Born to the Blade (series)
by Marie Brennan, Cassandra Khaw, Michael Underwood, and Malka Older (Serial Box)
This 11-episode series (season 1) is set in an interesting world of floating islands in the sky where noble classes rule. Below these islands are the dangerous Mists where monsters menace any unprepared adventurer. Using an Asian theme, this story has a focus on loyalty first to family, then to clan, then to tribe, and finally, to nation. The fantasy showcases a pre-industrial society where “sailing vessels” are the pinnacle of technology, but magic and bloodline talents are intertwined throughout the society.
The aeroships who trade goods between the islands and the ground, and between the islands themselves are powered by sail, but held aloft by a naturally occurring element in this world: aerostone.
Things are made to work by The Circle, people who are ambassador-like representatives of the governments. Individuals in The Circle are called Warders. Warders arrange trade deals, debate policy, and settle disputes differences between kingdoms with duels using swords and magic.
Contests or swordplay and magic, usually to slightly wound or “touch” opponents rather than kill them, are punctuated throughout the story. And there are some nicely choreographed sword fights.
As our story opens, a rebel escapes a prison, then is re-captured and slated for execution. A duel is fought to prevent his execution. The plot twist is so surprising that I did not see the possibility.
As you read on, plots, political intrigue, fast action abound. I don’t want to give too much away but there are interesting relationships between persons of different floating-island nations, and between the Warders and their staff.
A war breaks out between nations of the sky islands. The question becomes: who started it, and why? The answer brings a central character to a fateful decision.
Minuses: there are some rather sketchy details on the “dirt side” of the world. Descriptions of whale-oil lamps and whale bone carvings, and “fish from the sea” served at a tavern threw me out of the story wondering just where, exactly, this “sea” was.
I’d give Born to the Blade three stars out of five. Add a star if you’re really into magical sword fights, where the blade can conjure things out of thin air.