The Mace and the Mirror

This time last week, the Will Scarlet Kiss & Tell hot seat featured the lead character from Tirzah Duncan’s newly published novella. Since then, I finally scraped together the time and mental wherewithal to collect my thoughts on the book into a review. And it went a little something like this.


The Book: “Grace the Mace” by Tirzah Duncan

Genre: Fantasy Lit Fic

Blurb: Grace has always been there for her mother, ever since she was old enough to bite the legs of those thugs and leeches that called themselves lovers. Ever since she was old enough to understand the world in a way her mother never would.

Now, she comes home every winter with blood money from a year of running with a band of sellswords. No more scrounging in midden heaps and cutting purses for a low court lord to survive the lean months.

But this year, home is as dangerous as the battlefield. Tensions are running through the street courts of her old slums, while a new and daunting lover has confounded her safeguards and gotten at her mum–and now they’re all tangled in a vicious turf war.

Is one lone mercenary enough to protect her own? Can she trust anyone else to do the job?


My Story: This book and I have a rocky history. As the author’s best friend and critique partner, I was there to read the words almost as fast as they appeared on the page. And my first time through, in that first draft state, I honestly didn’t enjoy it that much. I was there for the relationship between the protagonist’s mother and her creepy-cool new boyfriend – why was Tirzah making me slog through sex and violence and slum politics? What did I ever do to make her think I wanted any part of a gang war?

Then came my second read-through. The novella had passed through its main edits, and now awaited my proofreading eye before going to print. And even as I combed through the words for typos and inconsistencies, I found myself… engaged. None of the subject matter had changed. I hadn’t wriggled out of any of the topics that tend to turn me off. But this time… Well, for one thing, it was no longer a meandering first draft! For another, something clicked between me and the main character, Dalvin (aka Grace).

I can have a tough time connecting with fictional girls. And I’d have thought that a hardboiled mercenary and I would have little enough in common. Yet time and again, here and there, I kept seeing bits of Grace that were just so darn me. Somewhere during that reread, I felt like I got her. Lines like:

…She couldn’t let herself fall into mediocrity. The world was not kind to the mediocre. The world wasn’t kind to anyone, and she trained to be unkind back.

And such scenes as:

“Fire and famine. You’re not worth two copper pups,” she told him, pulling open the mouth of the purse and fishing out two of the coins. She flung them at his feet. “You can’t just give up when it’s all gone to rot. You’ve got to look for the salvage. Maker take it, man, you’ve got to want to survive.”

That sort of view.  The way she could look down in jaded disdain on the world’s ugliness, condemn half of it and the people therein as worthless, and yet, in spite of all, feel deep-down compelled to try to help fix it. To care for people no matter how much or little she actually cared about them. That’s… unsettlingly me.

So between that unexpected resonance and the actually quite good writing over which Tirzah and I first became friends, I came to reassign the story higher value. Plus the mother’s boyfriend is still the best. I can only imagine that readers who love grittiness and gang wars will enjoy this novella even more.

Whaddaya say, readers? Think this book is for you? If yes / maybe / there’s-only-one-way-to-know-for-sure, order your e-copy or paperback today!

(And feel free to pre-order “The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale while you’re at it… ^^)

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