Book Review: Pennyblade by J.L. Worrad

Publisher: Titan Books
Format: Digital
Release Date: March 15th, 2022

Rating: DNF @ 18%

I usually enjoy Dark Fantasy, and this one sounded so intriguing. I can also stomach a fair bit in darker books, if the other elements are compelling enough. I tired to push through with this, but found myself DNF’ing at the 18% mark after the character notes she is about to ‘be in heat’ while at a religious home for girls.

Please be warned, the following review is fairly ranty and also contains spoilers.

The main character feels like a very standard, ‘kick ass’ heroine that has kind of become common in male-penned works. But this particular character felt (to me) like the character started as a man and had the pronouns changed. I like seeing characters that subvert gender expectations, but sometimes it feels a touch too forced. Especially when the main character is a twin, and in their world, when twins such as them are born, one is always male and one female, he grows up to like men, she grows up to like women. But despite this she is still being forced a marry a guy. I’ll come back to this. I didn’t get far enough to see if there is an explanation for this. The rest of their kind are bi/pan, though these terms aren’t used in the book. It’s an interesting angle, but the thing that made this feel worse (again – just my opinion!) was that everyone is sex obsessed and portrayed as being DTF constantly. Oh, and when one character isn’t, it’s unusual.

The only women our main character interacts with are women she’s slept with, wants to sleep with, or has no interest in on any level because she is a sex worker. Who the main character completely looks down on and is fairly degrading towards. In most instances, we don’t even see her interacting with any of them – the most we get is her waking up with them beside another woman, and when she does have to talk to any other woman it’s always tinged with hatred.

Re: her betrothed. She hates him, because he’s a bit of a dick. Okay, fine. She doesn’t want to marry him. But what she does do, when she beats him in a duel, is absolutely humiliates him, then cuts off part of his hair and shoves it up his arse. It’s way too far for me, and it’s treated as just as “haha isn’t she so tough” moment. This might have come up again later, but yeah, I hit a stopping for me.

Last thing: I’m fed up of seeing homophobia in fantasy worlds where it’s just used to make the main character ‘stand out’. She moves into the world inhabited by humans, and they all see same sex attraction as being, well, linked to the devil and all that. The ‘religion’ is just Christianity, and the world felt…boring? I’ve just seen this kind of setting used over and over, and there wasn’t anything unique or intriguing enough about it that made me want to read on.

So yeah, I DNF’d this. Not something I normally do, and although I think I could have handled some elements of this, once they were all put together I just…couldn’t.

Thank you to Titan for providing me this book via NetGalley. Views remain my own.

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