Review | The Sword in the Street – C.M. Caplan

About the Book

Hired blades ought to be better at making ends meet. John Chronicle bleeds his patron’s foes in savage duels. While he’s disgusted by the petty grievances and corporate laws he champions, even the promise of security is better than nothing at all. But how long can he depend on a wage that barely pays enough to cover his rent?

His boyfriend Edwin is familiar with dependency. Reliant on his parents’ goodwill to supply the drugs that keep the spirals of his mind in check, he wants nothing more than to get out from under their thumb. A solution comes when he finds a document full of knowledge that was, impossibly, forgotten. But while he could use those secrets to rewrite the gentry’s unjust laws, it might cost him his relationship – or John’s life.

The two find themselves entangled in the web of intrigue surrounding the laws, the swordsmen, and their sponsors. They’re forced to question how bloody they’re willing to get for a shred of agency. But will they survive this tangle of deceit together?

340 pages (kindle)
Published on March 3, 2021
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Okay, first of all, can we take a moment to admire the name John Chronicle? Because seriously, that is a great name. I’m almost mad at the author for thinking of it first. 

The Sword in the Street is a different book than I anticipated. I expected, going into this one, it would be a blood and guts killfest. Grimdark fantasy done darkest. Don’t get me wrong, there are dark elements at play here, but the story isn’t really about that. It’s not some grimy, blood-laden journey into the depths of despair. I’d call this more a “day in the life” story than anything else.

In truth, I loved that aspect of this book. It’s not some grand, sweeping epic, but an intimate story of two people surviving in a world that seems hellbent to keep them down. 

Keeping that in mind when you read will keep you from being too surprised when you find the book more character-heavy and plot-light. Again, I tend to prefer this style of writing (gestures at all of my books). I love getting really into a character’s psyche and really understanding them and their motivations. Experiencing a new world with new eyes often ends up immersing me more than a raging plot ever will. 

And characterization is really where Caplan excels. John Chronicle and his boyfriend Edwin are so real, and three-dimensional, they practically fly off the page. John is basically sworn to a lifetime of servitude to his patron, Lordess Triumph. Edwin was born into wealth and is a student at the university. Both men are pinned down and held in place by their lot in life, and that’s part of the beauty of this book. Caplan, in the writing of The Sword in the Street, has built into his world some fundamental, ingrained problems that both hamper the plot, but also make it so much more interesting. Reading about how these characters survive when the rich and influential are an almost smothering presence is captivating, especially considering both men have found solace in each other, and yet are themselves restricted by the society they live in, despite their difference in class. In a lot of respects, I could relate to John and Edwin and their trials, feeling caged without actually being caged is a certain kind of torture.

John and Edwin themselves were characters that might be, perhaps, some of my favorite I’ve ever run across. They were so nuanced, so detailed, so cleverly crafted and positively human, I felt like I became personal friends with them while I was reading this book. More, both characters were written with a deep and abiding empathy, and such care, they positively made the book sing. John likely has some form of PTSD (ware, people who say “that’s too modern a phrase”… it’s not actually called that in the book), and Edwin’s autism was brilliantly represented. I profoundly related to both characters, and I absolutely loved the representation they brought to the story, never a plot device or some gimmick, but just one part of who these characters were. Reader, this book made me want to shout from the rooftops, “THIS IS HOW REPRESENTATION IS DONE.” It was that good.

Caplan’s prose was another bonus. Easy to read, easy to fall into, there were turns of phrase that caught my attention. Mostly what captivated me was Caplan’s ability to tell a story in a way that was not only beautifully vivid and emotionally poignant, but so brilliantly done as well. I didn’t have to work for the story. I didn’t have to wait for the book to unfold and show itself to me. The Sword in the Street is one of those tales you can just sink into, and the story will unfold around you in the easiest manner. I was absolutely engrossed before I even realized it, and positively blazed through the book.

Perhaps if there was one drawback, I wish the scenery had been described a bit more. I didn’t feel quite as visually immersed in the world as I wanted to be. However, this is small potatoes, and in the end, I didn’t actually end up minding too much. The characters are what steal the limelight here, and Caplan’s unflinching ability to take complex dynamics and address them in a unique way is really what made this book shine. It isn’t often that I read a book that has me sit back and look at fantasy differently.

Reader, this book did just that.

The Sword in the Street is a brilliant character-driven fantasy tale, written by a new talent everyone should be paying attention to. I cannot believe I did not read this book sooner, and now that I have, I’m going to be telling everyone looking for recommendations to pick this one up. 

You won’t regret it.

4.5/5 stars