A Woman of the Sword, by Anna Smith Spark

6 Apr 2023

The Book

A Woman of the Sword
Pages: 431
Age Group: Adult
Published on 4 Apr 2023
Publisher: Luna Press Publishing
GrimdarkEpic Fantasy
Available on:


A Woman of the Sword is an epic fantasy seen through the eyes of an ordinary woman. Lidae is a daughter, a wife, a mother - and a great warrior born to fight. Her sword is hungry for killing, her right hand is red with blood.

War is very much a woman's business. But war is not kind to women. And war is not kind to mothers and their sons.  

My Review

"She hugged them back, tightly and fiercely. My loves. My small things. They were finally old enough she could leave them with him and be alone for a while, and now he was dead."

A Woman of the Sword is the new novel of Anna Smith Spark, one of the great voices in grimdark. And while this is a really different book from her Empires of Dust trilogy, the elements that made it great are there, with the story having an epic scope, but instead of following important figures, we will be following Lidae, an old soldier who retired and had children, a mother.

Lidae has just suffered the loss of her husband, letting her as the only progenitor for her two sons, Ryn and Samei; something that she was not prepared for. She, one of the best soldiers of Illyrith, who helped King Durith to reach his status, is reduced to a task she's not prepared for.
To add salt to the wounds, their village gets attacked and burned by soldiers, forcing her to take her sons and travel in the company of other refugees in the search of protection. But what they don't expect is to be in the half of a civil war, as a self-appointed king has challenged Durith's domain over Illyrith.

"The days grew very hot and sullen. Too hot for spring. Then it poured down with rain, trapping them in the house. Then it was too hot again. The boys fought constantly, bickering, sniping at each other, at her, once they fought with hands and feet so fiercely Lidae was frightened."

As we can see, the proposal is quite different from others, as Lidae, our main character, is just a person that has been caught in the middle of what is an epic event. While she would love to come back to the army, she has to think about the welfare of her sons, prioritizing motherhood over what could be her wishes.
The struggle of Lidae to keep them safe, and most importantly, to have a sane mother-son relationship is a recurrent theme in this novel. She finds herself not knowing how to deal with the situation, having to gather the help of others; and when the conflict appears between her two sons, she's clearly unable to deal with it. For once in a time, she doesn't know what she should do. And you, as the reader, get to experience the pain she's suffering.

The plot gets divided into two parts, recognized each for the conflict that is told from the POV of Lidae. While the first one was about raising her children, this second one is grittier, as a war between Illyrith and its neighbour has started, with each one of her sons on each side. They have grown and taken their own decisions (some of them really disapproved by Lidae, wondering if she made a mistake raising them), and Lidae is fighting in the army of Illyrith; seeing how her sons will fight is just breaking her heart.

When we have conquered the world,’ the squad captain says, the king says, ‘when we have conquered the world, when the war is over, when we have made peace, brought justice …’ She has a sword with a lump of red glass in its hilt, like a ruby, and it winks and flashes as the squad captain speaks or the king speaks. She is the fiercest warrior in the squad, they all know it, she fights like a demon, Maerc says. She practices with the sword and spear while the men are resting sometimes. Drills herself, pushes herself. She has never lost a sword fight

Smith Spark's prose is really special. While I understand that it is not for everybody, and that it might not click on some people, I'm a big fan of the lyrical style, closer to an epic poem than classical fantasy. And it does an excellent job transmitting the dirtiness, the grittiness, and the bloodbath of war; with extra impact as this time we are experiencing everything through the eyes of a simple soldier.

Choosing Lidae as the main character only makes this novel more emotionally impactful, as we get to connect with all of her struggles and tribulations; and while the epicness is a part of the novel, I would say it is different as we don't have a heroic character to follow, just a mother trying to do the best for her sons.

A Woman of the Sword is an excellent novel, different from the canon in fantasy, that will be a pleasure to read if you are a grimdark fan. If you liked her previous works, you will love this one.

The Author/s

Anna Smith Spark

Anna Smith Spark

Anna Smith Spark lives in London, UK. She loves grimdark and epic fantasy and historical military fiction. Anna has a BA in Classics, an MA in history, and a PhD in English Literature. She has previously been published in the Fortean Times and the poetry website www.greatworks.org.uk. Previous jobs include petty bureaucrat, English teacher, and fetish model.

Anna’s favourite authors and key influences are R. Scott Bakker, Steve Erikson, M. John Harrison, Ursula Le Guin, Mary Stewart, and Mary Renault. She spent several years as an obsessive D&D player. She can often be spotted at SFF conventions wearing very unusual shoes.