Published: 1977 by Zebra Books
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
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A few months ago, I came across the collection The Sword Woman at a used bookstore. I saved it for summertime to read while at the pool, because I knew it wouldn’t require that much concentration or thinking. However, I knew I’d love it, because pulp is my guilty pleasure. I enjoy trashy action stories featuring half-naked heroes and heroines who always manage to beat up the bad guy and save the day. Robert E. Howard is considered to be one of the gold standards for pulpy SF/F, and The Sword Woman does not disappoint.
The Sword Woman is a perfect example of the kind of pulp I love, and yet also a bit of an outlier, because most of the stories in the collection feature a strong female lead (I wish there was more pulp fiction starring badass heroines, but I’ll take what I can get). Dark Agnes begins her story as a young woman who is about to be forced into an arranged marriage by her abusive family. Her sister, wanting to save her from her own fate, gives Agnes a dagger, expecting her to use it to take her life before the ceremony. Instead, Agnes stabs her fiance, runs away, and has adventures. And when someone underestimates her or tries to stop her from living her life the way she chooses, she stabs them too. That’s about as complex as her character gets, and yet she remains awesome, and you can’t help but root for her as she battles highwaymen and necromancers.
My only complaint about The Sword Woman is that I wished that the last two stories weren’t a part of the book, because they didn’t seem to fit. Instead of featuring Dark Agnes, they were completely random stories by completely random people, and the last story in the book was unfinished. I get that this was collection was published posthumously and that’s why the last two stories were included, but I felt like they weren’t ready for publication, and the book didn’t give you any context for them in the intro/cover art/contents. So when I got to them, I kept waiting for Agnes to show up, and was a bit bummed out that she didn’t. Even so, I get that it was 1977 and so you couldn’t really split things up into separate e-books, and instead had to go with a general length that publishers thought that people would buy.