Posts Tagged ‘Fantasy’

Seems every few years or so, sword and sorcery goes and tries to reinvent itself, rebrand itself, see if it can’t get a new generation of readers and writers. As someone who has spent more than a little time reading, writing, and publishing sword-and-sorcery – I get it. There can be a sense of toiling in the shadows of giants (while also fighting against a general disposition to view swords-and-and-sorcery as some lesser version of fantasy fiction – more thud and blunder than literary, and maybe not offering much in the way of cognitive nutrition. Okay – but dammit, sometimes a body just wants to be entertained, and that’s okay as well.

Evidently – this concept of a New Edge grew out of a discord discourse about what could be done to help revitalize the genre, maybe shed some of the old tired tropes and predilections of the past, and help the genre move forward into the 21st century. They are hardly the only ones, but kudos to the editors for bringing more voices to the table. Part of the result is this, the inaugural issue of New Edge Sword and Sorcery Magazine. It is a decent sized volume, featuring six new pieces of fiction as well as seven non-fiction articles that any aficionado would do well to sink their teeth into. Some spoilers follow as to the fiction pieces.

Read more: Magazine Review: New Edge Sword and Sorcery #0

The Curse of the Horsetail Banner by Daniel R.A. Quirogue – A khan betrayed by his blood brother discovers that an ancient tomb has been desecrated, a banner stolen, and a curse unleashed on the land. What follows is a tale of curses and sorcerers and dark magic… and the persistence and stamina of the main character which may be his greatest virtue.

What makes this story unique (other than the departure from your typical Euro-centric Western fantasy) is the central character’s moral dilemma when it comes to the object of the quest. Does he take the banner for himself and assemble a host such has only been seen once before? Or does he return the banner to its rightful resting place and lift the curse from the land? It is this central moral quandry that helps elevate this particular story, and leaves the reader wondering what choice they would make in that situation.

The Ember Inside by Remco van Straten and Angeline B. Adams – Ymke, a writer, or at least a storyteller of one kind or another, is invited to meet with a like-minded individual- a one Sigismond, evidently because he misses the company of other “literary minded individuals.” However, Sigismond is less interested in sharing craft tips as he is to plunge Ymke into a dreamscape and plunder her dreams. What follows is an exploration of a life-not-lived, the alternative branch of choices not taken or maybe simply what happens when a coin lands on heads and not tails. How different would Ymke become as a result? While it made for an interesting tale, by the end I found the tale somewhat lacking. the way the dream scape worked, the way the story resolved at the end – it left me wondering “What are the stakes here? What is the danger? What does Ymke stand to gain? What might she lose?” While the ending, and Sigismond’s fate, did bring a smile to my face, the fact that at the end most of the story was little more than a dream left me feeling unfilled as a reader, and wanting more. I want to see Ymke in her native element, the way she is now, and felt like I received little more than a taste of that within the story.

Old Moon Over Irukad by David C. Smith – a pair of adventurers – Virissa and Edrion – agree to take on a commission. A simple enough job to escort a man to a tomb and stand guard while he retrieves a certain scroll from within. There is a twist to the plan, but it isn’t one that comes as any great surprise. There is a good sense of the weight of history within the story, of old secrets and older evil buried just under the surface. Virissa and Edrion make for a decent pair of rogues, and it would be interesting to see where else their adventures take them.

The Beast of the Shadow Gum Trees by T.K. Rex – An ecological allegory wrapped in a fantasy story, of how the only constant in life is change. Moth is an engaging character, as I am always intrigued by how writers handle characters who have prolonged lifespans, and who they end up seeing the world around them. It might be too bold to state this acts as a meditation on love and loss and the process of letting go… but there is a bit of that as well. The action, however, is muted, but it provides a different take on a guardian of wild places than what one usually sees.

Vapors of Zinai by J.M. Clarke – A tale of an itinerant wanderer, dark magic, old gods and foul demons – so you know this one is like catnip for me. Set in an analogous Africa, it follows Kyembe of Sengezi and how he comes to be employed by the Priestess Takhat to slay a demon. Clarke does a masterful job of setting up competing interests and factions through the course of the story and manages to give enough of a taste of the world (objects of power, gods and demons, named warriors out for hire) to leave the reader wanting to delve deeper into the lore behind the story. The final battle with the demon Kyembe is pitted against is appropriately danger wrought, and the resolution does not merely rely on Kyembe’s strength of arm, but also his wits.

The Grief-Note of Vultures by Bryn Hammond – What happens when a caravan is forced to take shelter from monstrous vultures? How do you battle something that refuses to die? If it is a curse, is it one that can be lifted? A great story where the main character, Angaj-Duzmat, gets by on her wits and her knowledge, and is able to carry the day, and where what seems like a just and fit punishment ripples through the years to create new atrocities. Again, there is a strong sense of a broader world and a consistent set of rules applied that hints to some deep world building by Hammond. However, she does a fantastic job of using it to inform the story, rather than hitting the reader with it.

The non-fiction pieces also deserve a special mention, with my two favorites being Cora Buhlert’s profile of C.L. Moore and Nicole Emmelhaniz’s deep dive into Robert E. Howard’s Dark Agnes.

This issue, as I understand it, was a bit of experiment to see if there was enough interest to support the idea. As a result, you can pick up the issue for free at payhip – link is below. The layout is well done, with plenty of illustrations to break up the text as well advertisements for other like-minded publications.

You can grab a free copy here.

You can also grab a dead tree version (paperback or hardback) at Amazon:

[Note: This short piece originally appeared in Pendragon (now defunct) but it’s been almost 8 years since it saw print, so I thought I’d throw it up here.]

“Cups! Get your cups here! I’ve got flagons, tankards, skins, and steins! Cups! Get your cups here!”

The old man pushed his cart down the cobblestoned street, his wares clinking and banging together. The sun was just dipping below the city skyline, long and ominous shadows reaching like grasping fingers along the walls and ground.

He stopped outside a tavern, the sign swinging back and forth declaring its name as The Knight of the Burning Pestle. A few younger folk were lounging outside, pipes clutched in teeth. The mayor, in his infinite wisdom, had recently declared smoking inside verboten, citing fears of fires. Most people thought it was because he couldn’t stand the smell of pipe smoke, while he did enjoy taking in the local color at every opportunity.

“What’s that you’ve got there?”  one the smokers asked, pointing to the canvas that covered a number of the cup-maker’s wares.  Given the weapons they carried and the clothes they wore, the old man took them to be adventurers or mercenaries. Wasn’t much difference between the two when you got down  to it.

The old man smiled, resting against the handles of the cart. It was obvious he’d been a large man once in life, and his frame still possessed a large portion of that strength. “Oh, just a few trifles,” he said. 

He pulled aside the cover, revealing a variety of goblets. Each was unique in their grotesquerie, stylized as a severed head, but with gemstones where the eyes were to be. In most cases the lower jaw was missing, having been worked into the base of the drinking vessel.

“You made these yourself?” a woman asked. From her robes and the staff she carried, the old man marked her as a mage.

He nodded. “Took me a long time to get it right, too. Skulls make for a piss-poor vessel you see. All those holes. It’s not just where the eyes were either. There’s the ear holes, the place where the nose used to be, and you have to seal the bottom part neatly too, otherwise all the wine runs out. I found the trick is using something to seal all those little holes. Resin works pretty well, and I found a way to make it stand up to alcohol as well.”

“What? You expect us to believe that those are actual skulls? Ha!” the biggest of the group laughed. His hand rested on a massive broad sword, and his beard was tangled with bits of food and bone. “If that were true, old man, I’d have you killed for a murderer or worse.” He scratched at his beard. “Of course, you could just be a graverobber. That’s almost as bad.”

The old man shook his head. “Oh no, I’ve acquired all of these over the years from the bodies of those that have crossed me,” he laughed. “Ever heard the tale of King Latimer the Friendless?”

A slender man, a lute slung on his back, nodded slowly. “I heard he abdicated his throne ten years ago. There’s rumors he went away, looking to perfect a secret technique and vowing to return to his kingdom when he felt the time was right. Honestly, we’re better off without him. He was a tyrant and a despot of the worst sort.”

The old man grinned, drawing a silver-runed axe from under the cart. “Friendless? Hmm. I suppose. But I did finally figure out how to drink wine from my enemies’ skull, and let me tell you, there are few things as sweet as that.”

The screams that rose that night heralded the return of King Latimer, and that night he earned the new appellation of Skulldrinker, his legend and his infamy echoing down the centuries. 

The Blazing Chief by [Matt Spencer]
Cover to The Blazing Chief

Matt Spencer wraps up his Descembine Trilogy in spectacular fashion, wrapping up the trials and tribulations of Rob Coscan, Sally Wildfire, Sheldon and the rest.

The first part is a bit bloated and drags in places, with the feeling that Spencer had so much he wanted to cram into the book that I’m a little afraid to see what was left on the proverbial cutting room floor. The worldbuilding and detail is highly original, eschewing the typical fantasy standards of elves and dwarves, or their urban equivalents in ghosts and werewolves and vampires. The downside to the originality is that at times stumbles with weaving the backstory into the narrative. If a writer says “vampire” or “werewolf” or “zombie”, you’e got a pretty good idea as to what to expect. But Crimbone? Or Spirelight? It’s going to take a bit to get into it. As a result, there are a number of infodumps that come across as intrusive and overwhelming and wishing Spencer would get back to the action.

And that is where he truly shines – when he cuts loose and lets the action (and blood, and gore) flow. There’s a Robert Howard-esque feel to the violence, less of following each sword stroke and parry, and more for a visceral sense of action and motion. And yes, I’m going to admit a certain bias to that. Some of the gore and viscera at times borders on the gratuitous, as if Spencer is letting out his inner ‘80s splatterpunk self, but it fits with his barbarian type characters – grinning through a veil of blood from their foes.

Spencer also has a more clear-eyed view of his characters this time, the fact that what is viewed as typical heroic (or even superheroic) actions can well be viewed as sociopathic behavior by others, and how some people can be the shining knight and the bloodied berserker all rolled into one. As a result, some of the villains feel like they walked straight out of a death metal album given how how black and gore soaked they can get (looking at you Balthazar).

This is definitely fantasy through a dark lens, at times bleak and hopeless, but it never (in my opinion) goes full grimdark. There are still innocents in this world, and the sides aren’t exactly black on black and at most, the heroes stay a light grey throughout, even when they find themselves at odds with each other.

If you are looking for a fantasy trilogy that’s going to kick you in your teeth, then yeah, this is what you’re looking for.

You can grab a copy at Amazon.

This picks up from here.

A few days later, sitting in an open air café, the trio gather. Ramiro tosses two pouches onto the table in front of Viktoria and Graciano, accompanied by his lop-sided smile as he slumps into his chair and calls for a mug of fortified wine.

“Think they’ll try to find us?” Graciano asks.

Ramiro shrugs. “Maybe? I don’t intend to stick around long enough to find out. That little sloop we liberated is a fine ship, and well suited to my purposes. My share is enough seed to start a new venture, though I’ll probably stick to small, easily transported goods from now on. What about you?”

Viktoria shakes her head and sips from a small porcelain cup. Graciano gets a whiff of the bitter chocolate drink, a new libation starting to become popular. Still, it was normally prohibitively expensive. “I will go back to my practice, I think.” She smiles, the corners of her eyes crinkling to show it was genuine emotion she was displaying. “I still have patients, and well, I’m sure the two of you will have need of my services in the future.”

“What, you think I can’t forgo getting stabbed?” Graciano asks.

She rolls her eyes, but hides her lips by taking another sip of her drink.

“What about you, Graciano?” Ramiro asks.

The soldier rolls his shoulder and winces. It is still sore where he took the blow, though Viktoria told him it should heal fine. “I, ah, got myself a commission.” He hefts the pouch of coin, weighing it carefully. “I figure most of this will be spent on harness and provisions, but I should be able to buy a few bottles of the good stuff.”

Ramiro whistles low through his teeth and Viktoria’s eyes widen.

“Horse or foot?” she asks.

“Foot,” he responds, and Viktoria’s frown deepens. Ramiro tries to look anywhere but at the two of them.

“So you are going to get stabbed. Again.” She drains the last of her drink, stands up to leave. “In that case, I expect I’ll be seeing you again, but in a purely professional way.”

Graciano opened his mouth to retort, but she’d already swept out of the café with a rustle of her skirts.

“What did I do?” the grizzled soldier asks. He tugs on his moustache, a sure sign of his frustration.

“Did you talk to her before taking the commission?” the smuggler asks, a merry glint in his eye.

“No. Why should I?”

Ramiro sighs and places a hand on Graciano’s soldier. “You are a gifted fighter and a fine soldier, my friend. But let me tell you, you are awful with women. Well, maybe not all women. But most assuredly with that one.” He points in the direction Viktoria had disappeared.

Graciano snorts. “Like you are better?”

Ramiro leans back in his chair, his teeth gleaming as he smiles. “Benefit to my line of work? If I sink a relationship in one port, there is always another.” He leans closer. “But I offer you this free bit of advice, friend: don’t let a woman like that slip away from her.

“When do you report?”

Graciano laughs and shrugs, and calls for another bottle. “Tomorrow.”

Ramiro shakes his head and grins. “Best we celebrate tonight then, for who knows what tomorrow will bring?”


That’s it folks. Less than 10k words than what I might have originally envisioned, but that’s what I get for not having a roadmap. One of the longer pieces of fiction I’ve written and completed. Not sure yet what I’ll do with it, but think I might make a summer project of going through the collected piece and editing it. I hope you enjoyed it for what it was, and I might even come back to these characters one day, even if it was poorly disguised 7th Sea fanfic. It also means I might finally get off my ass and work more on “No Honor Among Thieves” seeing as that’s been wallowing way too long for comfort.

Part Seven! And less than a month from the last one! I know, I am as shocked as you are!

Anyway, here is the latest installment of the trouble three thieves get into when their old boss thinks they are more of a liability than an asset. And we finally find out who Simeon is and why’s he’s trouble for the the thieves of Milieux.

Part one is here. Part two is here. Part three is here. Part four is here. Part five is here. Part six is here. Comments are always welcome!


Part one is here. Part two is here. Part three is here. Part four is here. Part five is here. Comments are always welcome! (And yes, it’s been eight months since this last updated. Oof.)


Haven’t done one of these challenges in a while, but decided to try and knock some of the rust off. So, yes, a story featuring Good and Evil. Or, Good versus Evil. Though this may be more Evil vs. Evil. Ahh well. Enjoy. Original challenge can be found here! (more…)

Wait, are you still reading this? After a three month hiatus? You are some kind of masochist aren’t you? Anyway, continues on from here.

(Oh, hey, almost coming up on a year of having started it).


This week’s challenge: To Behold the Divine. I took the opportunity to get Liam the Black back out there, even for a non-canon story, to explain a little bit more where he comes from and why has little patience for gods, spirits and other such hoodoo. Maybe not quite what the challenge was calling for, but given my current state of mind it was good to write something, maybe even especially because a Liam the Black story was just rejected. Comments and such are welcome, as always.


This week’s challenge: the random flickr challenge. Get a picture, use it as inspiration.

I ended up with mmcclair‘s image of Eilean Donan‘s castle in Scotland. Reasonably happy with how it turned out, and it gave me an excuse to take Heinrik and Viona back out for a spin. If you enjoy they’re anctics, you’ll be happy to know a story featuring them was accepted by New Realm magazine. Also- in which I am reminded that writing “quick” sword and sorcery is in some ways harder than writing the long stuff.

As always, comments, likes, and shares are much appreciated.