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Swords for Hire    by Will Allen order for
Swords for Hire
by Will Allen
Order:  USA  Can
CenterPunch, 2003 (2003)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The subtitle, 'Two of the most unlikely heroes you'll ever meet' doesn't come close to saying it all; this tale is funny, punny and improbably entertaining. Its wackiness is appropriately introduced by Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart Simpson and a childhood friend of the author. Swords for Hire begins 'The cell was deep and the cell was dark.' Rotting in this deep, dark cell is good King Olive, believed dead by his subjects, but betrayed, imprisoned and maltreated by his nasty no-good brother Boonder, who has a thing for worms.

Chapter headings, by the way, are short and sweet - 'The King', 'The Boy', 'The Oddball', 'The Note', 'The Maiden' etc.. You just met the king. Next comes farmboy Sam Hatcher dreaming (naturally) of exotic adventure. His ex-soldier father promptly sends him off to enlist in the Royal Guard. Since Sam lacks experience, its Captain (who's not too crazy about the new king's wormy habits) suggests he apprentice himself to oddball Rigby Skeet, a 'Sword for Hire', and the game is afoot.

Rigby bemoans his lack of true adventure and wants to 'lop the ears off giants and fight off an army when the odds are two thousand to one'. Though daunted by these ambitions, Sam is thrust willy nilly into action after the requisite 'man with three arrows in his body staggered in through the open doorway, gasped, and fell to the floor.' Since the bad guys (the newly formed King's Elite) quickly follow, the 'grubby wet-nosed farm boy' and 'Royal Guard reject' flee in search of King Olive (naturally they found the king's 'Note' in the corpse's pocket).

There's a lovely, spirited peasant maiden called Melinda, desired and abused by Boonder. There's a sorceror (sort of) in an Aladdin's cave of riches. There's the monstrous Boneman, in charge of the ex-king's prison fortress. And there's a sillyfest of action pulled along by Sam and Rigby's banter, like the latter's suggestion to Sam for gaining entry to the castle, 'run up to the main gate there and ask if King Olive can come out to play ... I'll stay here and grade your performance.'

Of course, the good king is released, all the villains are defeated, the farm boy wins the maiden, and the book is worth reading for its Epilogue alone, in which our heroes live 'rather hectically ever after'. Swords for Hire is a fast fun read, which my 14-year-old son devoured in one sitting - and he rated it even more highly than I did as a book that 'just couldn't be put down.'

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