Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Swords & Sorceries: Tales of Heroic Fantasy

KEW? Is that you?
Swords & Sorceries: Tales of Heroic Fantasy (2020, Parallel Universe Publications) was for most of its 219 pages an enjoyable read. I can recommend this one.

I tend to react to a lot of new sword-and-sorcery with indifference, but I don’t think S&S fares any worse than other subgenres or most writing in general (the same can be said of my blog, where a handful of posts I’ve written seem to get regular traffic, but most collect dust). This book had as many hits as misses, which beats par for the course for many anthologies. Four standouts for me:

“The Horror from the Stars,” Steve Dilks. This was my first story from Dilks and I will definitely plan on reading more from him (his Gunthar collection has been on my to-purchase list). Reminded me of Charles Saunders’ Imaro with its bad-ass black main character on a path of vengeance. Well-written heroic fantasy with some great fight scenes and real weirdness layered in.

“Disruption of Destiny,” Gerri Leen. A quiet story, probably will not be what most readers who purchase this volume want or expect, but I really enjoyed it. It reminded me of a couple tales in the Gerald Page/Frank Reinhardt-edited Heroic Fantasy that question the warrior’s path and the damage wrought by a violent lifestyle. The protagonists’ suffering and care for her son were palpable, and I liked that the ending was a bit ambiguous. It stayed with me.

“Red,” Chadwick Ginther. I think this was the best story in the antho. The style reminded me very much of Joe Abercrombie—a bit crass, unflinching in its violence, seasoned with humor. Very, very well written at the sentence level, and the main character, a swordswoman named Red, was skillfully developed, and her motivation in this relatively straightforward story convincing. No infodumps. A scene in which she is swimming for her life underwater was particularly effective, and the final monster was grossly satisfying. This line: “Her sword was a strangely comforting weight on her breast. It filled the hollow in her gut that told her Needle was already dead” made me take notice.

“The Reconstructed God,” Adrian Cole. I was initially put off by the non-human/familiar demon protagonist, but damn if Cole—author of the revived Elak stories and the Dream Lords series—didn’t make the little imp work. A fine cross/doublecross tale populated with a bunch of roguish, self-interested thieving/scheming types, in the vein of a Jack Vance Cugel story. Good world-building here, but deft, not heavy-handed.

I loved the homages to classic sword-and-sorcery sprinkled throughout. I mentioned the Dilks story owing something to Saunders; Steve Lines’ “The Mirror of Torjan Sul” took its style and verbage from Clark Ashton Smith, while Geoff Hart’s “Chain of Command” was a straight up homage to Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, albeit with a role/sex reversal (too Leiber on the nose for my tastes, but I appreciated the sentiment). Cole threw in a nice reference to an old classic with his use of “Thorgobrund the jeweler” (I see what he did there). And the introduction by editor David Riley pays tribute to one of the first volumes in the Pyramid anthologies that started it all, the classic L. Sprague de Camp-edited The Spell of Seven (1965).

All the other tales had points of merit. “The City of Silence” started excellent, with a shocking injury suffered by its protagonist, but ended flat (there were a few flat endings to otherwise fine stories, including “Trolls are Different” by Susan Murrie Macdonald). “The Mirror of Torjan Sul” had a fine, hot, demonic foe and was set in a well-drawn, atmospheric necropolis.

Of course I have to mention the nice artwork by Jim Pitts. I love seeing these veteran sword-and-sorcery artists get work thrown their way (I was pleased to be able to do the same for Tom Barber, who illustrated the cover of Flame and Crimson). I liked the cover illustration but also the skulls and motif art throughout.

I am looking forward to volume 2, and hope that vol. 1 sells well enough to encourage further volumes in the series—and helps spur the steady trickle of new sword-and-sorcery/heroic fantasy that we’re currently seeing.

1 comment:

Kilsern said...

This has been on my to read list since published