Swords & Dark Magic: The New Sword & Sorcery is a book I’ve been eagerly anticipating ever since it was first announced in 2009. I was particularly excited about the anthology’s impressive list of contributors which includes several authors I enjoy reading like Glen Cook, Greg Keyes, Scott Lynch, Joe Abercrombie, Garth Nix, Tim Lebbon, Caitlin R. Kiernan, James Enge, and personal favorite, Steven Erikson. And with highly respected editors Jonathan Strahan and Lou Anders behind the wheel, I knew the book wouldn’t disappoint.
From start to finish, Swords & Dark Magic is an entertaining anthology that will please anyone who is a fan of sword & sorcery. It certainly did the trick for me, kicking off with an exciting one-two combo of Steven Erikson and a new Black Company tale by Glen Cook, and ending on a high note with Joe Abercrombie’s “The Fool Jobs” — basically a preview of the author’s next book, The Heroes, which is set in the same world as The First Law trilogy and Best Served Cold.
As well as the anthology started and ended though, it was the stories found in between that really shined with Scott Lynch’s tale of the Living Library (“In the Stacks”) and Garth Nix’s humorous Sir Hereward and Mr. Fitz adventure (“A Suitable Present for a Sorcerous Puppet”) two of my favorites. Other notable entries included a new Fool Wolf story by Greg Keyes, a Morlock tale by James Enge, Tanith Lee’s “Two Lions, a Witch, and the War-Robe,” and “The Deification of Dal Bamore” which offers a tantalizing glimpse at Tim Lebbon’s forthcoming new fantasy novel, Echo City. The best stories though were those that I didn’t expect to enjoy, namely K.J. Parker’s “A Rich Full Week” and Michael Moorcock’s “Red Pearls.” In the past, I tried reading Parker’s Scavenger trilogy and Moorcock’s famous creation Elric, but both left a bad taste in the mouth. So I was quite surprised by how much I ended up loving “A Rich Full Week” and the new Elric story.
Negatively, there were a few rocky bumps along the way — which is not unexpected with an anthology — but even the weaker stories had something worthwhile to offer. For instance, Gene Wolfe’s “Bloodsport” provided an enticing taste of what I’ve been missing from never having read anything by Mr. Wolfe before; Robert Silverberg’s “Dark Times at the Midnight Market” left me wanting to visit the world of Majipoor; Michael Shea’s “Hew the Tint Master” was imaginative and elicited a chuckle or two out of me; and Caitlin R. Kiernan’s “The Sea Troll’s Daughter” does a good job of twisting a few fantasy conventions.
Apart from these weaker entries, I felt that some of the short stories provided by authors I like reading (Steven Erikson, Glen Cook, Greg Keyes, James Enge, etc.) were somewhat lacking compared to their previous efforts, even if I still had fun with them. I also thought most of the stories found in the anthology were largely formulaic, but then again, sword & sorcery is not exactly a genre known for its originality.
All in all, reading Swords & Dark Magic: The New Sword & Sorcery was time well spent, and I can’t thank Lou Anders and Jonathan Strahan enough for making this anthology happen. Enthusiastically recommended to anybody who reads fantasy.