Welcome to the Blog Tour for The Sword In The Street; this time, we are both doing the tour and we buddy-read this book, so you get two reviews!
Title: The Sword In The Street
Author: C. M. Caplan
Publisher: Razor Sharp Books
Publication Date: March 3, 2021
Genres: (Adult) Fantasy
Trial by battle is a holy rite on Hillside. Hired blades bleed their foes in savage duels, settling everything from petty grievances to the corporate laws that keep their citizens in line. Embroiled in these cutthroat political games is John Chronicle, an impoverished swordsman with no better prospects, seeking the duel that will free him from the Dregs.
Meanwhile, John’s boyfriend Edwin, an autistic university student, befriends a fellow scholar who claims to study the arcane art of thaumaturgy. When she offers to teach Edwin this subtle magic, he hopes that he can use it to bolster John’s skill with a blade. But thaumaturgy is a dangerous magic, and the forces that drive it have other plans.
The couple soon find themselves entangled in the web of intrigue surrounding the swordsmen and their sponsors, and they’re forced to question how bloody they’re willing to get to escape poverty — and they don’t come away with the same answer.
Trigger and Content Warnings
- On-page: Profanity, Violence, Ableism, Self-Harm, Addiction/Withdrawal
- Alluded To: Abuse – Never shown on the page, but an important aspect to the backgrounds of each main character, and talked about between them; Rape – It is never directly depicted, though the victim recounts the events during a monologue about halfway through.
Is this book diverse?
Mental disability rep, Neuroatypicality, Queer rep (Bisexual, Gay, MLM relationship)
We’ve received Advanced Reader’s Copies of this book from the publisher and Caffeine Book Tours as part of our participation in their tour.
Nobody seeking vengeance would want to fill in so many forms.
When Ruthsic sent me the link for the blog tour for this book I knew I’d join immediately. An indie fantasy book that features a main gay lead and his relationship with his Autistic bi partner dealing with both their harsh relationship and their society’s rules changing thanks to their actions?! COUNT ME IN. It’s like a candy store and I’m its only available customer on the premises. I have to applauded C. M. Caplan for writing such a complex and quite original take on the fantasy genre. I don’t think I had the enjoyment to read such a book that breaks some generic tropes and gives the aspect of the magic a bit of a secondary focus while the book real crust is John and Edwin’s spiraling unplanned circumstances that puts their love on this trial.
“You’re more popular than you give yourself credit for,” the lordess said. “The spectators like you, John. They see you as one of them. No matter how good you get, you’ll always be the lowborn boy with a fighting chance.”
So how about we take a step back and talk about this book pros before its con? I adore John being a survivor and trying to make a living on this unfortunate neighborhood. Coming from poverty I think is all but relatable no? Who hasn’t been tormented by constant count of their savings, trying to make the best impression in a job they despise all the while trying to provide for their loved ones who is privileged kid who doesn’t get this strife? John perilous journey from losing his job, to find a new meaning and a fallout with his lover was all too realistic to me. For a few times I forgotten this was intended to be a fantasy book. But Edwin’s is endearing and I can see why John wanted to make a better life for himself and his beau. Edwin’s upbringing despite luxurious aren’t something I wish for anyone (especially with his sickening parents, omg reminds me of my mother) but he also wants to change his partner’s life and why not do it by listening to your university buddie and consorted with long forgotten magical craft as Thaumaturgy? Needless to say, both of them created quite a hassle not only for their benefit but everyone, both the Hillside and the Dregs, have to deal with it. I love how two unknown people could spark the evolution and change everything their everyday once was into this catastrophic change of events. Nobody planned in advance, everyone got damaged by John’s vigilantism and Edwin’s little magic parley and now we all suffer from the results and it’s tastier then a delicious fruitful tangerine on a hot summer day.
John folded his arms. “I’m not interested in losing.”
“John!” Edwin’s voice was raw from shouting. “We can change the very laws of this entire country if you’d just listen to me!”
But then what is my biggest grips with this novel? To put it simply, the world building. I felt so confused so many times like I was missing an episode to a series I’ve been marathoning by accident and now I’m missing this crucial lore that would make everything logical. I don’t think it was Caplan’s intention to make the setting so ambiguous for us readers to explore but when you leave some aspects of the world aside and focus on the story and characters that’s not necessarily bad. He clearly wanted to show us this epic tale of two lovers but how we get there and why everything is happening this why is what troubles me. It’s like baking a cake only you forgot to add the sprinkles by the end. I like the idea of this society changing, how Dickensian it felt, the illustrious tales of swordsmen and the fantastic fights, the thaumaturgy being utilized and used by Edwin and Audrey but it also was shoe-horned in but doesn’t feel downright important for John or Edwin’s story whatsoever. In short, it’s all mixed bag of things I like about fantasy books but also its downfalls but I’m certain Caplan’s next books in this series will address that.
He was a swordsman, regardless of what anybody told him. It was time he used his talents to do something worthwhile. He was tired of seeing the nobles of Hillside get away with everything.
Please go and check out The Sword in the Street. If you looking for a M/M fantasy book this one is for you. It got all that you need, good realistic couple, outstanding action, real deep drama and not to mention a refreshing plot from your everyday fantasy novel. You would not regret it and it’s a debut for a whole new trilogy by an indie author.
My favorite quotes of the book were:
“Why are you asking all this, Edwin?” He wasn’t sure. “I just… I didn’t notice that I could be so obnoxious about touching my cock. It feels so obvious, in hindsight.”
“It’s okay that you’re doubting,” she said. “I’m never quite sure of it myself. I don’t know if we’ll ever be sure. If you had proof of magic, well… that wouldn’t be very magical, would it? Can something still be magic when you know the rules?”
Edwin snorted. “You’re so fucking stupid,” he chuckled. “You didn’t know that? Even I know that!”
“I didn’t know! I thought I could put more power into my cut that way. I know now.”
“Fuck. Men are stupid.”
“You’re a man.”
“I’ve heard some women say that at university. Every day I wonder if they aren’t right.”
Its tough to describe the plot of this novel, but basically it is about a swordman, John, and his scholar lover, Edwin, in this world where justice is served through duels, and the changes being wrought by the scholar to change that status quo. John comes from the Dregs, and is a swordsman under contract to one of the Houses, and not coming from rich families like the other swordsmen, he has a difficult time earning enough money. His patron, too, doesn’t pay him enough, and makes demands that cut into his already meager pay, while he risks his life and body every time she has a minor or major tiff with any of the other families. It is basically a trial by combat style of justice so it doesn’t matter what evidence one has, it is just left to a Nailed God (I had a chuckle at the name) to determine the outcome. Obviously, this system only works for the rich, as they can afford to hire a swordman, and the swordsmen themselves do not have negotiating power, as to pay and whether to take up a duel. It is very evident from the book that this system is flawed to the extreme, and contributing to the major problems of our characters.
Edwin, a student of law (and other stuff), doesn’t want John to be working as a duelist. He is autistic, and has a lot of anxiety, and having a loved one who is risking his life daily isn’t helping things. His friend, Aubrey, who is also a student, and wants to also be a swordsman introduces him to thaumaturgy, and the history of it and how it was basically wiped off from the minds and relegated to a legend, as well as the fact that freeblades (freelance swordsmen) weren’t just legend but an actual part of their history. Edwin and she start to work on restoring the rights of freeblades, and every kind of worker alongside, a move that would overhaul how employment works in their world. The thaumaturgy is a little understood magic, by the plot, but it is explained in an interesting way.
The driving force for John is the lack of money in his pocket, and the mounting debt for rent, and it leads him to terrible decision making. But also, it is quite apparent that his nature is formed by his conditions; he feels bad for making selfish decisions or exploiting someone. He also has past trauma from this one duel where he was up against a newbie, as well as guilt from hurting others in duels. I liked his storyline, mainly because of the conflicting ideas of nobility as attributed to swordsmen and survival instincts pitted against each other. Edwin, meanwhile, is trying to make the system better, primarily for his boyfriend, but yes, it would also benefit a lot of people. He struggles with social cues in general, but specifically in the relationship. When John starts to change, he is conflicted as to how to deal with it, and how much can he exhort him to make better decisions. On the flipside, Edwin doesn’t understand where John is coming from; as a privileged kid, he cannot relate to John’s struggle since his young age to work and survive, and why poverty makes your choices difficult. On his privilige, though: his parents, despite paying for his treatment and university fees, are also quite controlling and psychologically abuse him in what way they can. The relationship conflict and development between Edwin and John is maybe one of the best written parts of the book, because it truly makes one tense as to the outcome; for a while, I really wasn’t sure how it would play out in the end. Other than them, I also liked Aubrey immensely, and how her individual relationships with them turned out.
The setting, and the magic of the book, though, were serious let-downs. For starters, the world is not exactly defined – I can’t even say what kind of fantasy setting it was, where there was advanced enough medicine to save someone from a slice to the neck, but they also don’t have plumbing. And the magic, thaumaturgy, is introduced, but doesn’t exactly affect the plot in a significant way; I assume in future books it might play a bigger role, but I think having it be more momentous in the world-building would have made for a more interesting experience. As for the Houses and stuff, I was pretty confused as to who is who. And further confused by some scenes, where it wasn’t made clear what the characters were hinting at, or when they got to know certain information. The pace wasn’t helping matters, either. The end of the book ending on a sort of conclusion was good, because I don’t think I could take a cliffhanger.
Overall, I am very much on the fence about the book – I like certain parts, like the characters and their relationships with other characters, but the rest, oof. I am still not sure if I want to continue the series, but I guess I’ll wait for the synopsis of the next one.
About C.M. Caplan
C.M. Caplan is the author of The Sword in the Street. He’s a quadruplet (yes, really), mentally disabled, and he spent two years as the Senior Fiction Editor on a national magazine – while he was still an undergrad in college.
He has a degree in creative writing from Salem State University and was the recipient of the university’s highest honor in the arts. His short fiction also won an Honorable Mention in the 2019 Writers of the Future Contest.
Caplan’s introduction to fantasy came through J. R. R. Tolkien and George R. R. Martin. He has a tattoo that roughly translates to Valar Morghulis, as written in Tolkien’s Elvish script, in an acknowledgment of that fact. Other influences include Robin Hobb, Ellen Kushner, N.K. Jemisin, Katherine Addison, John Irving, Ann Petry, K.S. Villoso, and Neil Gaiman.
He currently lives in New England, where he works remotely for a social justice theater company.