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:
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 by Glen 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.