Anna Smith Spark’s latest novel, A Woman of the Sword, is a heart-wrenching grimdark masterpiece and a brutally honest depiction of depression and the struggles of motherhood.
Lidae is a soldier in a male-dominated world engulfed in civil war. She is also a widowed mother of two boys, Ryn and Samei, who are too young to understand the permanence of death. When their village is burned to the ground by enemy soldiers, Lidae finds that protecting her children from violence requires a ferocity of her own.
Being a soldier is traumatic, particularly during a time of war. Lidae is an exceptionally strong soldier, having slain more enemies than most of her male compatriots. But the strength required to be a mother is even greater:
“Bringing a child into life, bearing a child, birthing it. That was fighting. This is not fighting.”
For Lidae, the physical and emotional tolls of the soldiering life are compounded by the expectations placed on a young mother. Anna Smith Spark incisively highlights the sexism faced by mothers who choose to pursue a career or their own individual passion:
“She thought: men leave their children all the time, abandon them. And it’s often better for the children. It is no different just because I am a woman. I love them so much, but I also love, want, need… She felt emptied and light and numb and hollow and happy.”
A Woman of the Sword presents a devastatingly authentic portrait of depression, including both the inner anguish and its impact on loved ones. Lidae never feels that she is good enough and, despite her best efforts, cannot feel the joy of motherhood as her mental state spirals downward into overwhelming anguish. Her grief and traumatic experiences leave open wounds that never seem to heal.
All of this is set during a long civil war which serves as an external manifestation of Lidae’s internal struggles. As in her previous Empires of Dust series, Anna Smith Spark portrays the ruthlessness of war from the viewpoint of common soldiers who are manipulated by leaders who care nothing about them. The civil war also reflects a sibling rivalry that pits brother against brother.
Anna Smith Spark writes with fierce intensity and deep sincerity. Her well-honed, fragmented writing style perfectly captures Lidae’s shattered emotional state, reflecting more broadly the struggles of parenting and especially of motherhood.
A Woman of the Sword has many shocking and heartbreaking moments, but Anna Smith Spark’s authentic treatment of psychological trauma ultimately makes reading her new novel a cathartic experience. In this reviewer’s opinion, A Woman of the Sword is on par with Gemma Amor’s outstanding Full Immersion in terms of its powerful and honest depiction of depression.
A Woman of the Sword is a tragic masterpiece, reaffirming Anna Smith Spark’s reign as the queen of grimdark. Her new novel is a must-read for grimdark fans, and especially for parents.