With Swords & Dark Magic editors Lou Anders and Jonathan Strahan have amassed an all-original collection of Sword and Sorcery from both new and long established masters of the genre. Overall the volume doesn't disappoint. There are a few ruts which didn't take off for me, but for those that did work well made this a memorable volume. What surprised me most was the pacing of many of the stories. What I'd call the old school authors seem to go for more of a slow build-up while the newer entrants for the most part vie to grab you from the first page with action. Now on to some of the highlights.
"Goats of Glory" by Steven Erikson - A very slow moving story for the most part. I was getting bored until the magic part finally got introduced and at that point I was hooked. Demon hordes are a bunch of pushovers when a group of warriors comes out of the mountains. A very satisfying ending with good action in the last third.
"Tides Elba: A Tale of the Black Company" by Glen Cook - The Company is on a bit of a lull as they have been stationed in one city without anyone to battle for months. When all of a sudden they are again tossed into the machinations of their betters. Definitely one of the better Black Company shorts I've read as it shows they are more than just the brawn and have got brains to back it up. Croaker keeps his usual tone and aplomb as the company figures out away to solve the heart of the matter without getting their own throats cut.
"Bloodsport" by Gene Wolfe - In some ways this reminds me a lot of a GRRM Dunk & Egg story without Egg. A new Knight is made to play the games of their sovereign, but when the games are over and all else is lost they strive to better the world around them and give themselves a purpose. The world is left vague as Wolfe wants you to connect and care for the characters more, which he succeeds at adequately. Quite good, but felt unfinished.
"The Singing Spear" by James Enge - This was one of my favorites in the collection. It was over before I wanted it to end. Just the right amount of action and humor and wonderfully paced. You don't mess with a mad Wizard's bartender and live to tell the tale. I'll definitely have to get to the copy of Blood of Ambrose I bought a while back soon. Enge has created quite a memorable character I'd like to explore a bit more.
"A Rich Full Week" by K. J. Parker - A zombie Sword & Sorcery tale with a Priestly Philosopher cum Wizard. As with most Parker stories she goes for a different angle than most would as the Philosopher doubts himself yet is still able to project the persona he needs to to survive and get the job done and get the walking deadman. Very good inner dialogue.
"A Suitable Present for a Sorcerous Puppet" by Garth Nix - The first Nix I've read and what an inventive world he has here which we just get a peek at. Sir Hereward a injured knight is recuperating as his puppet manservant is off exploring the area they are staying in. The knight wants to get a present for his puppet man Mister Fitz, which leads to a nice battle with a treacherous demon. I definitely want to check out some more Nix now. Nix also has a free story with the same characters available online, which precedes this one.
"Red Pearls: An Elric Story" by Michael Moorcock - Big literary confession time. I can't remember ever reading an Elric story before in novel or short form. That will be changing since "Red Pearls" introduced me to an amazingly weird world and leading character. I'm not sure where it falls in the pantheon of Elric stories and I have a feeling it fills in a gap that fans have wanted, but nonetheless it was easy to follow and certainly gave you a good flavor for what Moorcock is known for.
"In the Stacks" by Scott Lynch - Hands down the best story in the volume. Lynch's imagination is in top form as Wizards in training must venture into the bowels of an ancient magical library to return books to their proper stations. In some ways this is what we'd get if Jasper Fforde decided to go for more of a traditional Fantasy tale. Splendid and just plain fun. The prose and characters are as always well done and this shows the gentler side of Lynch.
"The Sea Troll's Daughter" by Caitlin R Kiernan - For some reason this is one of the stories that is most staying in my mind and I'm having a hard time pinning down why that is. It is a story that shows heroes are not always the best people as the heroine in this case has a drinking and attitude problem. In a juxtaposition the Sea Troll's daughter comes off more humane than that of the heroine although it has a bit of a non-ending.
"The Fool Jobs" by Joe Abercrombie - As always Abercrombie does an amazing job at introducing an unusual cast of characters and putting them in a very awkward situation as they search for a magical something, but what that magical something is is not at all clear. This takes place in the North of the First Law world with Craw who some of you may remember unless you blinked. Great twist of an ending like only Abercrombie can do, but I do think his work is more suited to long form. Or it could just be "The Fool Job"s feel too much like a prelude of what is to come in The Heroes. Which in essence it is.
If you are a fan of old school Sword & Sorcery this is a collection not to be missed. It is filled with everything S & S lovers want: action, magic, grey characters, and evil baddies. A few key stories brings this up a few notches in the anthology pantheon with the Nix, Enge, and Lynch being the biggest standouts. As for the goal of being a definitive look at Sword & Sorcery it missed the mark, but not by much. A few of these deserve inclusion in one of the Years Best Anthologies at the least. I give Swords & Dark Magic 8 out of 10 hats. Overall, I'll have to throw some curses at Anders and Strahan for putting such a good anthology together and exposing me to so many authors I've been meaning to try, some for more than a decade, and by extension making me buy a few books by these authors.
on July 23, 2010
This review was posted a short time ago at Elitist Book Reviews. Go check out the blog for additional reviews.
It's really not an exaggeration when we say SWORDS & DARK MAGIC was easily one of our most anticipated titles of the year. In fact, that doesn't even say enough. Edited by Jonathan Strahan and Lou Anders, this collection, to us, was like the Holy Grail of short story anthologies. Why? The first three stories in the collection, in the order they appear: Steven Erikson, Glen Cook, Gene Wolf. Yeah. That's just the first three stories.
First we need to get something out of the way, and yeah it's a tad petty. The subtitle of the collection is "The New Sword & Sorcery". Honestly, this isn't a fair or accurate subtitle. Don't get us wrong, there are plenty of swords and plenty of sorcery to be found amidst these 500+ pages of awesomeness, but there isn't anything groundbreaking here. There isn't anything here that is re-inventing the genre. No, the subtitle should have been something more like "New Tales in Sword & Sorcery".
Now that that is out of the way, let's talk about the anthology.
It is fantastic. Are there weak stories here? Yeah. The thing about short fiction anthologies, however, is that you have a collection that appeals to a variety. As we stated earlier, the anthology starts with stories by Steven Erikson, Glen Cook, and Gene Wolfe. Then you have James Enge, C.J. Cherryh, K. J. Parker, Garth Nix and a guy named Michael Moorcock. But see, we aren't done yet. Then you move on to Tim Lebbon, Robert Silverberg (maybe you've heard of him?), Greg Keyes, Michael Shea, Scott Lynch, Tanith Lee, Caitlin R Kiernan, Bill Willingham, and ending the collection with Joe Abercrombie. If you can't find something to LOVE here, you have issues. You see, for every story we felt weak and mediocre, there was another story (or two) that were just unbelievable. The good stories were SO GOOD, that any runts in the litter could be easily forgiven.
So, which stories did we like the best? The stories we mention below won't surprise you; you DO know our tastes quite well after all.
The Deification of Dal Bamore -- Tim Lebbon
A grim tale of sorcery and revolution. Lebbon's descriptions are so clear. All the is happening here a criminal--a possible martyr to a cause--is being escorted to receive a token trial followed by execution. Things go deliciously out of control, of course. Makes us want to brush up on our Tim Lebbon. Such good stuff here.
Dark Times at the Midnight Market -- Robert Silverberg
Really all we should have to say is, "It's a Silverberg story. Of course it is awesome." Even then, it was surprising how much we enjoyed this story. "The Midnight Market" is a Majipoor tale. To some, that will be enough to know whether you will like it or not. To the rest, the Midnight Market is a place where essentially anything can be acquired...though right now it is going through a bit of a recession. This story is all about the comedy. It is timed and executed with perfection.
The Singing Spear -- James Enge
One of the best stories in the collection. Enge is so absurdly underrated. His character Morlock Ambrosius is a man of legend. A sorcerer of unparalleled power. And, uh, a complete drunk. "The Singing Spear" is a tale about what Morlock does when his bartender is killed. Enge is freaking terrific. This story will make you want to read more of his stuff. We suggest starting with BLOOD OF AMBROSE.
Tides Elba: A Tale of the Black Company -- Glen Cook
An all new Black Company story? Featuring Croaker? This story begins with our beloved cast of characters realizing things have been far too good lately. In their experience, that is never a good thing. Balance and all that. Everything you like about Cook is in this story. He is one of our favorite writers. Ever.
Goats of Glory -- Steven Erikson
You knew it was gonna be on here. It starts a tad slow, but when it gets going, it gets GOING. Five soldiers wander into the town Glory. The gravedigger sees them coming and begins digging five graves. In true Erikson fashion, we get great humor mixed with amazingly described action. We loved this story. The ending was absolutely PERFECT. Was this the best story in the collection? Almost. It pains Steve to admit it, but there was one story that topped even this treasure.
The Fool Jobs -- Joe Abercrombie
If this is what we get to see in Joe's upcoming THE HEROES, we are going to be in heaven. The main character? Craw. You may or may not remember him from the First Law Trilogy. Craw, along with a...colorful...cast of characters are sent into a small town to get something. They don't know what though. They'll know it when they see it. Seriously. Humor and action. A seriously incredible story. Was this the best story in the collection? Almost. You know how much Nick loves Abercrombie. But even he had one story above it.
(Fanning yourselves in anticipation yet?)
In the Stacks -- Scott Lynch
The. Best. Story. There was no debate. No arguing. Lynch's "In the Stacks" is just a freaking masterpiece. Not nearly as irreverent as his other works, yet just as imaginative. It takes place in a wizard's school. The students, as a final exam in their current year of schooling, must return a library book. Really. The library, of course, is violent and sentient. We feel that people forget just how good an author Lynch is. This story will remind you. And make you want to re-read LOCKE LAMORA and RED SEAS. And make you salivate in anticipation for his next book. Unreal.
So there you have it. Just because we didn't mention the story you were eying doesn't mean it wasn't good. Moorcock's was great. Parker's was actually good as well. As was Wolfe's. We just don't have time to talk about all of them.
This is a collection that should be on every shelf. The main problem with it? It makes us want the next novel by these authors now...no, make that YESTERDAY.
As a final note, we want to mention the introduction to the collection, "Check Your Dark Lord at the Door" by Lou Anders and Jonathan Strahan. This is the history of Sword & Sorcery that everyone should know. Serious kudos to these guys for taking the time to show where the genre came from, and then for giving us this terrific collection.
Recommended Age: 16 and up.
Language: Yup. Though not as prevalent as in the author's full length novels, there is still a significant amount.
Violence: Hello? Sword & Sorcery? Of course there is violence. It is almost always crazy awesome too.
Sex: Talked about, joked about, and alluded too. But never shown.
on July 26, 2010
As the title suggests, Jonathan Strahan and Lou Anders have gathered seventeen new and original sword & sorcery tales in this anthology. The stories are written by a variety of successful authors, bringing to play a broad range of styles and themes. I'm a huge fan of sword & sorcery (it's what got me into fantasy). So I was extremely eager to get my hands on this book.
I did find Swords and Dark Magic to be heavier on the "sorcery" than the "sword," more so than is my preference. (Like the greatest S&S hero, Conan the Cimmerian, I subscribe to the belief that when the gods breathed life into mankind, we were given the gift of strength and the secret of steel. So, there is no sorcerer or demonspawn that cannot be beaten by brute strength or a sharp blade.) Regardless, my enjoyment was no less for it. I was absolutely thrilled when I read the dedication, which pays homage to the masters:
"For Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, and Michael Moorcock, the great literary swordsmen who made it all possible."
I believe that an anthology is only as good as its introduction, and the one in this book proves my point. The editors detail the birth of S&S and pay respect to the authors noted in the dedication along with the very few others, C. L. Moore and Clark Ashton Smith, who were there at the beginning. This is followed by shout-outs to Lin Carter, L. Sprague deCamp, Andre Norton, and Charles Saunders, who picked up the torch decades after. These authors, especially Howard, have been too long overlooked for their role in creating the genre that was practically the whole of fantasy before Tolkien.
Due to sheer laziness, I usually opt not to review each story of an anthology individually. But since I've been belly-aching about the lack of sword & sorcery in mainstream publishing for years, I feel obligated to make an exception. Well.., somewhat of an exception. Instead of a synopsis, I briefly note my take on each. (I don't want to overdo things.) Not every tale is a winner, but those that are make up for the others and then some.
*Goats of Glory by Steven Erikson -- I had to flip pages back and forth a few times to keep track of who is who, but the grittiness and action are pure Erikson; a great choice to get things rolling.
*Tides Elba: A Tale of the Black Company byGlen Cook -- This story is all "plotting-n-scheming" without the action one expects in S&S. Still, Cook's dialog, which is what always stood out in his BLACK COMPANY tales, is as clever as ever, making for a fun read.
*Bloodsport by Gene Wolfe -- I hadn't read Wolfe before, but with his reputation I expected more than this mediocre story. I'd venture to say this is far from Wolfe's best.
*The Singing Spear by James Enge -- This story features Enge's hero, MORLOCK AMBROSE a.k.a. Morlock the Maker. About a page in and I knew this would be one of my favorites. I immediately purchased the first book in Enge's series about Morlock, Blood of Ambrose, when I finished this story. Need I say more?
*A Wizard in Wiscezan by C. J. Cherryh -- I'm not a fan of Cherryh, but she created charismatic characters here that brought the story to life.
*A Rich Full Week by K. J. Parker -- This is a tale about a wizard -or a student of natural philosophy, specializing in mental energies, telepathy, telekinesis, indirect vision or science not yet figured out. Parker seemed to pattern his brotherhood of "wizards" after the medieval Catholic Church to create a very captivating story.
*A Suitable Present for a Sorcerous Puppet by Garth Nix -- This is a whimsical and comedic tale that proved entertaining despite not really being something I'd pick to read as a whole book on its own...
*Red Pearls: An Elric Story by Michael Moorcock -- This book wouldn't have been complete without a story by the only living author mentioned in the dedication. However, the last half of this story tends to drag. That aside, Elric still proves to be as interesting a character as he's always been.
*The Deification of Dal Bamore: A Tale from Echo City by Tim Lebbon -- The only book I've read by Lebbon was Dusk and I didn't really like it. So I never gave him a try again. This dark and gripping story in the setting of his upcoming new series has got me re-thinking that decision.
*Dark Times at the Midnight Market by Robert Silverberg -- This is a tale from the world of MAJIPOOR which is the setting for Silverberg's popular series. I never read those stories because they have too many bizarre creatures for my taste. So I was amazed when this tale, weird creatures and all, proved to be such a good time.
*The Undefiled by Greg Keyes -- Keyes' THE KINGDOMS OF THORN AND BONE series is high on my to-be-read-list but, unfortunately, this story just didn't do it for me. Maybe a re-read is in order because I just didn't quite follow it all.
*Hew the Tintmaster by Michael Shea -- This is the much-anticipated tale that features Cugel the Clever, the infamous character from Jack Vance's DYING EARTH. Vance fans will be very pleased. It was my introduction to this world and if Shea writes it like Vance does, the DYING EARTH books just got moved up on my TBR list.
*In the Stacks by Scott Lynch -- I'm sure many will like this one, but I was disappointed. I'm tired of the whole enchanted school for wizards, or whatever, thing, and it's been a long wait for another GENTLEMAN BASTARD story. So I was hoping for something more like that series.
*Two Lions, a Witch, and the War-robe by Tanith Lee -- Not a bad addition, but the first half of it was much better than the second.
*The Sea Troll's Daughter by Caitlin R. Kiernan -- I had no idea this would be another one of my favorites until the very end, which blew me away.
*Thieves of Daring by Bill Willingham -- It's more along the lines of traditional S&S. Sadly, it fell flat.
*The Fool Jobs by Joe Abercrombie -- If you're a fan of Abercrombie like I am, I'm betting this will be your very favorite too. It's raw, gritty, dark, and funny; straight-up Abercrombie.
Swords and Dark Magic is a must-have for fellow sword & sorcery fans and just the thing to support our cause. For readers new to S&S, you won't find a better introduction and it's the perfect book to round out your fantasy collection.
Swords and Dark Magic: The New Sword and Sorcery may be the first anthology I've actually eagerly anticipated since... I'm not sure. Probably The Last Dangerous Visions. Not that I have any particular objection to short stories, I just very rarely find a collection of them that intrigues me enough to to offset the inevitable crap and/or poetry.
Swords and Dark Magic, however, pushed all the right buttons. Abercrombie, Lynch and Parker in one place? I'd crawl over broken glass to get there. And the theme - the stunning resurgence of Howardian pulp fiction? You could lace said glass with strychnine, and still get me a-crawling.
So, keeping my utterly reasonable expectations in mind, how did Swords and Dark Magic fare?
Well, not too badly. In a rare feat of anthologising, there wasn't a single story I skipped, and, possibly more importantly, there are several that I really look forward to revisiting. There were some pleasant surprises - and some unpleasant ones - as well as a few interesting themes that I'll get to later on.
Scott Lynch definitely stole the show with "In the Stacks". Four sorcerous students must return books to the university library - a surprisingly dangerous adventure. A brilliant concept, a demonstration that characters can be built in a small space and some delicious storytelling.
Neither of my other two favorites disappointed. Joe Abercrombie's "The Fool Jobs" introduces a few of the characters, a crew of Northern named-men, that later reappear in The Heroes. I enjoyed the story, but was a little disappointed that Abercrombie didn't take the opportunity to go foraging in a completely new world. Still, "The Fool Jobs" is an excellent addition to the canon of The First Law series, as the crew adventure into previously-unseen geography.
K.J. Parker explored much further afield than his/her usual books, and I think the experiment paid off nicely. Known for his/her commitment to detail-oriented, realistic settings, Parker actually included proper magic-magic in "A Rich Full Week", complete with wizarding and even a bit of zombie action. Wry, absorbing and provocative - the story was everything Parker normally does, but with a bonus topping of the supernatural.
Of the other contributions, there were a few stand-outs. James Enge's "The Singing Spear" felt like a missing entry in Jack Vance's Overworld series - simultaneously dramatic and tongue-in-cheek. Tanith Lee wrote a sly fairytale with the unfortunately-cutesy name of "Two Lions, A Witch and The War-Robe". Lee is never someone I've particularly rated, but her story was very good - also balancing the humorous and the epic.
Two other authors - Steven Erikson and Gene Wolfe - were less surprising to me. I've never liked Erikson's work, but his contribution, "Goats of Glory" was remarkable in that I didn't like it for entirely different reasons. I found it slow, over-written and slightly goofy. (Yes, I find Erikson "slow" and Parker "absorbing" - I consider this evidence that just including violence doesn't dictate a story's pace). Wolfe's contribution was less remarkable. I always find his work cryptic and alienating. His "Bloodsport" was no exception.
Overall, there were a few recurring themes. Despite the editors' provocative claims that "sword-and-sorcery" is here in force, many of the stories were littered with tentative - even defensive - notes. Whether that took the form of a cutesy title (see Lee, above) or even a deliberately goofy concluding line (even Lynch failed on that count), there was a sense that the authors were often holding themselves back.
This particular sub-genre cites Robert E. Howard frequently. REH did a lot of experimentation with his fiction, but he never once ended a Conan story on a bad pun, or, worse yet, a lazy "...and then things got really bad!" joke (I'm looking at you, Erikson and Willingham!). Glen Cook and Michael Moorcock both had stories that, although they didn't personally resonate with me, stood out for being the most "serious" contributions to the book - efforts to show that "sword and sorcery", even in its short form, can still capture tension and moral conflict. Similarly, the predominance of authors writing in their own worlds, rather than stretching to something new, didn't alleviate this particular concern.
As a final note, the introduction, by the two editors, is a good read. Slightly more anecdotal than academic, it serves as a quick survey through the history of "sword and sorcery" fiction, including its new 'golden age'. Like any document that advances sweeping genre theories, it will prompt more discussion than immediate acceptance. My personal criticism is more tied in to pessimism. I'm incredibly fond of the new era in fantasy, but I still want more points in the line before I bring out the bucket of gilt.
Swords and Dark Magic, despite my wildly-inflated expectations, was worth the wait. It is less a timeless reference than a simple snapshot of where the genre is today. But, given where we are today, that's no bad thing at all.
on April 27, 2016
Pretty good collection, aside from of that dreary author Caitlin R. Kiernan. Seriously I don't understand what people see in her. Ugh.
Anyways, it is a good collection, and if you want some decent dark fantasy to read for fun, then check this out.
Swords & Dark Magic: The New Sword and Sorcery is an excellent new anthology of original short fantasy fiction, featuring an impressive mixture of established genre masters and newer, highly talented authors. The book's introduction, by editors Lou Anders and Jonathan Strahan, does an excellent job defining the sword & sorcery sub-genre and placing it in its historical context. This is an interesting read for anyone who wants to learn more about the history of the genre and doesn't have a copy of John Clute and John Grant's The Encyclopedia of Fantasy handy, but the main value of any anthology lies in the stories, and in that area it doesn't disappoint in the slightest.
Most of the stories in Swords & Dark Magic: The New Sword and Sorcery are good, several are great, and even the few less successful entries are still interesting and well worth the time spent to read them, often because they are less impressive stories by otherwise very impressive and famous authors, such as Steven Erikson, Glen Cook and Gene Wolfe. If those authors had brought their top game to the table here, this anthology would be nothing less than a must-own, but as it is, it's still an excellent collection.
Here are a few of my favorite stories, in order of their appearance in the anthology:
* K.J. Parker's " A Rich Full Week" has to be one of the strangest zombie tales ever, and definitely features the most reasonable undead you'll ever find. I enjoyed the way this story put a new, metaphorical twist on the traditional "zombies eating brains," as well as its smart-alec main character.
* Michael Moorcock's "Red Pearls". Put plainly and simply, if you are a fan of the seminal ELRIC OF MELNIBONÉ series, you must read this story. It adds an (as far as I know) entirely new side to the novels' world, and even though it's not the strongest story in the anthology, for that reason alone it's a must-read for fans.
* Tim Lebbon's "The Deification of Dal Bamore" is a dark and disturbing story of religion and magic. It's is an excellent teaser for the author's forthcoming novel, Echo City, which shares its setting.
* Robert Silverberg's "Dark Times at the Midnight Market" (set in the MAJIPOOR universe) is an old-fashioned and utterly charming tale about the effects of a love potion. The ending is a bit predictable, but what comes before has a Jack Vance-like charm I really enjoyed.
* Greg Keyes' "The Undefiled" offers a dark, mysterious view on godhood and possession, and is one of the most intriguing stories in the anthology.
* Michael Shea's "Hew the Tintmaster" is listed as a "fully authorized new Cugel the Clever adventure," and if you're at all familiar with Cugel, that's probably enough to get you very excited. When Michael Shea describes his main character (Bront the Inexorable) as having "shoulders as muscled as a titanoplod's thigh," and has Cugel introduce himself as an "itinerant entrepreneur," you know that Jack Vance's famous character is in very good hands here. This is probably my favorite story in the anthology, although...
* ... Scott Lynch's "In the Stacks" is a very close competitor. If (like me) you were hoping for Locke Lamora, you'll be disappointed, but fortunately "In the Stacks" is just as entertaining as the author's GENTLEMAN BASTARDS novels. This story, about students venturing into a magical library that resembles a significantly less friendly version of Terry Pratchett's Unseen University library, is simply a blast to read.
* Caitlin R. Kiernan's "The Sea Troll's Daughter" is a beautifully told story and maybe the purest actual "sword & sorcery" tale in the anthology.
* Joe Abercrombie's "The Fool Jobs" is a perfectly entertaining, smoothly told story that ends the anthology on a high note. If (like me) you haven't had the chance to try the author's novels yet, you'll probably feel very motivated to do so, especially after this story's hilarious ending.
If you happen to have any friends who are under the impression that all fantasy is elfy-welfy, gauzy, long-winded fluff, this showcase of tight, gritty, hard-edged and occasionally very funny fantasy fiction is a great way to rectify their misapprehensions. It's also a great anthology to get started with some of the genre's major authors and find out about newer, noteworthy writers. Despite a few disappointing entries by otherwise excellent authors, the overall quality of Swords & Dark Magic: The New Sword and Sorcery is very high. Recommended.
on July 18, 2010
Erikson, Cook, Lynch, Abercrombie. Throw in some Michael Moorcock Elric, and Robert Silverberg's Majipoor. K.J. Parker and a whole pile of others also appear. Out of the 17 authors who have written for this anthology, there are bound to be a number whose work you love. The only other recent anthology that comes close is Warriors, and I think Swords & Dark Magic shades it for consistency.
The volume is dedicated to RE Howard, Fritz Leiber, and Michael Moorcock. That tells you a lot about the kind of fantasy you are getting here: this isn't David Eddings or Shannara.
I'll only touch on the high(est) points here, and say I did enjoy every story: that's rare for an anthology, and especially a multi-author one. There are no weak links, and after reading this I am minded to give a number of these authors I'd not read before a closer look.
The opening story is by Erikson, The Goats of Glory. It's good - kind of like Aliens, if the Marines were actually prepared for what they were in for. Glen Cook then gives us a tale of the early days of the Black Company, with Croaker, One-Eye, Goblin and co in fine form. It's not "new" in the sense that a lot happens to these characters after the story is told, at least for those of us who have read the Black Company novels, but that just adds poignancy.
"Red Pearls" is an Elric tale - set at which point in Elric's adventures I am not exactly sure - which was surprisingly good, as I had not read Moorcock in 20 years and wondered how he would hold up to "adult" eyes. It shows up something new of Elric's world, which is a little disturbing when you think about it, but romps along merrily on the way there.
At first, I was disappointed Scott Lynch's tale was not a Gentleman Bastards short story. About 30 seconds later, I was glad he chose to tell the story he did: a small group of apprentice wizards venturing into a living - but not wholly sentient - library to return books. The vocabures were as new and frightening a monster as I ever read - not just Tolkien's orcs by another name.
Finally, Abercrombie gave us a brief look at a mercenary band of Northmen on a job - practical, hard and ruthless. Apparently this is related to his upcoming novel "Heroes", which is nice.
This is an excellent collection, not be missed.
on December 20, 2014
Excellent read!! Normally with short story collections I cannot read the whole book. This was not the case with this one. With the exception of maybe a couple of stories I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I would be very pleased to see more released like this one.
on July 3, 2011
Swords & Dark Magic (S&DM from here on out) in an anthology released back in June of 2010. It contains seventeen original tales from authors ranging from the ever gritty Abercrombie to genre definers such as Michael Moorcock. Marketing it as "The New Sword and Sorcery" it's editors, (Jonathan Strahan and Lou Anders) were a little misleading as there's nothing really new here. It's also missing too many of the young guns currently shaping the genre (Patrick Rothfuss, Peter V. Brett and Brent Weeks to name a few) to be a definitive take on modern fantasy.
Let's get to it then! Be warned... this (and by "this", I mean my review) is long, I'm reviewing 17 stories after all. I've tried to keep them short and sweet for your viewing pleasure.
The break down....
"Goats of Glory" by Steven Erikson | 6 out of 10
It's about....Band of badass, demon killing / warrior types wander into backwater town that has a demon problem. Gritty and Raw.
This started off tediously slow, wordy and with way too much unnecessary world building for a short story. Things picked up about midway through and finished with a bang. I was left with a lasting curiosity about the characters involved and their subsequent adventures.
"Tides Elba: A Tale of the Black Company" by Glen Cook | 2 out of 10
It's about....Black Company sequestered in a city with some down time. An unexpected visitor brings an unexpected challenge and we see the crew tackle this one with more brain than brawn.
Cook's Black Company novels have always been on my "to read" list. Being a former Army Ranger, the premise intrigues me. Unfortunately, Tides Elba did little to urge me further. Caveat in mind, I can see how fans of the series already familiar with the characters and world would enjoy this. Short stories should be able to stand on their own however and this did not. I was confused the entire time and the dialogue between characters went so far towards military authentic that it became annoying.
"Bloodsport" - Gene Wolfe | 2 out of 10
It's about....Well, I'm honestly not sure. Something about a chess-like game played with humans as pieces and some old warrior reminiscing. I suspect Wolfe was trying to be a little too clever here and I didn't find the story interesting enough to spend any time thinking about it. Dull and tedious.
"The Singing Spear" - James Enge | 9 out of 10
It's about...Self-loathing Master Wizard plays the reluctant anti-hero when a piece of his past comes back to haunt (or taunt) him.
The first story in this anthology I really liked. The pacing and length were perfect. I'm going to pick up "Blood of Ambrose" to read more about this Morlock the Maker. One of the better characters in the anthology. Enge nailed this one.
"A Wizard of Wiscezan" - C.J. Cherryh | 5 out of 10
It's about...A wizard and his 3 apprentices living in hiding within a city under siege by a demon. Gruff warrior seeks them out for aid in freeing said city. Mostly illusion magic here.
Not a bad story really but not that great either. Character progression evolves too fast in order to make the story work. Actions scenes are average and we see the same "trick" used over and over.
"A Rich Full Week" - K. J. Parker | 10 out of 10
It's about...A self- deprecating Wizard or practitioner of sciences yet understood, working a couple of paranormal cases for the local peasantry. Telepathy and mental magics prevail here. And there's Zombies.
Another stand out for me. Well written, good pacing and great characterization. The ending had a neat twist and the inner dialogue is fantastic. My only complaint is that there isn't a full length novel of the same vein for me to run out buy.
"A Suitable Present for a Sorcerers Puppet" - Garth Nix | 9 out of 10
It's about...A Knight and his Sorcerer's Puppet convalesce at a tower ran by some mystical order of healer / nurse types. Knight wants to get a birthday present for his puppet which leads to demon fighting.
A tongue-in-cheek story that is every bit entertaining as wry. What the heck is a Sorcerer's Puppet anyway? Apparently a badass made out of paper mache is what. I had never read Nix before but will after this. For those interested, there's another short (a prequel to this one) called "Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz Go to War Again" that can be found for free online.
"Red Pearls: An Elric Story" - Michael Moorcock | 8 out of 10
It's about...Elric. Nuff said.
One of the longer stories of the book and it's length most likely a nod to the only living author mentioned in the foreword. Huge admittance here, I've never read any of the Elric novels. I'm a bit of a completionist and getting into the series is pretty daunting given how long the series has been running. Still, this story was self-contained enough to enjoy and I get the impression that existing fans will have some questions answered here.
"The Deification of Dal Bamore" - Tim Lebbon | 10 out of 10
It's about...Priestess / Inquisitor type and her elite guard escorts a mysterious prisoner while traveling to his execution. Religious tones.
Set in the same universe as Lebbon's new novel, Echo City, this short is gripping, intense and full of grey characters. Everything I love about fantasy. After reading this, Echo City jumped up quite a few places in my "to read" stack.
"Dark Times at the Midnight Market" - Robert Silverberg | 5 out of 10
It's about...Alien wizards running an apothecary get mixed up with the wrong Royal. Set in the MAJIPOOR universe.
Good in that it's the sort of tale your grandfather might recite to you by memory if your grandfather was a genre geek. Predictable ending and no action to speak of but it had it's charm. Felt out of place with the rest of the stories. The first of two fairy tale-ish stories.
"The Undefiled" - Greg Keyes | 5 out of 10
It's about...Main character (Fool Wolf) shares his body with an evil spirit he'd rather be free of, despite the power it brings him. Tortured by the things it's made him do, he tries to rid himself of it after being captured and sent on a quest in exchange for his release.
A dark tale about godhood and possession. A little confusing at times and touches on subjects not all will be comfortable with. The premise is interesting but the execution is average.
"Hew the Tint Master" - Michael Shea | 8 out of 10
It's about...A Cugel the Clever story, a character from Jack Vance's "Dying Earth" saga. Unlikely characters join up to save the world. Anything else would spoil the story.
I enjoyed this tale a lot. Kind of a slow start that had me wondering where it all was going but fans of Jack Vance should be pleased. The Jack is one of the better characters in the anthology.
"In the Stacks" - Scott Lynch | 10 out of 10
It's about... Students at a university for...are you ready? Wizards.
I've never read any of Lynch (I know, shame on me) but this was a fantastic introduction. With the current over-saturation of such tales, it takes a certain skill to make a story about students at a school for wizards enjoyable. Those looking for a "Gentleman Bastards" story will be displeased however.
"Two Lions, A Witch, and the War-Robe" - Tanith Lee | 8 out of 10.
It's about...Two heroes forced to pay for standing up against a town's corruption by retrieving a lost artifact.
A fairytale-esque story involving two dynamic main characters. We've seen most of this stuff before but it was nicely done. The "trial" sequence was a little disappointing given the lead up.
"The Sea Troll's Daughter" - Caitlin R Kiernan | 4 out of 10
It's about...Foreign hero deals with pestering pestilence and the aftermath.
The heroine here is completely un-likable and there's little for the reader to cheer for. It was written well enough, the story itself was just weak and the characters weaker.
"Thieves of Daring" - Bill Willingham | 2 out of 10
It's about...Thieves breaking into a wizards mansion.
Hands down the shortest story in the book. It pulled me in right away and then abruptly ended. Very little happens here and I'm still confused about what happened to the rest of the story.
"The Fool Jobs" - Joe Abercrombie | 10 out of 10
It's about...Northmen sent to retrieve an object from a hostile village.
Fans of Abercrombie will instantly recognize the lay of the land. The story is set in the same universe as his other books. Those who have read his latest installment, The Heroes, will be re-acquainted with familiar faces. I can't get enough of Whirrun of Bligh and it was awesome to see him again and on his first mission with Craw's crew. My only gripe is that I wanted to know more about how things ended. It's a minor complaint though.
All in all, S&DM is a worthy addition to the genre and shouldn't be overlooked by the few shorts that keep it from being a truly amazing collection.
on June 15, 2013
Swords & Dark Magic (2010) is a Fantasy anthology. It contains an introduction, seventeen original stories, and an afterword. Each story has a short preface about the author.
- "Introduction: Check Your Dark Lord at the Door" by Jonathan Strahan and Lou Anders relates the origins of sword and sorcery stories -- as opposed to epic fantasy -- in the past decades. The title suggests the intimate encounters in these tales.
- "Goats of Glory" by Steven Erikson is about professional soldiers faced by their usual foes. The author has written other Fantasy novels since the Malazan Empire series.
- "Tides Elbar" by Glen Cook is a Black Company tale, in which the company is looking for a rebel Captain and avoiding contact with Limper.
- "Bloodsport" by Gene Wolfe tells of the upbringing of a knight for a large scale battle game and his contact with a pawn.
- "The Singing Spear" by James Enge is a Morlock Ambrosius tale involving a sentient weapon created by the wizard.
- "A Wizard in Wiscezan" by C. J. Cherryh concerns a good wizard and his apprentices who are hiding from an evil wizard. This author has not been writing Fantasy novels recently.
- "A Rich Full Week" by K. J. Parker follows the efforts of a man trained in magical science during his current round of cases. The latest novel by this author is Sharps.
- "A Suitable Present for a Sorcerous Puppet" by Garth Nix is a Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz tale, where Hereward is in recuptive care and finds a mystery.
"Red Pearls" by Michael Moorcook is an Elric tale, where he and his friends travel to the other side of the planet.
- "The Deificatiion of Del Bamore" by Tim Lebbon is an Echo City tale that exposes the disposition of a would-be god.
- "Dark Times at the Midnight Market" by Robert Silverberg is a Majipoor tale that leads a magic user into risky social affairs.
- "The Undefiled" by Greg Keyes is a Fool Wolf tale, which leads him into a conflict between two gods.
- "Hew the Tintmaster" by Michael Shea is a Dying Earth tale, in which a swordsman and a house painter venture into the future.
- "In the Stacks" by Scott Lynch is a tale within the Locke Lamora milieu. It divulges the difficulties of storing millions of grimoirs. It describes a library worse than the Unseen University stacks.
- "Two Lions, a Witch, and a War-Robe" by Tanith Lee is not only a pun, but a tale of two half-brothers on a quest for an overgarment. This author recently has been editing anthologies.
- "The Sea Trolls's Daughter" by Caitlin R. Kiernan brings a female warrior to a small town to kill a sea monster for a reward. This author has recently coauthored the urban Fantasy novel Blood Oranges.
- "Thieves of Daring" by Bill Willingham takes Septavian and his friends into the vacant winter palace of the Last Atlantean Sorcerer. This author recently has been producing Fantasy graphical novels.
- "The Fool Jobs" by Joe Abercrombie is a tale in the Best Served Cold milieu. It discloses the problems of a band of swordsmen working for a powerful client.
- "About the Editors" is an afterword giving a short biography/bibliography of each editor.
These tales cover a range of approaches to sword & sorcery. All feature small groups of soldiers, adventurers or other swordsmen facing fearful magic. Yet they win more often than not.
Some tales leave the reader with puzzling issues. What is chasing the soldiers in "Goats of Glory"? How did Septavian escape or did he? Did Craw go back into the village for the thing? Will these questions be answered?
Highly recommended for sword and sorcery fans and for anyone else who enjoys tales of dark magic, close combat, and a few surprises. Read and enjoy!
-Arthur W. Jordin