The Reign of Wizardry by Jack Williamson
S.E.: 4 of 5 stars
Thanks to the Sword and Sorcery Group on Goodreads continuing to sponsor group-reads, I re-discovered Jack Williamson who wrote fantasy from ~1930-2001. I tracked down The Reign of Wizardry (with the Frank Frazetta cover) and Golden Blood to read. This review covers the first.
This ~142 page novel, first published in 1940, reads as a solid pulpy adventure. It could easily have been a Howard Conan novella. Jack Williamson presents the classic Theseus (i.e., Minotaur slayer of Greek mythology, and founder of Athens) as a heroic avenger out to remove the evil, Minoan sorcerers of Crete.
In fact, Theseus conceals his identity, going as "Captain Firebrand." There is an over abundance of going undercover; Firebrands even assumes the role of "Gothrung the wandering Northman" (a third identity, and very Conan like). It reads real fast, and in a few hours you join Firebrand on a dozen daunting missions. Betrayals and disguised impostor-ing abound. It fits most requirements of Sword & Sorcery:
Highly recommended for fans of pulp adventure and Sword & Sorcery
Before the Glory of Greece, Crete ruled the known world - and kept it enslaved by black magic! The evil of Minos held sway, protected by three unconquerable walls. First is the fleet that they call the wooden wall. Then there is a giant of living brass - he is the second wall. Then there is another barrier about the power of Minos, the Wall of Wizardry. Theseus, the tall Achean, the man they called Captain Firebrand, vowed to scale and destroy all three, and to rid the world of the evil yoke of Crete.
But Minos had other defences besides the walls, and many ways to attack as well...
Who “was” the Grim Reaper before becoming Satan’s strongest champion? This series chronicles the exploits of Satan’s right-hand warrior, Daemon Grim (the reaper). It began with Hell Bound and Hell Hounds … and continues with Hell Gate. In addition to my reviews of those, I capture some key
Hell Noir Style: The milieu and conflict are so epic in scope, and weird in substance, that the story lends itself more for narrative storytelling over dramatic showing. As before, Mr. Weston doles out exposition-through-dialogue; as I read this, I just envisioned a Noir film in which the protagonist provided a snarky voiceover. I felt like I was called into Grim's police office and sat in a room full of smoke as he coached me through a mysterious case.
What is Hell’s Milieu? Grim was introduced to the Heroes in Hell series in the anthology Doctors in Hell. Heroes in Hell is a fantastical place built from myths and religions—so do not expect Tolkienesque elves or dwarves. The primary realm explored is called Juxtapose, which is a satirical mirror of our earth’s cityscapes (the Seine river featured as “Inseine”, Paris called Perish, the Eiffel Tower represented as the Awful Tower, Facebook is called Hatebook). Since time has little meaning in Hell, beings from past and present meet and scheme (i.e., Tesla and Chopin). There are other realms beyond Juxtapose connected with ethereal gateways. All are populated by beings being tormented and try to outwit Satan or their comrades. Even Erra, the Akkadian plague god, has visited Hell to torment Satan. No one is safe! It is a splendid, wacky place that works well.
Where to Start on your trip to Hell: Hell Gate is wacky and fun, but is not the beginning. The Heroes in Hell is primarily a series of anthologies; this novel focuses on Grim but has story arcs connected to HIH. Given the breadth of abstract interactions, I recommend initial readers begin with either:
Transformation has been on my to-read list for almost two decades, and I'm glad to have finally focused on it. It is one of Carol Berg first novels, and she is still cooking up new fantasy (pen name Cate Glass, An Illusion of Thieves).
Transformation is epic, but feels fresh, and is very engrossing. It is highly recommended for fantasy readers. Here's why:
- Perspective: It is written in first-person perspective, and at 450 pages it's a decent size. Yet it reads fast. Most fantasy epics are omniscient third person. Inherently, first-person indicates the narrator will always survive, but Seyonne and his friends, family, etc. are always in peril.
- Complex, fun story: There are tons of plot twists, betrayals... so it is tough to share a summary without spoiling (the official Book Blurb is a good overview). Somehow every story arc is concluded in a satisfying way, but that doesn't mean you'll stop at this first installment.
- Atypical, angelic warfare: The overriding conflict is essentially "~angels/humans vs. ~demons" but none of those categories match religious cliches or fantasy tropes. There are several humanoid cultures, but not the trope elves, dwarves etc.. The sorcerers are the "angelic" ones, but are far from perfect.
- Exorcism/magic: A key magic system has several types of sorcerers/sorceresses that need to work together as team: i.e., one can find possessed victims, another can open doors into mental-battlegrounds, and another can enter and fight/exorcise demons. Other fantasy may have different flavors of mages (druids, illusionists, etc.) but they aren't dependent on each other--here we have Searchers, Aifes, Wardens that truly rely on one another.
- The Books of the Rai-kirah trilogy: Transformation starts the series, then Revelation, then Restoration
- The Author's website has excerpts, reviews, glossaries, maps, and more.
- Official Book Blurb:
"Seyonne is a man waiting to die. He has been a slave for sixteen years, almost half his life, and has lost everything of meaning to him: his dignity, the people and homeland he loves, and the Warden's power he used to defend an unsuspecting world from the ravages of demons. Seyonne has made peace with his fate. With strict self-discipline he forces himself to exist only in the present moment and to avoid the pain of hope or caring about anyone. But from the moment he is sold to the arrogant, careless Prince Aleksander, the heir to the Derzhi Empire, Seyonne's uneasy peace begins to crumble. And when he discovers a demon lurking in the Derzhi court, he must find hope and strength in a most unlikely place..."
Anna Smith Spark's The Court of Broken Knives is epic, grim, and filled with amoral characters; and its delivered with an unconventional writing style. It worked for me, since I value and enjoy books that deviate from the norm; the oddly poetic style became familiar as if I was listening to the author narrate. This kicks off a trilogy, the last of which is due out this Fall:
Empires of Dust
(1) The Court of Broken Knives
(2) The Tower of Living and Dying
(3) The House of Sacrifice (August 2019)
A polarizing writing style supported by themes of death and rebirth: Anna Smith Spark opens with a disorienting dream-like chapter that proves to be a mix of flashback and drug induced hallucination. Then the sequence continues with fragmented sentences, one word sentences, and sentences lacking subjects. Excerpts capture this well (below).
Chapters switch across multiple perspectives, shifting in tense, and person (first and third). It had the potential to be entirely incoherent, but there is consistency across all this, and a uniting story that keeps it glued together.
Expect some jarring prose that is actually well organized. The beginning offers a lot of conflict (person vs. person, person vs family, person vs self, other-person vs a different group, etc.), but these all converge. The glue holding all together is the replaying of history; readers are watching a grand struggle replay itself: Amrath's bloodline (death embodied) fighting the city of Sorlost (the city where life & death are balanced). What resonated with me was the the "Beauty in Death" theme which becomes real via Marith.
Grim & nontraditional content: If the style doesn't throw you, the grim content might. However, the author is "the Queen of Grimdark" and is targeting dark fantasy readers. The Court of Broken Knives is full of characters who you'll find broken, despicable, but you may end up cheering for them anyway because you'll want to see their potential realized. Several gay and bisexual pairings are becoming the norm now, and Smith dishes up several couples that read very accessible (this is not a romance book).
Four characters become most prominent:
Marith Altrersyr : He's a "hatha" (drug) addict with demonic inner potential. He inspires death on a huge scale, has a penchant for murdering and killing his loved ones. He is haunted by some of these experiences, and inspired by others.
Tobias: He's a sub-leader of a crew of mercenaries with a love-hate relationship with Marith.
Thalia: She's a high priestess and an empathetic woman, who is also accustomed to killing innocents to maintain the living/dying balance expressed via the customs of the God Tanis and City of Sorlost.
Orhan: He's a politician whose calm demeanor belies his desire to take over the city.
1) Regarding the titular Court of Broken Knives (within Sorlost):
“They strolled down the wide sweep of Sunfall and crossed the Court of the Broken Knife. A single pale light flickered beneath the great statue in the centre of the square, too small in the dark. A woman sat beside it, weeping quietly. It was a place where someone was always weeping. The statue was so old the man it depicted had no name or face, the stone worn by wind and rain to a leprous froth tracing out the ghost of a figure in breastplate and cloak. A king. A soldier. A mage lord. An enemy. Even in the old poems, it had no face and no story and no name. Eyeless, it stared up and outward, seeing things that no man living had ever seen. In its right hand the broken knife pointed downwards, stabbing at empty air. In its left hand it raised something aloft, in triumph or anger or despair. A woman’s head. A helmet. A bunch of flowers. It was impossible to tell.”
2) Example writing style:
"A dead dragon is a very large thing. Tobias stared at it for a long time. Felt regret, almost. It was beautiful in its way. Wild. Utterly bloody wild. No wisdom in those eyes. Wild freedom and the delight in killing. An immovable force, like a mountain or a storm cloud. A death thing. A beautiful death, though. Imagine saying that to [character]’s family: he was killed fighting dragon. He was killed fighting a dragon. A dragon killed him. A dragon. Like saying he died fighting a god."
3) Beauty and Death
: "Marith swerved his horse toward her. His face was rapturous. Ecstatic. So beautiful her heart leaped. He raised his sword and for a moment she thought he would kill her, and for a moment she thought she would welcome it if he did. So beautiful and perfect his face. So joyous and radiant his smile."
When comes my numbered day, I will meet it smiling. For I’ll have kept this oath.
I shall use my arms to shield the weak.
I shall use my lips to speak the truth, and my eyes to see it.
I shall use my hands to mete justice to high and low, and I will weigh all things with heart and mind.
Where I walk the laws will follow, for I am the sword of my people and the shepherd of their lands.
When I fall, I will rise through my brothers and sisters, for I am eternal -- Pledge of the Altenerai
Howard Andrew Jones’s For the Killing of Kings is highly recommended for epic fantasy fans. Twice in the first half, I was completely floored by plot twists. The last third kept me from going to sleep. Haven’t had that much fun reading a book in a long time. This jumpstarts The Ring-Sworn Trilogy, a wild & fresh & furious epic.
Pitched as The Three Musketeers presented via the style of Zelzany’s Chronicles of Amber, it holds true. Indeed, the epic pacing is reminiscent of Zelzany; HAJ doles out action and backstory with precision. Since there are many more than three “musketeers” here, and it has more of a medieval flare, one could argue it is more of a “King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table” mashup. Instead of a singular Holy Grail, the Altenerai guard are spread out searching for many hearthstones of mysterious, spiritual, power—in this case, stones are not clearly holy.
The key story arc focuses on the coming of age of the female squire Elenai, a soldier with burgeoning magic prowess. Her rise in the Altenerai (the Queen’s guard) is compelling. On her journey she mingles with the older members who still reel from the ambiguous ending of a war seven years prior; their commander was killed, and their Queen Leonara decided to make peace rather than annihilate the barbaric Naor enemies. The Queen spread the ranks out searching for hearthstones, and distanced herself from Altenerai traditions.
I list some of my favorite elements (Re-ordered and slightly disguised to avoid spoilers): a spellcasting system that linked nature to people (hearthstones); a sculptured horse worthy of Frazetta’s Death Dealer (or a woman of the similar ilk); a humanoid made of blood; a spooky ghost-town/village; the hidden content within the Chasm Tower; an unexpected, swift betrayal.
Humor: the expected banter between friends on the front line is well-delivered. Also, there are humorous cultures like the kobalin which are honor-driven furballs (reminded me of a matured, and more belligerent, Gurgi from Lloyd Alexander’s Pyrdain series)—if they like you, they want to kill you.
A diverse cast feels genuine and fresh. Despite a requisite dose of masculinity (via violence and “charmers”), women play a dominant role in the book; to wit, Queen Leonara rules over the city of Darassus, and Feolia is governor of Alantris. Elenai mingles with the disenfranchised Altenerai as she matures. The group listed below is ~50% female; a few in the group are sexually nonbinary (orientations are not a focus of the story, just low-key truths, matters of fact).
1. Asrahn (m): Master of Squires, veteran
2. Elenai (f): Young squire under Asrahn
3. N’lahr (m): Entombed Swordsman and war strategist; his sword Irion is part of a prophecy
4. Kyrkenall (m): Archer and mad poet; best buddy to N’lahr
5. Denaven (m): Veteran like Asrahn
6. Varama (f): Weapon’s specialists and scientist, emotionally cold (reminded me of a Star Trek Vulcan)
7. Rylin: (m) James-Bond-like, charming specialist
8. Cerai: (f) Hearthstone seeking sorceress with artistic flare
9. Rialla (f): Spellcaster and forger of weapons
10. Belahn (m): An aged crazy, protector of families
11. Decrin (m): Veteran
12. Aradel: (f) Wyvern (ko’aye) riding, retired member
13. Kalandra: (f) MIA sorceress, searching for hearthstone and their origin
14. Renik: (m) also MIA, swordsman looking for hearthstones and their origin, may have heeded to a strange garden in Ekhem
A map was not necessary, but would have been appreciated.
The role of the sword Irion in the plot is fantastic. It is a fun weapon to see in action. It certainly was fated to complete a mission instead of being locked up in a display case after a stalled war. However, the hope/myth behind its potential is referred to as “prophecy” which (a) seemed like a misnomer and (b) introduced a fantasy cliché. In a book in which many dozens of story arcs are interwoven, each having believable motivations/consequences, posing a fate-driven prophecy felt out of place. The prophecy seemed to originate in a relatively private setting in an impromptu ritual (not a public discourse or professed openly) and there was some mystery about its invocation (where did the inspiration come from to link the weapon to a particular individual).
More from HAJ:
The trilogy is well underway. During the Feb 2019 Ask Me Anything (AMA) on reddit, I inquired on the release schedule. HAJ returned: “First, rest assured. Not only is the second book written, it's going through final revisions right now… The third book is fully outlined and I had begun drafting…”
Howard A. Jones has long held a passion for action fiction and throughout his career has re-introduced readers to Harold Lamb, moderated Sword and Sorcery websites, and edited the Dark Fantasy magazine Blackgate and currently Tales from the Magician’s Skull & Perilous Worlds.
Rathen: Into Bramblewood Forest by Grant Elliot Smith
S.E. rating: 4 of 5 stars
With this sequel, “Rathen” officially becomes a developed character and series. Highly recommend for fantasy & RPG fans.
Grant Elliot Smith delivers another intense literary-Role Playing Game (lit-RPG) inspired adventure with Rathen: Into Bramblewood Forest; here he continues his Rathen series with co-author Steven H. Stohler. This sequel can easily be enjoyed as a standalone adventure. Whichever one you read, you’ll be excited to read the other.
My review of the predecessor, Rathen: The Legend of Ghrakus Castle holds true for this sequel; both are fun reads, having captain Rathen lead ~a dozen adventurers; as in the first book, the first 50% is the party gathering while they travel; the latter half delivering the real conflict.
Bramblewood unfolds super-fast and is surprisingly easy to read given the number of featured characters (~11 in the main party and ~4 antagonists--all of them have backstories and motivations). Presenting at a pleasant pace and delivering intense action while offering character depth is a testimony to the authors’ ability to unfurl balanced storytelling. The authors must be meticulous dungeon masters.
Adding a Lich to the party, and ensuring he had a central role in the plot to obtain the Book of Ziz, really provided a unique take on the typical RPG party. Listen below is Rathen’s party, each member you’ll get to know and route for:
Keeping it from a 5-star is the same melodrama that makes the tale enjoyable. There are instances of fast healing that deflate consequences of battle, but still reflect lit-RPG expectations; many subplots come across as artificial (i.e., including a few romantic relationships, and escape scenes) that develop fun tension but approach feeling forced.
Cover Art by Stawicki and Future Rathen: Longtime fantasy illustrator Michael Stawicki provided another great cover. He has illustrated many in his career for Dragon Lance, Monte Cook Games, Milton-Bradley, Hasbro, Wizards of the Coast, Vivendi Games, and others.
I am committed to the third episode in the works, pitched as “The Battle for Korganis.”
Combing Stawicki’s website, it is touch to overlook a stunning related work which I hope/speculate reveals the next adventure, artwork called “Rathen’s Descent.”
Lyrical Narrative: I don’t recommend this particular book for everyone, but Lord Dunsany wrote adult fantasy fiction with lyrical prose which are must-read, enjoyable short stories too: The Sword of Welleran and Other Stories or the Time and the Gods collection for instance. Read those. But The King of Elfland's Daughter (TKoED) is a novel, and the style works less well. Unending paragraphs literally span pages. Run on sentences eventually stop, only to be followed with new sentences beginning with conjunctions.
Occasionally, he’ll break the fourth wall to answer critics requiring a link to actual history (so he calls out a unnecessary connection to 1530 Europe and the Pope in his chapter called “A Historical Fact) and an equally unnecessary apology to stereotyping the alluring willow the wisps. So thick was the main narrative style, these asides blended in smoothly as if he we talking to the reader over a camp fire.
For Adult Fantasy Aficionados: TKoED is really only recommended for fantasy fans learning great works written before or in-parallel with Tolkien’s release of his Lord of the Rings; in fact, I read this inspired by such aficionados with a groupread on Goodreads. There are clear influences that resonate with Tolkien’s Music of the Ainur (The Silmarillion) and milieus that echo that of Eddison’s Ouroboros and Anderson’s Broken Sword. You’ll enjoy this more if consider its broader place in literature:
Fields we Know, and Fields we do not know: Separating the land of magicless men and the field-they-knew is a wondrous twilight which many ignore, but the timeless and geographical shifting land of elves is beyond—and over there lies fields-we-humans-do-not-know. Across this barrier, Dunsany sends the reader with a heroic human. He is heir to the city of Erl, Alveric, questing for some magic in a tale that “only songs can tell.” Alveric gains magic by luring the daughter of the Elfland King back to the city of Erl. The repetition of places-we-know, and places we-do-not-know, evokes a famous quote spoken ~80yrs after the book’s publication:
“There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don't know we don't know.” Donald Rumsfeld, United States Secretary of Defense, 12 February 2002
Dunsany wants to share the unknown with us. However, he admits he cannot capture things that can only be sung, or experienced outside the pages of a book. Yet he succeeds in creating entrancing prose.
Conflict is present, but unclear: One may expect more clear conflict, but it is not the ostensible Alveric/Orion/Man vs. Elves. There are many reasons why elves and humans should avoid each other or go to war, but in the end they seem to have undramatic encounters. There is an undertone of “magic vs reality” demonstrated with the Freer (a stifling Christian priest) and his interactions with magic/elves.
The first half and end focus on Alveric. His heroic adventure is compelling. He has wondrous battles with using a magical sword against weird things. His elvish wife (Lirazel) is conflicted. His tale is dark but told friendly; it is a Fairy tale in which Alveric goes mad and follows even madder men. I would have preferred the book just focus on him and his relationship with the titular daughter of the Elfland King.
Their son, Orion, dominates the middle of the book. His hunting experiences were odd. Orion is shown to be at-one with nature, but then he hunts innocent, beautiful, peaceful & magical unicorns (which provide nothing more than glory and trophies). He even teamed with the same troll that tricked his mom into being lured back to Elfland. Content seem to drift with his story, so we get treated to pages of the troll mis-communicating with pigeons.
All in all, if you appreciate older literature you’ll find this one worth the extra effort. Even if you want to tackle this to experience Dunsany, try out his short fiction first.
Excerpts: p68: Weird, poignant, philosophizing example #1: Sad toys in Elfland
“For it is true, and Alveric knew, that just as the glamour that brightens much of our lives, especially in early years, comes from rumours that reach us from Elfland by various messengers (on whom be blessings and peace), so there returns from our fields to Elfland again, to become a part of its mystery, all manner of little memories that we have lost and little devoted toys that were treasured once. And this is part of the law of ebb and flow that science may trace in all things; thus light grew the forest of coal, and the coal gives back light; thus rivers fill the sea, and the sea sends back to the rivers; thus all things give that receive; even Death.
Next Alveric saw lying there on the flat dry ground a toy that he yet remembered, which years and years ago (how could he say how many?) had been a childish joy to him, crudely carved out of wood; and one unlucky day it had been broken, and one unhappy day it had been thrown away. And now he saw it lying there not merely new and unbroken, but with a wonder about it, a splendour and a romance, the radiant transfigured thing that his young fancy had known. It lay there forsaken of Elfland as wonderful things of the sea lie sometimes desolate on wastes of sand, when the sea is a far blue bulk with a border of foam.”
p105: Weird, poignant, philosophizing example #2: The power of ink
And little [Orion] knew of the things that ink may do, how it can mark a dead man's thought for the wonder of later years, and tell of happenings that are gone clean away, and be a voice for us out of the dark of time, and save many a fragile thing from the pounding of heavy ages; or carry to us, over the rolling centuries, even a song from lips long dead on forgotten hills. Little knew he of ink…
p7: Enchanting Magic example #1: The making of a magical sword. And. And. And …
The witch approached it and pared its edges with a sword that she drew from her thigh. Then she sat down beside it on the earth and sang to it while it cooled. Not like the runes that enraged the flames was the song she sang to the sword: she whose curses had blasted the fire till it shrivelled big logs of oak crooned now a melody like a wind in summer blowing from wild wood gardens that no man tended, down valleys loved once by children, now lost to them but for dreams, a song of such memories as lurk and hide along the edges of oblivion, now flashing from beautiful years of glimpse of some golden moment, now passing swiftly out of remembrance again, to go back to the shades of oblivion, and leaving on the mind those faintest traces of little shining feet which when dimly perceived by us are called regrets. She sang of old Summer noons in the time of harebells: she sang on that high dark heath a song that seemed so full of mornings and evenings preserved with all their dews by her magical craft from days that had else been lost, that Alveric wondered of each small wandering wing, that her fire had lured from the dusk, if this were the ghost of some day lost to man, called up by the force of her song from times that were fairer. And all the while the unearthly metal grew harder. The white liquid stiffened and turned red. The glow of the red dwindled. And as it cooled it narrowed: little particles came together, little crevices closed: and as they closed they seized the air about them, and with the air they caught the witch's rune, and gripped it and held it forever. And so it was it became a magical sword. And little magic there is in English woods, from the time of anemones to the falling of leaves, that was not in the sword. And little magic there is in southern downs, that only sheep roam over and quiet shepherds, that the sword had not too. And there was scent of thyme in it and sight of lilac, and the chorus of birds that sings before dawn in April, and the deep proud splendour of rhododendrons, and the litheness and laughter of streams, and miles and miles of may. And by the time the sword was black it was all enchanted with magic.
Nobody can tell you about that sword all that there is to be told of it; for those that know of those paths of Space on which its metals once floated, till Earth caught them one by one as she sailed past on her orbit, have little time to waste on such things as magic, and so cannot tell you how the sword was made, and those who know whence poetry is, and the need that man has for song, or know any one of the fifty branches of magic, have little time to waste on such things as science, and so cannot tell you whence its ingredients came. Enough that it was once beyond our Earth and was now here amongst our mundane stones; that it was once but as those stones, and now had something in it such as soft music has; let those that can define it.
p102: Enchanting Magical Music example #2:
Then the Elf King rose, and put his left arm about his daughter, and raised his right to make a mighty enchantment, standing up before his shining throne which is the very centre of Elfland. And with clear resonance deep down in his throat he chaunted a rhythmic spell, all made of words that Lirazel never had heard before, some age-old incantation, calling Elfland away, drawing it further from Earth. And the marvellous flowers heard as their petals drank in the music, and the deep notes flooded the lawns; and all the palace thrilled, and quivered with brighter colours; and a charm went over the plain as far as the frontier of twilight, and a trembling went through the enchanted wood. Still the Elf King chaunted on. The ringing ominous notes came now to the Elfin Mountains, and all their line of peaks quivered as hills in haze, when the heat of summer beats up from the moors and visibly dances in air. All Elfland heard, all Elfland obeyed that spell. And now the King and his daughter drifted away, as the smoke of the nomads drifts over Sahara away from their camel's-hair tents, as dreams drift away at dawn, as clouds over the sunset; and like the wind with the smoke, night with the dreams, warmth with the sunset, all Elfland drifted with them. All Elfland drifted with them and left the desolate plain, the dreary deserted region, the unenchanted land. So swiftly that spell was uttered, so suddenly Elfland obeyed, that many a little song, old memory, garden or may tree of remembered years, was swept but a little way by the drift and heave of Elfland, swaying too slowly eastwards till the elfin lawns were gone, and the barrier of twilight heaved over them and left them among the rocks.
p15: Dreamy style example #1: Fields we know; And. And. And…
“To those who may have wisely kept their fancies within the boundary of the fields we know it is difficult for me to tell of the land to which Alveric had come, so that in their minds they can see that plain with its scattered trees and far off the dark wood out of which the palace of Elfland lifted those glittering spires, and above them and beyond them that serene range of mountains whose pinnacles took no colour from any light we see. Yet it is for this very purpose that our fancies travel far, and if my reader through fault of mine fail to picture the peaks of Elfland my fancy had better have stayed in the fields we know. Know then that in Elfland are colours more deep than are in our fields, and the very air there glows with so deep a lucency that all things seen there have something of the look of our trees and flowers in June reflected in water. And the colour of Elfland, of which I despaired to tell, may yet be told, for we have hints of it here; the deep blue of the night in Summer just as the gloaming has gone, the pale blue of Venus flooding the evening with light, the deeps of lakes in the twilight, all these are hints of that colour. And while our sunflowers carefully turned to the sun, some forefather of the rhododendrons must have turned a little towards Elfland, so that some of that glory dwells with them to this day. And, above all, our painters have had many a glimpse of that country, so that sometimes in pictures we see a glamour too wonderful for our fields; it is a memory of theirs that intruded from some old glimpse of the pale-blue mountains while they sat at easels painting the fields we know.”
p40: Dreamy style example #2: trembling weeds and personified energy
“Cast anything into a deep pool from a land strange to it, where some great fish dreams, and green weeds dream, and heavy colours dream, and light sleeps; the great fish stirs, the colours shift and change, the green weeds tremble, the light wakes, a myriad things know slow movement and change; and soon the whole pool is still again. It was the same when Alveric passed through the border of twilight and right through the enchanted wood, and the King was troubled and moved, and all Elfland trembled.”
Port of Shadows is Fake News: This Black Company installment from Glen Cook (chronologically #1.5, but published >#10) will be enjoyed by long-term fans much more than newer folk reading the books in order. I came from reading only the first book and recommend skipping it (I am still intrigued to read Shadows Linger eventually). As part of group read in the Goodread's Sword & Sorcery group, series fans suggest reading the original trilogy first (Chronicles of the Black Company) and reaffirm that the other books are more engaging.
Some spoilers follow as I explain why Port of Shadows is alluring Fake News:
To quote the main narrator Croaker (physician and official historian of the group): "I had no idea what this ferocious campaign was all about. Well, yes, there were Rebels and Resurrectionists in need of butchering out here. Hints from the wife and kids suggested a possible connection to the Port of Shadows business, but … I could not help suspecting that something more was afoot.
The most reliable information about the late empire is not reliable at all. It, too, is consensus guesswork woven from untrustworthy fragmentary records and hand-me-down oral histories."
Alfred Hitchcock once said, "The MacGuffin is the thing that the spies are after but the audience don't care"; the titular "Port of Shadows" is not quite a MacGuffin--but it's pretty close: the mysterious "Port" is the focus of the Black Company's quest/conflict, but ample threads/arcs regarding the danger stemming from it are consistently left unexplained or shown to be not dangerous.
Ostensible conflict (excerpt): "…if the Lady had spoken truly, Tides Elba was a threat to the whole world. She could become the port through which the hideous shadow known as the Dominator could make his return. No doubt she was sought by and beloved of every Resurrectionist cultist hoping to raise the old evil from his grave. No doubt she was the prophesied messiah of darkness."
We are told (not shown) that the Port is an exposed pathway for the evil Dominator to be resurrected--yet as a reader I was never engaged. For one, the Dominator's evilness is not demonstrated, nor do the flashbacks really feature him or his behavior; secondly, the "Port" and all its possible incarnations are not really dangerous (we are told, not shown, many times that the possible Ports are causing mayhem, but the Black Company and our narrator Croaker never seem to be in any danger); and lastly, any such resurrection (i.e., use of the Port) never seems close. Nothing ever seems to be at stake.
A lack luster tale told in a confusing fashion: The tale is told via a weave of historic (long time ago) and present-day chapters. The initial 1/3rd is great, but the mysterious "Just follow my command and do a mysterious task without explanation" [given by the Lady or the Black Co Captain to Croaker] starts to fall flat thereafter. Suspicious activity from the magician One-Eye and the Taken Limper introduced in the beginning are ultimately just snippets for old time fans to relish. Although entertaining, any tension from having untrustworthy companions is not capitalized on.
Fake News: We learn lots of what is going via journalistic accounts (not direct witnessing) as characters touch base with Croaker. This makes sense since he is the Annalist, but also keeps the reader distant. The alternating shifts in time also change point of view (first person with Croaker and third person). Within one yarn, there is time travel (forward and back) in which people are transported via time.
Everyone is unreliable, either because they are mischievous, possessed/"not acting like themselves," are clones, impostors, twins, or alternative incarnations of themselves (Mischievous rain had at least three version of herself; Laissa at least two, Ankou shapeshifts, etc.). The confusion does not seem to be unfurled intentionally (i.e., in a Phillip Dick story). Instead we are given a huge swath of characters, all unreliable, most only appearing for a short time, most with multiple instances of themselves… and none of them know what is going on (see below excerpts).
I am assuming that the following stories in the series follow through and make this feel more complete, but as a standalone novel, and even as a sequel, it feels incomplete.
Excerpts (a.k.a., Fake News headlines):
The most reliable information about the late empire is not reliable at all. It, too, is consensus guesswork woven from untrustworthy fragmentary records and hand-me-down oral histories.
We’re into something unlike anything we’ve ever seen. We don’t know what it is. That’s why we keep talking and talking. I can’t even express it. It’s something that we can’t handle the way we usually do. We can’t trick it. We can’t crush it by being the nastiest killers on the field. It’s all inside. Insidious.
Nobody knows what’s going on. Anything that we think we know is almost certainly not…
"…You don’t know anything more than I do. And now I’m beginning to think that maybe even the Taken is without a clue.” Our mistress was known for playing lives-long games that only she could fathom.
The Captain deployed his ingenuous smile, neither denying nor confirming, just suggesting that he knew something that would remain a mystery to everyone else.
Nothing was what it looked like. Nothing stayed the same. Nothing went the way that it should.
Somebody keeps making us forget stuff
I had no idea what this ferocious campaign was all about. Well, yes, there were Rebels and Resurrectionists in need of butchering out here. Hints from the wife and kids suggested a possible connection to the Port of Shadows business, but … I could not help suspecting that something more was afoot.
From the Old Man down to the Third and local kid Gurdlief Speak, folks keep asking me for news they need to make sense of a time that no surviving memories make sensible.
the Black Company must have been smacked with a widespread, savage, and utterly, angrily deliberate memory assault.
None of the Senjak sisters were described accurately. None of them were identified by their correct names.
The most reliable information about the late empire is not reliable at all. It, too, is consensus guesswork woven from untrustworthy fragmentary records and hand-me-down oral histories.
The back-cover blurb is concise and has no spoilers, and captures the book well (copied/pasted below).
This book is saturated with oppression, violence, and murder but none of that is gratuitous. Like his assassin characters, author Chris A. Jacksonbalances several tight-rope acts: (a) have the protagonist, Lad, commit evil acts while being innocent at heart; (b) present the coming of age of three characters with burgeoning romance without being cheesy; (c) dole out humor (mostly through Lad's dialogue) while shedding blood; (d) present mature themes of identity and life-purpose with an easy-to-read style (suitable for YA or adult audiences).
Each chapter blends into the next with a carefully scripted, enjoyable plot with just the right amount of tension. All the main characters (Lad, Mya, Wiggin) grow while establishing strong character motivations. There are five more in the series and this is solid introduction. Before I jump into #2 Weapon of Blood, I will read Chris A. Jackson's Deathmask since I already have the paperback and I'm a sucker for necromancers.
Most (if not all) are illustrated by Noah Stacey:
Weapon of Flesh Series
#1 Weapon of Flesh 2005
#2 Weapon of Blood 2013
#3 Weapon of Vengeance 2014
#4 Weapon of Fear 2015 *
#5 Weapon of Pain 2016 *
#6 Weapon of Mercy 2017 *
(* with Anne L. McMillen-Jackson)
Back Cover Blurb to Weapon of Flesh:
"Forged from flesh… and magic. Made to kill… but not to feel.
He was made for one purpose: To be the most efficient killer, the most lethal assassin the world had ever seen. But something has gone wrong with the plan.
The Master is gone… The weapon is free… And in a dangerous world, a weapon does what a weapon is made to do. Or does he?
Without even a name, the weapon chooses one: Lad. And so the weapon begins to become a person… All he has been told is that his destiny awaits him, so he seeks it out, though he knows not what that destiny is.
But the one who paid for the weapon to be forged awaits his prize…impatiently. The Grandfather of Assassins has invested nearly two decades and a fortune in his perfect weapon, and when it does not arrive on time, he begins to search. His hunters are seeking Lad, and Lad is seeking his destiny.
There is only one problem: No one thought a weapon of flesh would fall in love."
Book Review: Peter Fugazzotto's The Witch of the Sands is a solid novella.Very much like Glen Cook's The Black Company, this features a band of hired warriors (Hounds) set on quests/errands that once aligned with Shield's personal goal (kill all warriors and witches since they, namely the Warlock King, killed his father).
Here the Celtic/Viking-like Hounds deal with a Roman-like leader named Cassius (a nod to the IX "lost" legion) to (a) murder a magic-less chieftain (reasons unknown) and then (b) seek out the titular witch of the sands. The author handles the group well, assigning simple but effective names: Shield, Harad, Hawk, Patch, the Brothers Bull, Night (my favorite stealthy fighter),etc.. It's a fun squad with decently involved backstory and tension. Fugazzotto's martial art experience influences the fights, with just the right amount of descriptive positioning and movement.
Plenty of sorcery and undead horror here, and the final battle is compelling--delivering a mix of betrayal, music-based magic, and bloody melee.
Without spoiling, not all is answered about Cassius's intentions. I would have have enjoyed a clearer tie-in between missions. I suspect that may be answered in subsequent installments. The characters and writing style serve as a solid introduction to the Hounds of the North. Shield carries his team and the story... and the readers. You'll undoubtedly follow to book 2, Black River.
An obvious must-read for Grimdark readers and fans of Glen Cook.
In summary, The Beauty offered everything I expected and desired: a mysterious adventure, evocative prose, and unique storytelling. It is deep, but thrilling.
PEACE, PIPE, is a bonus story that is 50% of this book. An alien diplomat chronicles its exploits (having accidentally started a war on Demeter) while quarantined and communicating to a pipe (which speaks as water flows through it, and evokes the sounds of a flushing toilet). Again, the themes of storytelling and communication are foundations, as well as an invitation to the reader to change perspectives on different cultures. No body horror in this one.
"There are signs, I don't care what William says. There are signs of change, of regeneration, and I saw the first mushrooms in the graveyard on the morning after U ripped up the photograph of my mother's face and threw the pieces over the cliff, into the fat swallowing folds of the sea..."
My name is Nathan, just twenty-three and given to the curation of stories.I listen, retain, then polish and release them over the fire at night, when the others hush and lean forward in their desire to hear of the past. They crave romance, particularly when autumn sets in and cold nights await them, and so I speak of Alice, and Bethany, and Sarah, and Val, and other dead women who all once had lustrous hair and never a bad word on their plump limps...Language is changing, like the earth, like the sea. We live in a lonely, fateful flux, outnumbered and outgrown."
"When [William] told me of his journey, that was how he finished it--he fitted there. I find this to the strangest of expressions--how does one fit in with other people, all edges erased, making a seamless life from the sharp corners of discontent? I don't find anything that fits in such a way. Certainly not in nature. Nothing real is meant to tessellate like a triangle, top-bottom bottom-top. The sheep will never munch the grass in straight lines."
"[Doctor Ben] told me diseases were like people. They fight and fight and throw themselves around to escape the walls of tighter and tighter boxes."
"They were found in the graveyard, springing from the decaying bodies of the women deep in the ground, and they were found in the woods, spreading themselves like a rug over the wet earth. The Beauty were small at first but they grew and took the best qualities of the dead. They sucked up through the soil all the softness, serenity, hope, and happiness of womankind. They made themselves into a new form, a new north, shaped from the clay of the world and designed only to bring pleasure to man.
But the Beauty knew form the many experiences of the women that had gone before, that men did not always love what was good for them. Men could attack, hurt, main and murder the things that came too fast, too suddenly, like love...."
Unsheathed: An Epic Fantasy Collection is high quality Sword & Sorcery by nine contemporary authors. The anthology is varied in tone and style, and will delight new fans (who may like lit-RPG fare) as well as aged veterans looking for weird pulp. I picked this up as part of a S&S Groupread on Goodreads which had the theme of "New vs 'N'" (N being the infamous Appendix N list from Gary Gygax.
All were fun, but two of these resonated with me. The first was by Charles Allen Gramlich, whose writing lured me to this collection (having read his Harvest of War and Bitter Steel: Tales and Poems of Epic Fantasy and others). The second was by Jay Erickson whose Lydia/Gwendolyn Locke stood out in design & delivery.
1. Hanging at Crosbhothar Austin Worley: “Corpses hung from the ancient maple like leaves” is a great opener. The story follows the female Arlise, Watcher of the Order, who trails the corrupted Eoghan and his sorceress lover Katrin. A few abrupt saved-by-the-last-minute incidents and rpg-rapid-healing keeps this decent tale from a 5-star.
2. Retribution by Night Chad Vincent: This 4-star tale introduces Captain Brennan who is caught in an outpost drama between the oppressed, local named Aodhan ( a nature lover, and demon lover too?) who is hounded by surly knights, like Sergeant Armstrong. Not sure who to root for in this gray tale, though Brennan is ostensibly on the knights side. Nice undead battles here. Would have enjoyed experiencing Aodhan's past to appreciate his motivations.
3. Where All the Souls are Hollow by Charles Allen Gramlich: a 5 star Sword-n-Planet with the technology being more implicit than explicit. We join Krieg (German for "War") as his adventures mid-mission. Krieg’s purpose is slowly revealed as he battles automatons, sinister alien forces, and evil "children." A beautiful blend of horror and adventure; pacing is spot on.
4. Switch Blade by Scott Simerlein: I am not into humorous stories, but this hilarious farce was well placed in the collection. It was slightly confusing, but was meant to be. 4 star.
5. King’s Road by G. Dean Manuel: This melodrama unfolds faster than the characters can deliver their lines; it felt like a fan fiction tribute of LOTR's Rohan Gondor play between a prince-son usurping his worn-king-father’s rule. 3 star
6. The Artefact by Ross Baxter: lit-RPG readers would like this one. Three heroes with desires to collect as many types of loot (books/knowledge, a weapon, and something mechanical/crafty like a timepiece) adventure in ruins. It feels like part of larger universe, but for a short story the story arc was not contained enough to be a clear stand alone adventure. The character Jud stood out. 3+ star.
7. Under Locke and Key by Jay Erickson: a 5 star tale with female leads and blood magic. Gwendolyne is an enslaved adolescent girl, whose parents died by the Red Tears plague. The same sickness affects the countryside and criminals wishing to profit off of orphaned girls and a possible cure. The flow of the tale was very smooth and engaging.
8. Ransom for a Prince by Liam Hogan: this is saturated with fighting, and was more real/historical than fantasy. Expect lots of medieval duels with a female lead. The premise is a reason for the author to show off the art of sword play, which is described well. 4+.
9. Only an Elf by Stuart Thaman : There is a lot going on here in this 4-star tale of slavery. Overall the plot is very engaging, but the bloody climax seemed inconsistent with the lead up. Certain scenes between the female elf slave Enessana and her master, the blacksmith dwarf Kimiko, worked separately, but did not flow with other events. Perhaps too much was packed within a short span of pages, throwing the pacing off. This would expand into a great novel.
"Behold! I have fashioned a magazine like those from fabled days of yore. It overflows with thrilling adventures. There are swords, and there is sorcery. There are dark deeds and daring rescues. There are lands where heroes fear to tread." - The Magician's Skull speaks in Kickstarter
Should you trust a talking skull? Well, no sane person would, but I attest this Skull does not lie. Tales from the Magician's Skull #1 spawned from a successful 2017 Kickstarter Campaign in which Howard Andrew Jones (Sword & Sorcery guru, author, and RPGer) teamed up with Joseph Goodman of Goodman Games, publisher of Dungeon Crawl Classics. The resulting magazine reflects this partnership, marrying great stories with suggested RPG game items. As a backer and enthusiast of fantasy fiction, I couldn’t be more pleased.
QUALITY: The quality is great (the artwork, editing, illustrations, paper-feel etc.); this magazine is just fun to hold.
APPENDIX: The Appendix! What a great design idea! To drive home the RPG elements of the stories, these guys created items and rules related to each story for the Dungeon Crawl Classic RPG. This is really cool. read the stories...then go play them.
ILLUSTRATIONS: Ooh, the illustrations are nice and varied. For Enge’s story, Russ Nicholson drew a full page, very reminiscent of his drawings for the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks. Many full page, detailed illustrations decorate the interior (by artists: Jennell Jaquays, Doug Kovacs, William McAusland, Brad McDevitt, Ian Miller, Russ Nicholson, Stefan Poag, and Chuck Whelon).
1) "What Lies in Ice" A Gaunt and Bone story by Chris Willrich - For me this was 3-stars, but I think YA-adult and lit-RPG (literary RPG) readers will enjoy it more. For a short story, this has a huge party of protagonists (>6), heavy doses of comic relief, and an overabundance of fast-paced story telling that shoots for ADHD action scenes rather than elements-that-build-on-each other. It reminds me of a Marvel Avengers movie. It has too much in it to allow an old fogie like myself enough to grasp on to, but it does have a lot of neat things going on (as disjointed as they are). My favorite concept/creature: Hands of the Sea (which is the first item in the Appendix!).
Sharing my thoughts on Goodreads prompted the Sword & Sorcery crowdassured me that followers of Gaunt and Bone will enjoy this since it ties together other G&B yarns.
2) James Enge's "The Guild of Silent Men : A Story of Morlock Ambrosius". 5-star! Although less action than the previous story, this fantasy-murder mystery delivers more than enough swords-n-sorcery while fleshing out Thain Morlock's background and motivations. A fun read that also serves to make me want to learn more. Perhaps I should go get Blood of Ambrose right now.
3) Bill Ward's "Beneath the Bay of Black Waters” A Tale of Shan Spirit Slayer and the Banner General Bao" - 4-stars. I'm a big Bill Ward fan (i.e., his anthologies like
Mightier than the Sword and Last of His Kind). This Asian/Orient adventure is led by an entertaining duo tracking a drug trade (of Black Pearls, being mysterious narcotics) from the Fish-Gutter gang. Death escapes the protagonists more than it should, but the story is great.
4) Aeryn Rudel's “Beyond the Block” - 5 stars. A first-person perspective was perfect for this undead horror. Another duo stars, this time its Lucinda and her brother Matthais (the narrator). Matthais is a blacksmith who seeks to defend Lucinda from Lord Magister Vyard (a sorcerer who wants something of Lucinda’s magical potential).
5) Howard Andrew Jones’s “Crypt of Stars, From the Chronicles of Hanuvar Cabera" has one primary hero: Hanuvar of the Volani. It's him against the invading Dervani who are out to raid his ancestral cemeteries. I am a big HAJ fan, having followed his blogs and Black Gate articles and enjoyed his fiction (i.e., The Bones of the Old Ones). He never disappoints. 5-stars.
6) C.L. Werner's "There Was an Old Fat Spider” offers a biased protagonist, Karl, who may be an anti-hero. A knight and civil protector Rudolf Goettinger tracks Karl down in this Germanic/Gothic tale that reminded me of Werner's Warhammer tales. Lots of gray areas here. Good grimness. 4-stars.
7) John C. Hocking’s “The Crystal Sickle’s Harvest. From the World of the Archivist." Another police-like duo lead this mystery: Thratos (mentor Hand of the King sorcerer) and Benhus (young mentee, warrior sorcerer). Thieves are breaking into royal crypts, but not necessarily to steal. Why? Some neat Magical Weapons are presented, i.e., the Nobleman's Comfort (magical wand, and its in the Appendix). Best of all, this story has a talking skull! But is it THE skull? 5-stars.
VOLUME #2 promises more of the great quality, and it is nearing publication (June 15th 2018). I suggest you join the Legion of the Skull, whether you like to read, play RPGs, or both.
1) Heroes of Dreams & Khash series: I discovered Lumley’s writing via his Weird Sword & Sorcery. Vintage dark fantasy spawned in the early 1900’s from the work of pen-pals R.E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft; though it seems rare to find quality Conan-Mythos mash-ups. Lumely has done so a few times. First, his Hero of Dreams series is an overt mashup of Lovecraft’s Dreamcycle and Leiber’s Fafred and Gray Mouser series. Lumley’s Tarra Khash series (a.k.a. Tales of Primal Land) was written in a similar vein (i.e. fun Sword & Sorcery adventure in a Weird-Fiction, Cthulhu-esque world).
2) Blood Omen Legacy of Kain: A huge fan of the Horror S&S Game Series “Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain”, I was delighted to learn that Lumely’s writing influenced Denis Dyack’s vision of Nosgoth. Denis Dyack, creator of Silicon Knights, made the original Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain game (various incarnations from 1996 thru 2009). As a Kain fan I did not know the influence from Lumely until I saw an interview on Youtube (The Quantum Tunnel 2016 called Blood Omen Legacy Of Kain Deep Dive 1) in which Dyack reveals that the classic horror/action-rpg game was influenced by Lumey’s Necroscope series. Given the Visceral, Vampire, Lovecraftian, and Time Travel elements, this makes sense; however, the book has a contemporary setting versus the medieval one in the game.
As a fan of Khash, Heroes of Dreams, and Legacy of Kain… I just had to check out Necroscope. So what is it really?
Necroscope is “ESPionage” fiction (a word coined in this book), blending paranormal horror with spy adventure. It kicks off a series of 18 books (published 1986 to 2013). This first entry is entertaining and sets an expansive foundation for a wild ride. People with supernatural powers (predicting the future, speaking to the dead, etc.) are being enlisted into government agencies.
The book is ostensibly about the battle between the United Kingdom vs. the Russian governments special forces, but the conflict is really about Harry Keogh (speaker to the dead) vs. Boris Dragosani (who approximates a vampire). Each is associated with a government, but each is motivated by personal goals which take center stage. The reader learns about supernatural powers as these two do. After they master their respective powers, they go to battle in a most bizarre way chock-full of undead things and over the top time travel.
Expect lots of changing perspective and lots of story threads that will gel about half way through. Artwork is unexpectedly sprinkled throughout the book (even the Kindle version). The geometry puzzles and Moebius Strips shown relate the story and make for fun, relevant, diversions. This is very digestible horror for non-horror fans. A very fast read, recommended to just about everyone who likes dark adventure.
Never let a lesser person hold dominion over your sense of worth. If you doubt your own logic, you become vulnerable to oppression, violation, and control.- scholar Adam Lockhart
Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark inspired this Slaves of Erafor series (a dark muse for sure). When and how should passive intellectuals fight back against blind oppression? It is a timely philosophical question for many, especially in a day in with faux news is eroding our confidence in society's collective intelligence. At what point is violent revolution warranted? Rhein offers an entertaining adventure that invites us to consider such dilemmas. Don't worry, it reads as fun escapism--not a manifesto.
This is a stunning sequel to the The Reader of Acheron, which introduced us to Kikkan (an educated brute, a freed slave--he's the pipe-weilding due on the cover) and the duo of Cole & Quillion (nuanced mercenaries). The three men go on a mission, inspired by a rare scholar named Lockhart: find a teacher, a literate thief, in Edentown. They are continuously dogged by an oppressive, illiterate government. Acheron was ambitious and rewarding, introducing us to a future in which reading is prohibited; Thief is even better.
Stylistically, the Literate Thief is very realistic (no mythological monsters or contraptions exist) but it does "feel like" Steampunk Fantasy. Its tone is more Grim than Hopeful, but that reflects the daunting conflict our heroes face. Its faces several humans against (a) organized authoritarian government, (b) a drugged, apathetic populace, and (c) an impoverished ruined city-scape. There are several instances you will hope that they can escape into the infested, haunted subway for relative safety from the dangers above.
Walter Rhein mixed up just the right number of opposing & cooperative players and places. As much as the Literate Thief fleshes out the World of Erafor, it opens up new vistas into weird science (futuristic alchemy & drug use) while exposing more mysteries. One the one hand, the geography crystallized: places like: San Borja, San Aryan, Brinewater, and Edentown all became distinctive characters unto themselves; on the other hand, characters like Quillion, Cole, and Kikkan demonstrate wild heroics while revealing more about themselves... and new people (i.e., the antagonists Orion and Janus, and the roving library-scholar) offer up an atlas full of new stories. There is a thief of course: Simyon, a friend of the seductive archer Valeria; they make a great pair. But is Simyon the titular Thief?
Drugs play a prominent role. First there is Bliss, that is voluntary, and involuntary imbibed by the abundant, lower classes; these addicts become so consumed they resemble mindless, cannibalistic demons. There is also an unnamed steroid-like substance the governing brutes consume, which may be harvested from the humans they torment.
The Slaves of Erafor is an unfinished series, so don't expect all mysteries to be explained. I haven't felt the giddy need to read the next book (in progress) since I was a teenager devouring series like Raymond E. Feist Riftwar or Margaret Weis's Dragonlance.
S.E. rating: 4 of 5 stars
Rogue Blades Entertainment has a great track record for delivering anthologies (Return of the Sword, Writing Fantasy Heroes,Rage of the Behemoth, and more). Challenge! Discovery is the 2017 edition, which posed a challenge: look at the cover, and write a story about it. The illustration features a scantily clad female warrior and a panther emerge from jungle ruins.
The concept is cool, but the entries range in quality, and I disagree with the judges. Apparently the last two won 1st and 2nd place by the judges, but if I were to rate by (a) inspiration from cover and (b) storytelling (good pacing, show not tell, etc.) then I would have chosen 2 of the below:
- "Inner Nature" by JOHN KILIAN
- "Someplace Cool and Dark" by FREDERIC S. DURBIN
- "Witch with Bronze Teeth brushed" by KEITH J. TAYLOR
1) "Witch with Bronze Teeth brushed" by KEITH J. TAYLOR: 5-star blend of military Warhammer-esque battle and zombie horror
2) "Fire Eye Gem" by Richard Berrigan: 3-star; too corny for me; features a do-good Kimmeriorian barbarian named ‘Jack’?. ugh
3) "Inner Nature" by JOHN KILIAN 5-star, started ok and but ramped-up very satisfyingly
4) "The Ash-Wood of Celestial Flame" by GABE DYBING; nice fairy tale elements
5) "Someplace Cool and Dark" by FREDERIC S. DURBIN: 5-star, it is first person, weird funny and dark.... and I heard this exact story before! It took me a while to figure it out, but I heard him read this at the World Fantasy Convention 2016. A bonus essay on the writing of this story is added and is as engaging as the story
6)"World inside the Walls" by Frederick Tor : 3-star. Nice inspiration from the cover, but delivery style was dry narrative
7) "In the Ruins of the Panther People" by DANIEL R. ROBICHAUD: 4-star. Started slow and has cheesy romance lines, but ends with a huge bang, science-sorcery Meat Stamp! Loved the Meat Stamp!
8) "The Serpent’s Root by DAVID J. WEST, young adult pacing, but fun. 3.5; not obviously connected the cover as the other stories.
9) "A Fire in Shandria" by FREDERIC S. DURBIN; 4-star. Decent Amazon warrior story with a dragon (not sure why there was a dragon and not a panther)
10) "Cat’s in the Cradle NICHOLAS OZMENT (awarded 2nd place): 3-star Inspired by the cover for sure, but for a short story most of its pages are dedicated to non pertinent content. Pacing off.
11) "Attaberia" by HENRY RAM - (awarded 1st place): 4-star. Viking story with nice concept; starts as a 5 and ends as 3 (there is a disconnect between the tension & remoteness of a mysterious island and the inhabitants).