Don’t draw your blade in the City of Swords, unless you’re willing to kill… or ready to die.
Young and filled with idealistic fervor, Arturo packs his blade and travels to the fabled City of Swords in the hopes of joining the dashing Bravadori. Yet upon arriving he discovers these masked vigilantes have more in common with brutal thugs than noble monster slayers. Disillusioned and mocked, he stubbornly refuses to give up his dreams.
When an impending bandit attack threatens untold depravities upon a distant village, and no others will heed the call for help, Arturo joins forces with a worthless outcast and a walking legend to attempt the impossible, to traverse the demon-haunted wilderness and prove that in the City of Swords, true heroes can rise from the unlikeliest of places.
There’s something about folklore and fairytales that captures my imagination.
They aren’t the same as normal stories. They’re shorter. Sparser with the details. But they have this sense of other. There’s magic in the words. Monsters hiding beneath the pages.
There’s a feeling, an aesthetic, that you just don’t often find in your average fantasy novel. There are memories of reading under the covers by torchlight, or of swapping ghost stories around a campfire. You may be aware that you’re reading a story, but you’re so wrapped up in the atmosphere — be it ominous, mysterious, or full of wonder — that you just don’t care.
Benedict Patrick’s books are folktales within folktales. His characters have legends and fables of their own. Short stories that are dotted between the chapters, giving us an insight into the worldview of the characters, and the reality of their world.
Those Brave, Foolish Souls From the City of Swords is a book that challenges the legitimacy of these legends. The Bravadori of Espadapan are a famed group of domino-masked fencers with a magical Knack for swordsmanship. Children are raised on stories of famous Bravadori who protected the city and the surrounding countryside from monsters and bandits.
But when Arturo visits the City of Swords, he finds that these legends have lost more than a little truth in the telling. The Bravadori are not heroes. At least, not any more. They are little more than self-centered, foul-mouthed thugs, split into “stables” of varying reputation, who patrol the streets hunting for a fight.
Even within these stables, backstabbing and politicking are rife. Bravadori crawl over each other to climb the hierarchy, and those who disgrace the name of the Bravadori are ostracised and labelled “Shaven”.
Of course, what qualifies as a “disgrace” is completely up to the interpretation of whoever holds the most power.
This corruption of the Bravadori ideal, juxtaposed with the naive beliefs of a boy who just wants to be a hero, is really quite fascinating. It is just one of a number of contrasts, but it strikes me as perhaps the most important. It’s quite easy to “be a hero” when everyone is doing it, but it’s something else entirely when you’re on your own.
It’s the mark of a great folktale when you’re left with little philosophical thoughts like that, and this book provokes quite a few of those. Benedict Patrick is able to seamlessly blend the qualities of novel and folktale — giving us something that keeps the atmosphere of the former but provides the nuance of the latter.
You wouldn’t expect a fairytale to have complex and flawed characters, but this book provides that.
Arturo is a boy with an uncommon Knack who wishes to be a Bravador. Yizel is a Shaven who struggles to earn enough money to survive. Crazy Racoon is a legendary Bravador who worries that his reputation may be at risk.
Each of these characters feels like an individual, and it’s wonderful to watch them all interact as their stories become intertwined. There’s just enough of a novel in there to feel satisfied with the character development, but not so much so that the fairytale feeling is lost.
This is a fantastic little book that is entirely unique, and as such, it’s tough to find a comparison. It’s like Grimm’s Fairytales: The Extended Edition, now with added Latin-American flair.
There’s nothing out there quite like the Yarnsworld books. I highly recommend that you try them out.