Lem and Mirayah are citizens of Vylari, a land that has been closed off from the rest of the world by a magic barrier through which, according to legend, no one who passes can ever return. They live a peaceful life: Lem is a musician, and Mirayah helps run her family’s vineyard. They are in love and plan to marry… if they can get her parents’ approval.
There has always been a mystery surrounding Lem. His mother left Vylari years ago, and, when she returned, not only did she find it again – she came back pregnant. No one knows how she did it or who the father is. Lem’s mother died when he was young, leaving him in the care of his uncle Shemi, and the mystery of how she was able to leave and return successfully has never been solved.
One day, Lem receives news: a stranger has passed through the barrier with a message about his mother. After speaking to the stranger, Lem sees a vision of destruction. The stranger tells him an evil sorcerer was behind the slaughter, and that the he is coming to Vylari. Lem decides the only way to save his home is to leave, knowing he may never return. He leaves a note for Mirayah explaining what happened. Mirayah and Shemi then decide they are going after Lem to try to bring him home.
Once they leave Vylari, the outside world is different than expected, and each of them is forced into situations that force them to do unspeakable things to survive. Even though they get separated, none of them gives up on the chance to reunite. In order to do so, they will each have to make difficult decisions. The question is, how far will they go to be together again?
In The Bard’s Blade Brian D. Anderson sets the scene really well – Mirayah handling business at the vineyard, Lem getting ready for a show, each thinking about the other and scheming way to get the other alone. We learn that Mirayah’s parents are not happy with her wanting to marry a musician, because they do not think it a stable professions, even though Lem does well enough at his shows. The opening scenes of the novel are really important because it sets up the rest of the story for what is to come. And the reader is given reasons to care about the characters. The author does a great job with this.
This book had me hooked from the beginning. The biggest catch is that it plays out like a fantasy-adventure game from NES. As I follow the characters on their journey, it got a little nostalgic – like I was following Link in The Legend of Zelda as he wandered around, talked to people, opened chests looking for better armor, and walked into towns to find food, shelter and information. Even more specifically, the set up of the world reminds me of the way an adventure video game would start. The characters begin in one place, living their lives when suddenly they are prompted to leave the comfort of their home (usually due to some evil force) and go out into the wider world. Lem leaving Vyalria is just Link wandering around Hyrule – an open-world exploration where anything goes. This was the most intriguing aspect of the story to me.
As the book goes on, it loses this aspect and focuses on two storylines: Lem’s and Mariyah’s. Neither story goes the way I anticipated at all, and, not having read much about the plot before picking up the book, I was surprised at each character’s plight. They evolve in unexpected (and mostly delightful) ways as they work to get back to each other. Much of this growth is due to the nature of Lamoria, the world outside of Vyalria. Having enjoyed a peaceful life in their magic bubble, Lem and Mariyah learn that Lomaria is a much-crueler, hard-nosed place than they thought it would be, and it forces them to make decisions they might not otherwise. I enjoyed the dichotomy this presents, the yin and yang, two sides of the coin.
And I would be remiss if I did not mention the ending. I think the author took the road less traveled and made a difficult choice for the characters. I honestly did not see it coming, and there is nothing more pleasing to me than a shocking ending. Hold on to your hats.
The one issue had with the book came in the middle when there is a little bit of a time jump. I would have rather a summary have been written on this, a few chapters describing the events and how they affected the characters. To at least get a glimpse of their evolution during this time would have added another dimension to the story that I think readers would really appreciate. This is only a minor flaw, though, in an otherwise wonderful read.
The Bard’s Blade is a great book. It is expertly written, with shades of fantasy-adventure video games, awesome characters that grow and change in unexpected ways, magic, and plenty of surprises along the way. I very highly recommend this book for all fantasy readers, and especially those who are into adventure fantasy.