PENNYBLADE by J.L. Worrad.
Titan Books. p/b. £8.99.
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins.
Kyra Cal’Adra is a Commrach, or as the humans call her, an elf, sprite and worse. A natural with a blade, born of high blood, Kyra has left her home and duties behind and now serves as a Pennyblade to those who will pay for her specific services. She is good. Better than the hired Pennnyblades, this Rossley has working for him. The plan is in motion. Not the best plan, as it will turn out. Rossley is more than he appears, and the consequences of this job just became more grave than Kyra anticipated.
Haunted by the memories and ghosts of her past, Kyra is discovering that perhaps running from those she left behind – her brother, her lover, her arch-enemies, not to mention her matriarch grandmother – will not be so easy. She is a twin, and with that comes burdens and desires she cannot shake off, no matter how much these humans and their church would try to make her.
Pennyblade is a narrative of two timelines. The present, where Kyra lives among humans and fights for her keep, and her past, beginning with attendance at the masked Shame Parade, her brother alongside her, where she first glimpsed Shen, the forbidden love she has lost. Kyra narrates both timelines, and parts of the story are spoken to Shen as she recounts her experiences now they are separated.
In terms of genre and tone, this book is definitely on the grim side of contemporary fantasy and is at times overtly graphic, the scenes very reminiscent of Richard Morgan’s A Land Fit for Heroes trilogy. Whilst they leave the reader with no doubts as to Kyra’s carnal desires, there is a jarring clash within her narrative voice, on one side presenting with a very brutal and undeniably masculine view of sex and on the other, incredibly tender moments as she speaks of her love for Shen. For those seeking the action-led, guttural and graphic kind of grimdark, this will work, but for some, Kyra’s character and its contradictions just won’t sit comfortably enough.