Love, betrayal, duty and responsibility form the hallmark of The 19th Bladesman (Dark Blade Publishing), an epic fantasy by S. J. Hartland. The first in the Shadow Sword series (the next two coming later this year), The 19th Bladesman introduces us to Telor, a land ruled by kings, queens, the gods they believe in, and the ones that have fallen.

Kaell is a warrior. Bound to the god, Khir, he is just one of a line of 19 young men chosen to defeat Archanin, the evil ghoul king. For centuries, the bonded warriors have existed to fight ghouls, and all have died young.

Nobody knows the path of a bladesman better than Val Arques, Kaell’s ward and that of every bonded warrior throughout history. Val Arques has a past all his own and, as he prepares Kaell for the trials ahead, his position and his duty to his king are tested time and again.

Neither test can compare though, to the challenge he faces when Kaell is captured by the very monsters he was born to kill. The internal battle fought by the Lord of the Mountains, however, isn’t the only war. As two other kings fight for power and control of the Isles, the two worlds collide, weaving together their stories in a way that is both complex and intriguing. Magic, prophecy, legend and mystery shroud the characters and their journeys until, with every turn of the page, it becomes less clear who they can trust.

Soon, the line between the natural and the supernatural blurs, as Hartland draws the reader into the many plot twists and turns. Who are these characters? What do they believe in? And, will they succeed in their quest to conquer evils both real and imagined?

One of the elements of fantasy I find most fascinating is the use of multiple points of view to tell a story. Hartland uses six. The shift of focus from one character to another allowed me to fully grasp the scope of the action – important when you consider the multilayered plot.

 Though there are many more than six characters in this tale, Hartland chooses the most essential to tell her story, effectively presenting each subject’s motivation in a way that ties all the characters together. The male characters are capable, determined and vulnerable and the females are strong-willed, outspoken and bewitchingly cunning. More than once while reading, I smiled at their wit and conviction.

The way Hartland uses language to create mood is especially impressive. She builds suspense in tense moments with alternating long and short sentences and infuses her descriptions with plenty of imagery to help you fall into the scene. The world she creates is truly an escape.

Fans of A Game of Thrones and The Lord of the Rings will appreciate the spirit of this work and the way Hartland’s words test readers’ limits. She brings to light the fears that hold us back and calls into question who we’re destined to become as a result of the sacrifices we make.

The 19th Bladesman is now available for purchase.

Learn more about S.J. Hartland on her Author Profile page.

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Susan Hartland, staff, 04 April 2008. photo Kevin Farmer

S.J. Hartland is an Australian journalist and foil fencer who has spent too many holidays wandering around obscure castles and is obsessed with anything medieval. She is originally from Townsville, north Queensland, lived in Sydney for many years and now calls the Darling Downs home. The 19th Bladesman, the first in the Shadow Sword series, is her first book. The second in the series, The Last Seer King, will be released in May 2019.