Formats and Prices
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around May 2, 2023. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
"The Sword Defiant is a treat for all fantasy fans . . . . It’s an absolute blast.” ― Justin Lee Anderson, author of The Lost War
Many years ago, Sir Aelfric and his nine companions saved the world, seizing the Dark Lord's cursed weapons, along with his dread city of Necrad. That was the easy part.
Now, when Aelfric – keeper of the cursed sword Spellbreaker – learns of a new and terrifying threat, he seeks the nine heroes once again. But they are wandering adventurers no longer. Yesterday's eager heroes are today's weary leaders – and some have turned to the darkness, becoming monsters themselves.
If there's one thing Aelfric knows, it's slaying monsters. Even if they used to be his friends.
"In the tradition of Tolkien and Eddings, with a richly detailed narrative, well-drawn characters, epic battles, and political and religious intrigues, Hanrahan's outstanding first outing in the Lands of the Firstborn series will thrill fantasy readers—who will anxiously await the next book." ― Booklist (starred review)
"This novel has the potential to become a fan-favorite among those who appreciate vast and eloquent epic fantasy. Readers will enjoy the unique twists, absorbing intrigue, and endearing characters." ― Library Journal
"I will buy any novel that Gareth Hanrahan ever writes." ― The Fantasy Inn
For more from Gareth Hanrahan, check out:
The Black Iron Legacy
The Gutter Prayer
The Shadow Saint
The Broken God
LIST OF CHARACTERS
THE NINE HEROES
Peir+ of the Crownland, called the Paladin
Jan of Arshoth, called the Pious, priestess of the Intercessors
Blaise of Ellscoast, called the Scholar, master of the Wailing Tower
Berys the Rootless, later Lady Berys
Lath, a Changeling, called the Beast
Thurn of the As Gola tribe, saviour of the Wilder-folk of the northern woods
Gundan, son of Gwalir, General of the Dwarfholt
Laerlyn, daughter of the Erlking, Princess of the Everwood
Aelfric of Mulladale, called the Bonebreaker, dubbed Sir Lammergeier, Keeper of the Spellbreaker, also known as Alf
IN THE SOUTH
Olva, sister to Aelfric of Mulladale
Long Tom+, father to Aelfric and Olva
Galwyn Forster+, her late husband
Derwyn, her son
Cu, a suspicious dog
Bor, a Rootless mercenary
Torun, a dwarf who seeks to be a wizard
Lyulf Martens, a “merchant” in the blood trade
Abran, a priest turned Rootless knave, in league with Martens
Timeon Vond, governor of Necrad
Threeday, a Vatling
Abbess Marat, a priestess of the Intercessors
Gamling, lieutenant to Gundan
Remilard, a guard
Ceremos, an elf-child
Elithadil and Andiriel, his parents
(Formerly of Necrad, now defeated)
The Chieftain of the Marrow-Eaters+, an Ogre
Amerith the Oracle, a Witch Elf Seer
Acraist Wraith-Captain+, Hand of Bone, Wielder of the Sword Spellbreaker
Sundry other vampires, spirits and other horrors+
Lord Bone+ the Necromancer, the Dark Lord
IN THE NEW PROVINCES
Earl Duna, chief among the landholders of the New Provinces
Erdys of Ilaventur, his wife
Their sons, Sir Aelfric the Younger, Idmaer and Dunweld
Sir Prelan, a champion of the tourney ground
Sir Eddard Forster, a knight-errant
Talis+, daughter of Thurn
The Old Man of the Woods, a Wilder mystic
ON THE ISLE OF DAWN
Prince Maedos of Dawn, son of the Erlking, brother to Laerlyn
A simple gardener
From his city of Necrad, Lord Bone sent forth an evil host to despoil the land. Doom was at hand.
Nine arose in answer. Elf and Dwarf, Men of Summerswell and the northern Wild, heroes all. Know them now, for their names shall never be forgotten.
Thurn the Wilder, Lath the Beast,
Gundan of the Dwarfholt, Laerlyn of the Everwood,
Blaise the Scholar, Jan the Pious,
Aelfric Bonebreaker, ever faithful.
First among them, Peir the Paladin, Peir the Peerless.
It was Peir who gathered them and Peir who led them.
And at the last, it was Peir who died for them.
From The Song of the Nine, by Sir Rhuel of the Eaveslands
His story had not begun in a tavern, but Alf had ended up in one anyway.
“An ogre,” proclaimed the old man from the corner by the hearth, “a fearsome ogre! Iron-toothed, yellow-eyed, arms like oak branches!” He wobbled as he crossed the room towards the table of adventurers. “I saw it not three days ago, up on the High Moor. The beast must be slain, lest it find its way down to our fields and flocks!”
One of the young lads was beefy and broad-shouldered, Mulladale stock. He fancied himself a fighter, with that League-forged sword and patchwork armour. “I’ll wager it’s one of Lord Bone’s minions, left over from the war,” he declared loudly. “We’ll hunt it down!”
“I can track it!” This was a woman in green, her face tattooed. A Wilder-woman of the northern woods – or dressed as one, anyway. “We just need to find its trail.”
“There are places of power up on the High Moor,” said a third, face shadowed by his hood. He spoke with the refined tones of a Crownland scholar. An apprentice mage, cloak marked with the sign of the Lord who’d sponsored him. He probably had a star-trap strung outside in the bushes. “Ancient temples, shrines to forgotten spirits. Such an eldritch beast might…”
He paused, portentously. Alf bloody hated it when wizards did that, leaving pauses like pit traps in the conversation. Just get on with it, for pity’s sake.
Life was too short.
“… be drawn to such places. As might other… legacies of Lord Bone.”
“We’ll slay it,” roared the Mulladale lad, “and deliver this village from peril!”
That won a round of applause from the locals, more for the boy’s enthusiasm than any prospect of success. The adventurers huddled over the table, talking ogre-lore, talking about the dangers of the High Moor and the virtues of leaving at first light.
Alf scowled, irritated but unable to say why. He’d finish his drink, he decided, and then turn in. Maybe he’d be drunk enough to fall straight asleep. The loon had disturbed a rare evening of forgetfulness. He’d enjoyed sitting there, listening to village gossip and tall tales and the crackling of the fire. Now, the spell was broken and he had to think about monsters again.
He’d been thinking about monsters for a long time.
The old man sat down next to Alf. Apparently, he wasn’t done. He wasn’t that old, either – Alf realised he was about the same age. They’d both seen the wrong side of forty-five winters. “Ten feet tall it was,” he exclaimed, sending spittle flying into Alf’s tankard, “and big tusks, like a bull’s horns, at the side of its mouth.” He stuck his fingers out to illustrate. “It had the stink of Necrad about it. They have the right of it – it’s one of Bone’s creatures that escaped! The Nine should have put them all to the sword!”
“Bone’s ogres,” said Alf, “didn’t have tusks.” His voice was croaky from disuse. “They cut ’em off. Your ogre didn’t come out of Necrad.”
“You didn’t see the beast! I did! Only the Pits of Necrad could spawn such—”
“You haven’t seen the sodding Pits, either,” said Alf. He felt the cold rush of anger, and stood up. He needed to be away from people. He stumbled across the room towards the stairs.
Another of the locals caught his arm. “Bit of luck for you, eh?” The fool was grinning and red-cheeked. Twist, break the wrist. Grab his neck, slam his face into the table. Kick him into the two behind him. Then grab a weapon. Alf fought against his honed instincts. The evening’s drinking had not dulled his edge enough.
He dug up words. “What do you mean?”
“You said you were going off up the High Moor tomorrow. You’d run straight into that ogre’s mouth. Best you stay here another few days, ’til it’s safe.”
“Safe,” echoed Alf. He pulled his arm free. “I can’t stay. I have to go and see an old friend.”
The inn’s only private room was upstairs. Sleeping in the common room was a copper a night, the private room an exorbitant six for a poky attic room and the pleasure of hearing the innkeeper snore next door.
Alf locked the door and took Spellbreaker from its hiding place under the bed. The sword slithered in his grasp, metal twisting beneath the dragonhide.
“I could hear them singing about you.” Its voice was a leaden whisper. “About the siege of Necrad.”
“Just a drinking song,” said Alf, “nothing more. They didn’t know it was me.”
“They spoke the name of my true wielder, and woke me from dreams of slaughter.”
“It rhymes with rat-arsed, that’s all.”
“No, it doesn’t.”
“It does the way they say it. Acra-sed.”
“It’s pronounced with a hard ‘t’,” said the sword. “Acrai-st the Wraith-Captain, Hand of Bone.”
“Well,” said Alf, “I killed him, so I get to say how it’s said. And it’s rat-arsed. And so am I.”
He shoved the sword back under the bed, then threw himself down, hoping to fall into oblivion. But the same dream caught him again, as it had for a month, and it called him up onto the High Moor to see his friend.
The adventurers left at first light.
Alf left an hour later, after a leisurely breakfast. Getting soft, he muttered to himself, but he still caught up with them at the foot of a steep cliff, arguing over which of the goat paths would bring them up onto the windy plateau of the High Moor. Alf marched past them, shoulders hunched against the cold of autumn.
“Hey! Old man!” called one of them. “There’s a troll out there!”
Alf grunted as he studied the cliff ahead. It was steep, but not insurmountable. Berys and he had scaled the Wailing Tower in the middle of a howling necrostorm. This was nothing. He found a handhold and hauled himself up the rock face, ignoring the cries of the adventurers below. The Wilder girl followed him a little way, but gave up as Alf rapidly outdistanced her.
His shoulders, his knees ached as he climbed. Old fool. Showing off for what? To impress some village children? Why not wave Spellbreaker around? Or carry Lord Bone’s skull around on a pole? If you want glory, you’re twenty years too late, he thought to himself. He climbed on, stretching muscles grown stiff from disuse.
At the top, he sat down on a rock to catch his breath. He’d winded himself. The Wailing Tower, too, was nearly twenty years ago.
He pulled his cloak around himself to ward off the breeze, and lingered there for a few minutes. He watched the adventurers as they debated which path to take, and eventually decided on the wrong one, circling south-east along the cliffs until they vanished into the broken landscape below the moor. He looked out west, across the Mulladales, a patchwork of low hills and farmlands and wooded coppices. Little villages, little lives. All safe.
Twenty years ago? Twenty-one? Whenever it was, Lord Bone’s armies came down those goat paths. Undead warriors scuttling down the cliffs head first like bony lizards. Wilder scouts with faces painted pale as death. Witch Elf knights mounted on winged dreadworms. Golems, furnaces blazing with balefire. Between all those horrors and the Mulladales stood just nine heroes.
“It was twenty-two years ago,” said Spellbreaker. The damn sword was listening to his thoughts again – or had he spoken out loud? “Twenty-two years since I ate the soul of the Illuminated.”
“We beat you bastards good,” said Alf. “And chased you out of the temple. Peir nearly slew Acraist then, do you remember?”
“Vividly,” replied the sword.
Peir, his hammer blazing with the fire of the Intercessors. Berys, flinging vials of holy water she’d filched from the temple. Gundan, bellowing a war cry as he swung Chopper. Gods, they were so young then. Children, really, only a few years older than the idiot ogre-hunters. The battle of the temple was where they’d first proved themselves heroes. The start of a long, bitter war against Lord Bone. Oh, they’d got side-tracked – there’d been prophecies and quests and strife aplenty to lead them astray – but the path to Necrad began right here, on the edge of the High Moor.
He imagined his younger self struggling up those cliffs, that cheap pig-sticker of a sword clenched in his teeth. What would he have done, if that young warrior reached to the top and saw his future sitting there? Old, tired, tough as old boots. Still had all his limbs, but plenty of scars.
“We won,” he whispered to the shade of the past, “and it’s still bloody hard.”
“You,” said the sword, “are going crazy. You should get back to Necrad, where you belong.”
“When I’m ready.”
“I can call a dreadworm. Even here.”
“Anything could be happening there. We’ve been away for more than two years, moping.” There was an unusual edge to the sword’s plea. Alf reached down and pulled Spellbreaker from its scabbard, so he could look the blade in the gemstone eye on its hilt and—
—Reflected in the polished black steel as it crept up behind him. Grey hide, hairy, iron-tusked maw drooling. Ogre.
Alf threw himself forward as the monster lunged at him and rolled to the edge of the cliff. Pebbles and dirt tumbled down the precipice, but he caught himself before he followed them over. He hoisted Spellbreaker, but the sword suddenly became impossibly heavy and threatened to tug him backwards over the cliff.
One of the bastard blade’s infrequent bouts of treachery. Fine.
He flung the heavy sword at the onrushing ogre, and the monster stumbled over it. Its ropy arms reached for him, but Alf dodged along the cliff edge, seized the monster’s wrist and pulled with all his might. The ogre, abruptly aware of the danger that they’d both fall to their deaths, scrambled away from the edge. It was off balance, and vulnerable. Alf leapt on the monster’s back and drove one elbow into its ear. The ogre bellowed in pain and fell forward onto the rock he’d been sitting on. Blood gushed from its nose, and the sight sparked unexpected joy in Alf. For a moment, he felt young again, and full of purpose. This, this was what he was meant for!
The ogre tried to dislodge him, but Alf wrapped his legs around its chest, digging his knees into its armpits, his hands clutching shanks of the monster’s hair. He bellowed into the ogre’s ear in the creature’s own language.
“Do you know who I am? I’m the man who killed the Chieftain of the Marrow-Eaters!”
The ogre clawed at him, ripping at his cloak. Its claws scrabbled against the dwarven mail Alf wore beneath his shirt. Alf got his arm locked across the ogre’s throat and squeezed.
“I killed Acraist the Wraith-Captain!”
The ogre reared up and threw itself back, crushing Alf against the rock. The impact knocked the air from his lungs, and he felt one of his ribs crack, but he held firm – and sank his teeth into his foe’s ear. He bit off a healthy chunk, spat it out and hissed:
“I killed Lord Bone.”
It was probably the pain of losing an earlobe, and not his threat, that made the ogre yield, but yield it did. The monster fell to the ground, whimpering.
Alf released his grip on the ogre’s neck and picked up Spellbreaker. Oh, now the magic sword was perfectly light and balanced in his hand. One swing, and the ogre’s head would go rolling across the ground. One cut, and the monster would be slain.
He slapped the ogre with the flat of the blade.
“Look at me.”
Yellow terror-filled eyes stared at him.
“There are adventurers hunting for you. They went south-east. You, run north. That way.” He pointed with the blade, unsure if the ogre even spoke this dialect. It was the tongue he’d learned in Necrad, the language the Witch Elves used to order their war-beasts around. “Run north!” he added in common, and he shoved the ogre again. The brute got the message and ran, loping on all fours away from Alf. It glanced back in confusion, unsure of what had just happened.
Alf lifted Spellbreaker, glared into the sword’s eye.
“I was testing you,” said the sword. “You haven’t had a proper fight in months. Tournies don’t count – no opponent has the courage to truly test you, and it’s all for show anyway. Your strength dwindles. My wielder must—”
“I’m not your bloody wielder. I’m your gaoler.”
“I am bored, wielder. Two years of wandering the forests and backroads. Two years of hiding and lurking. And when you finally pluck up the courage to go anywhere, it’s to an even duller village. I tell you, those people should have welcomed the slaughter my master brought, to relieve them of the tedium of their pathetic—”
“Try that again, and I’ll throw you off a cliff.”
“Do it. Someone will find me. Something. I’m a weapon of darkness, and I call to—”
“I’ll drop you,” said Alf wearily, “into a volcano.”
Last time, they’d reached the temple in two days. He’d spent twice as long already, trudging over stony ground, pushing through thorns and bracken, clambering around desolate tors and outcrops of bare rock. He’d known that finding the hidden ravine of the temple would be tricky, but it took him longer than he’d expected to reach Giant’s Rock, and that was at least a day’s travel from the ravine.
That big pillar of stone, one side covered with shaggy grey-green moss – that was Giant’s Rock, right? In his memory it was bigger. Alf squinted at the rock, trying to imagine how it might be mistaken for a hunched giant. He’d seen real giants, and they were a lot bigger.
If this was Giant’s Rock, he should turn south there to reach the valley. If it wasn’t, then turning south would bring him into the empty lands of the fells where no one lived.
Maybe they’d come from a more northerly direction, last time. He walked around the pillar of stone. It remained obstinately un-giant-like. No one ever accused Alf of having the soul of a poet. A rock pile was a rock pile to him. The empty sky above him, the empty land all around. He regretted letting that ogre run off; maybe he should have forced it to guide him to the valley. Turn south, or continue east?
The valley was well hidden. There’d been wars fought in these parts, hundreds of years ago, in the dark days after… after… after some kingdom had fallen. The Old Kingdom. Alf’s grasp of history was as good as could be expected of a Mulladale farm boy who’d could barely write his name, and nearly thirty years of adventuring hadn’t taught him much more. Oh, he could tell you the best way to fight an animated skeleton, or loot an ancient tomb, but “whence came the skeleton” or “who built the tomb” were matters for cleverer heads. He remembered Blaise lecturing him on this battlefield, the wizard wasting his breath on talking when he should have been keeping it for walking. Different factions in the Old Kingdom clashed here. Rival cults, Blaise told him, fighting until both sides were exhausted and the Illuminated were driven into hiding. The green grass swallowed up the battlefields and the barrow tombs, and everything was forgotten until Lord Bone had called up those long-dead warriors. Skeletons crawled out of the dirt and took up their rusty swords, and roamed the High Moors again.
Last time, Thurn the Wilder led them. He could track anything and anyone, even the dead. He’d brought them straight to the secret path, following Lord Bone’s forces into the hidden heart of the temple. All Alf had to do was fight off the flying dreadworms sent to slow them down. Even then, Acraist had seen that the Nine of them were dangerous.
“No, he didn’t,” said the sword. It was the first time it had spoken since the cliff top.
“If Acraist thought you were a threat, he’d have sent more than a few riderless worms. He was intent on breaking the aegis of the temple, not worrying about you bandits. You were an irrelevant nuisance. You got lucky.”
“Well, he got killed. And so did Lord Bone, and you can’t say that was luck.”
A quiver ran through the sword. The blade’s equivalent of a derisive snort.
He took another step east, and the sword quivered again.
“What is it?”
“Nothing, O Lammergeier,” said Spellbreaker sullenly. Alf hated that nickname, given to him in the songs by some stupid poet drunk on metaphor. He’d never even seen one of the ugly vultures of the mountains beyond Westermarch. They were bone-breaking birds, feasters on marrow. And while Alf might be old and ugly enough now to resemble a vulture, the bloody song had given him that name twenty or so years ago. He’d broken Bone, hence – Sir Lammergeier.
Poetry was almost as bad as prophecy.
The sword only used the name when it wanted to annoy him – or distract him. What had that pretentious apprentice said in the inn, about creatures of Lord Bone sensing places of power? Alf drew the sword again and took a step forward. The jewelled eye seemed to wince, eldritch light flaring deep within the ruby.
He shook Spellbreaker. “Can you detect the temple?”
Another step. Another wince.
“You bloody well can,” said Alf.
“It’s sanctified,” admitted Spellbreaker reluctantly. “Acraist protected me from the radiance, last time.”
Alf looked around at the moorland. No radiance was visible, at least none he had eyes to see.
“Well then.” He set off east, and only turned south when prompted by the twisting of the demonic sword.
Another day, and the terrain became familiar. Some blessing in the temple softened the harshness of the moor. Wildflowers grew all around. Streams cascaded down the rocks, chiming like silver bells. Alf felt weariness fall from his bones, sloughing away like he’d sunk into a warm bath.
Spellbreaker shrieked and rattled in its scabbard.
“It’s too bright. I cannot go in there. It will shatter me.”
“I’m not leaving you here.”
“Wielder, I cannot…”
Alf hesitated. Spellbreaker was among the most dangerous things to come out of Necrad, a weapon of surpassing evil. It could shatter any spell, break any ward. In the hands of a monster, it could wreak terrible harm upon the world. Even that ogre could become something dangerous under the blade’s tutelage. But maybe the sword was right – dragging it into the holy place might damage it. When they’d fought Acraist that first time, down in the valley, the Wraith-Captain wasn’t half as tough as when they battled him seven years later. The valley burned things of darkness.
Would it burn Alf if he carried the sword down there?
“Look,” sneered Spellbreaker. “You’re expected.”
A tiny candle flame of light danced in the air ahead of Alf. And then another kindled, and another, and another, a trail of sparks leading down into the valley.
Alf drew the sword and drove it deep into the earth. “Stay,” he said to it, scolding it like a dog.
Then down, into the hidden valley of the Illuminated One.
Rubble lay strewn across the valley. Acraist had shattered the temple arch before they’d arrived. Alf remembered the headlong race down the path, hastening to intervene before the Wraith-Captain slew the Illuminated One. Laerlyn leaping gracefully down the rocks, loosing arrows as she ran. Jan weeping even as she called on the Intercessors to shield them from Acraist’s death-spells. Miracles warring with dark magic in the air.
In retrospect, the greatest miracle was that none of them had tripped and broken their necks as they ran down the steep path into the valley. The little sparkling lights led Alf along the safest route, until he reached the valley floor. Then they shot off ahead of him, meteors racing over the rubble, dodging in and out of hiding places. There was something playful about their movements.
"The front runner for my book of the year . . . The Sword Defiant is a love letter to roleplaying games, to Tolkien, to what epic fantasy has been about for me through my whole life. I adored this book from the first page to the last. Hanrahan has taken the best of the old, the best of the last two decades, and then brought it screaming into the modern era. Fans of Gemmell and Abercrombie need this on their shelves."
—Ed McDonald on The Sword Defiant
- "In the tradition of Tolkien and Eddings, with a richly detailed narrative, well-drawn characters, epic battles, and political and religious intrigues, Hanrahan's outstanding first outing in the Lands of the Firstborn series will thrill fantasy readers—who will anxiously await the next book."—Booklist (Starred Review) on The Sword Defiant
- "Gritty and rousing ... [Hanrahan] creates a wonderful sense of tension that is also tinged with sadness ... [and] fully realized environments with rich histories."—BookPage (Starred Review) on The Sword Defiant
- "Rich worldbuilding ... This novel has the potential to become a fan-favorite among those who appreciate vast and eloquent epic fantasy. Readers will enjoy the unique twists, absorbing intrigue, and endearing characters."—Library Journal on The Sword Defiant
- “Hanrahan’s RPG roots are clear, but it’s the incredible depth of his imagination that make his world and story unique. He takes traditional characters and settings, throws in his own unique and monstrous creations and builds something completely fresh. Simultaneously familiar and completely original, The Sword Defiant is a treat for all fantasy fans, and especially for RPG players. It’s an absolute blast.”—Justin Lee Anderson, author of The Lost War
- "Employing an enviable skill with both plotting and prose, Gareth Hanrahan has in The Gutter Prayer woven an intricate and finely crafted web of compelling characters navigating a city rich in dark and original wonders. I await the sequel with the keenest anticipation."—Anthony Ryan on The Gutter Prayer
- "A gripping tale that meshes beautifully with its fascinating, darkly inventive setting."—James Islington on The Gutter Prayer
- "The Gutter Prayer is captivating and complex. Guerdon is a city that seethes with history, horror, and hidden secrets, and Hanrahan's assured style is reminiscent of China Mievelle in the best way possible."—Nicholas Eames on The Gutter Prayer
- "A groundbreaking and extraordinary novel . . . Hanrahan has an astonishing imagination."—Peter McLean on The Gutter Prayer
- "Readers who enjoy the intricate worldbuilding of Patrick Rothfuss, Mark Lawrence, Max Gladstone, and Steven Erikson should start with the first volume before tackling this satisfying sequel."—Library Journal on The Shadow Saint
- "Beautifully written. Gripping. Guerdon is the city of my dreams."—Anna Smith Spark on The Gutter Prayer
- "This is genre-defying fantasy at its very best. An absolutely stunning debut. Insanely inventive and deeply twisted. I loved it! Highly recommended."—Michael R. Fletcher on The Gutter Prayer
- "With living candles, ancient ghouls, broken gods, and more, The Gutter Prayer brims with cool and often twisted ideas."—Peter Newman on The Gutter Prayer
- "Laced with the blackest of humor and packed with magic and mayhem, this is fantasy turned up to 11."—Anna Stephens on The Gutter Prayer
- "Hanrahan brings the sights, sounds, and smells of Guerdon to life with crisp, lyrical prose that moves swiftly between thrilling action sequences and imaginative worldbuilding."—Publishers Weekly on The Gutter Prayer
- "I will buy any novel that Gareth Hanrahan ever writes. ... The Shadow Saint is a brilliant book."—Fantasy Inn on The Shadow Saint
- On Sale
- May 2, 2023
- Page Count
- 608 pages