Tara Cardinal created Aella and the Legend of the Red Reaper initially as a screenplay, but, through support and inspiration from the creators she gathered to produce the film, the story grew into novel and comic book spin offs, as well. Sword Sisters holds no pretensions of being a sweeping fantasy epic on the scale of Game of Thrones or The Wheel of Time; it is a straight-up sword and sorcery novel that turns misogynistic conventions on their head through female characters who carry the story instead of existing solely as hook ups or eye candy for the male protagonist.
Aella is both physically strong and developed enough to fall fully into the “strong character” camp, but she also possesses many flaws. While I sometimes wanted to smack her when she daydreamed a little too much about the young human man from her past who gave her a chaste peck or the cheek or was easily swayed by Damato’s seduction, I easily saw that Aella’s romantic musings came from a deep desire for full acceptance instead of the grudging variety offered by the Reapers. She also has marginal hygiene, talks back even when holding her tongue might be safer, has a dangerous temper due to her Demon blood, and wallows in resentment better than most human teenagers. Refreshingly, Aella also finds random nudity traumatic due to her abuse, so there are no scenes of her acting as cheesecake for male characters.
Amelia, Aella’s human foil, and the other female characters, also break the sword and sorcery tradition by showing a variety of personality types, including feisty young women who seem destined to find a place in their world that is greater than wife, mother, and virgin sacrifice; however, the men aren’t treated as second-class citizens either. Cardinal peoples her story with men who are strong and weak, kind and cruel, heterosexual and homosexual, truthful and liars, and no human or Reaper is solely black or white.
I expected Sword Sisters to be a little more about Aella and Amelia meeting, bonding, and becoming sisters in arms from the copy I received, but the focus on Aella’s search for acceptance with both Reapers and humans still made an excellent story. The hearty dose of violence and monster whomping satisfied the well-buried blood thirsty side as well, and I almost whooped out loud when Aella gave a snotty teenage boy a dose of his own medicine. (Okay, so the Demon part of her made it a little overkill, but he totally deserved it.)
Overall, Sword Sisters wasn’t exactly the book I expected, but it was still a rollicking good ride. If you love the sword and sorcery genre but wish that the women didn’t feel so two dimensional, it’s an excellent read. If you just want a book where a young woman hacks and slashes, you’ll find satisfaction, as well. My only real nitpick is that it’s too short; I wanted to see more of Aella and Amelia’s story now that they’ve begun forging a bond.
4.5 Meticulously Cleaned Reaper Swords out of 5