Thank you so much to Caffeine Tours and C. M. Caplan for including me in this blog tour and the ecopy of The Sword in the Street. All opinions are my own and unbiased.
Title: The Sword in the Street
Author: C. M. Caplan
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Publication date: 03 March 2021
Diversity tags: disability representation (autism), neuroatypicality representation, lgbtqiap+ representation (gay, bisexual, m/m relationship)
Shown on page:
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.
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.
I knew almost immediately that I would love this book. But definitely after reading Chapter 2. I can’t really explain in detail why, but being in Edwin’s head after Aubrey told him something in confidence and his struggle and thought process on how to respond … it was just so relatable and real! (I immediately got up and told my roommate about that scene … )
But let’s try to make this a little more structured. First, I want to say that I really appreciate the chapter titles, always with the POV and a little snippet of what’s to come. Then, this cover … the colours … so beautiful!
The strongest points of this novel are definitely the characters and their relationships. I’m a really character-driven reader, and if I can’t root for or against them, it’s really hard to get me to care about the plot. But it was so easy to like the characters here. All of them, good or bad or somewhere in between were really well developed, and the interactions between them felt real.
Especially those moments between Edwin and John. So frustrating for both of them (and me) and yet so tender and heartwarming! They were some of my favourite scenes. You really get a sense for how much they love each other and try to be the person they think the other one needs or deserves. But both are so incredibly stuck in their head sometimes.
I really love how they communicate though and I’d really love to quote entire pages here for you to show you … but I can’t, so you’ll just have to read it for yourself.
Edwin, who is autistic, really struggles with rejection and how to read John, who isn’t the best at clearly stating how he feels or what he thinks. And damn, some of their conversations are just so relatable. I love that we get to see similar moments from both their POVs. (And I especially loved how John found Edwin gorgeous when he talked (a little obsessively) about a play he had seen with large side tangents. It just made my heart so happy to see that he doesn’t shut him up or interrupt him!!
John and Edwin are really different in how they communicate and how well they are able to read each other or anticipate how the other one will feel. And while this definitely creates tension and misunderstandings, they both really work on changing that.
“John? Are you okay?”
[…] “I though you couldn’t recognize that stuff.”
Edwin said nothing. John shouldered past him. He only realized that Edwin hadn’t followed once he was three steps ahead. He wanted to apologize, but he’d only meant it in jest. It wasn’t his fault that Edwin couldn’t understand that. […]
“I can’t tell these things!” Edwin called after him. “But give me some credit. I know patterns.” He jogged to catch up.
John doubted that. “how do you know patterns? What does that mean?”
Edwin shrugged. “You make a face, and I compare it to how you falt last time you made a face like that, and if I can’t remember that expression exactly, I try to glean what I can, as I can.”
“That sounds terrible”
One of their frequent difficulties stemmed from their financial problem. It’s one of the few books I’ve read so far that shows this prominently how poverty affects relationships.
It was also quite interesting to see how different Edwin talks and feels around Aubrey, who is much better at clearly stating how she feels. She sometimes tells Edwin outright how something comes across in a kind but firm manner and I appreciate her so much for that.
Their conversations about thaumaturgy are incredibly fascinating and probably my second favourite scenes to read!
I actually really would have liked to see more of that. But maybe in the sequel?
Another point I really liked was the writing, the descriptions. It’s easy to get a feeling for the world and I loved how with little comments here and there we get to know the situations of all the characters better.
So, all in all, if you couldn’t tell I really loved The Sword in the Street, especially for how the different relationships and the difficulties in communication that come from neurodiversity or trauma are portrayed and how they (the characters) try to work on that and work on becoming better persons.
P.S. There are just so many moments when I could see myself in Edwin? Like, this one scene for example, when John tells Edwin about his day and talks about duelling and swords and such things that Edwin has no clue about. John has been talking for a bit when:
“Savannah had a lovely riposte––” John was saying.
Edwin seized on that distraction. “Riposte!”, he shrieked. “I know that word! I heard it in the play I saw. Earlier today.” He felt a twinge of guilt when he realized that he’d interrupted John. “Sorry, Go on”
My best friend and I talk like this all the time. Jump from word to word and have the weirdest assosiations and interrupt each other (for sometimes quite long side tangents) but we know that it isn’t mean? that’s just how our brain works? I really try to not do that with other people though.
Some other quotes that I really love:
How can someone learn manners for a thousand different occasions
and never know how to treat a normal man?
“Maybe you didn’t see me! […] I’ll bet I can guess what happened. You made the sword do the swishy sound and then you did the clan clang! Wonderful stuff, really. I definitely saw it. I would know.”
“[T]he only way to make it right is to try and be better. Then you fail and try again. But you can’t do that if you’re caught up worrying over what’s already done, and what’s already done is not evil.”
“I feel like a soldier picking through the wreckage of some bloody carnage, only to stop to admire a good sunset”
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.