“White Serpent, Black Dragon” by Joe Jackson

The sword-and-sorcery subgenre of fantasy isn’t one of my favorites–okay, it’s one of my least favorite. But I was pleasantly surprised to find a lot to like in this sword-and-sorcery-type novel.

This is the second book in a series chronicling the adventures of Kari, a dragon-like demonhunter who, after dying and being resurrected (presumably in the first book, which I haven’t read), has settled down to an administrative position in her demonhunting order so that she can live with her husband and small child. However, an assassin/serial killer is on the loose, and Kari ends up going after her and chasing her to another city before confronting her.

Quick-paced action alternates with backstory; this (the constant jumping from adventure to adventure) is the aspect of sword-and-sorcery and the picaresque novel more generally that I don’t much care for, since I have a hard time following it, but obviously that’s more my problem than anyone else’s, so I leave it up to the individual reader to decide whether this is for them or not. What I very much did appreciate about this particular book was the inclusion not only of a female main character, but of multiple female secondary characters. Kari herself is basically a modern career woman (trying to decide whether to take a desk job or a field assignment and how that will affect her family; trying to decide whether or not to have a second child) who happens to be a nonhuman demonhunter; the effect is unusual but charming, and its makes the book stand out because of it. Furthermore, rather than just being the token female in an otherwise all-male cast, Kari works with a number of other female characters, so that there are multiple scenes in which Kari interacts with other female characters, good and bad. This might not seem like a big deal, but, sadly, it IS, and major props to the book and the author for passing the Bechdel test with flying colors. Fans of the demon-hunting, swordfighting subgenre of fantasy who are looking for something featuring kick-ass female characters will find a lot to enjoy here.

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