance stories, but creating conflict for the sake of conflict is another matter entirely, and I there were some eye-rollingly blatant examples of that here.
And yet for all that, I still really enjoyed Swordheart, if nothing else because of the unique premise and the super sweet, super heartwarming romance it featured between the two very unconventional leads. I thought it was especially fun to listen to the audiobook, which was charmingly read by narrator Jesse Vilinsky, and the story’s adventurous themes and easy humor made the hours fly right by. If you’re a fan of the author or fantasy romance, provided that you don’t mind some of the genre’s more frustrating tropes, I would definitely give this one a look.