Sunday, January 31, 2016

Blackguards: Tales of Assassins, Mercenaries, and Rogues is Highly Recommended Dark Fantasy - Review by S.E.

Blackguards: Tales of Assassins, Mercenaries, and RoguesBlackguards: Tales of Assassins, Mercenaries, and Rogues by J.M. Martin
S.E. Lindberg rating: 5 of 5 stars

Blackguards: Tales of Assassins, Mercenaries, and Rogues is Highly Recommended Dark Fantasy: This collection is largely Dark Fantasy. As the subtitle says, this not just about Assassins--there are plenty similar lawbreakers featured: Thieves, Smugglers, and Mercenaries. As J.M. Martin clarifies in his introduction:
"Blackguard, by the way, is actually pronounced ‘blaggard,’ as in haggard. The term seemingly originated from scullions and kitchen-knaves, in particular those in courtly caravans who were in charge of the pots, pans, utensils, and the conveyance of coal … one could extrapolate that a ‘blaggard’—also ‘blagger’ in some texts—is a ‘rag-tag deceiver with grandiloquent habits.’"
Crowdfunded Gateway: Anthologies often function as a way to speed-date authors. Want to get acquainted with those who write about a theme you crave? Then find a thematic anthology and shop around! The Sword & Sorcery genre spawned from short stories; for many decades anthologies needed no classification. But in the last few decades, within the dark fantasy genre associated with S&S, there has been a move toward themes—which is great (i.e., Rogue Blade Entertainment’s Rage of the Behemoth and Heroika 1: Dragon Eaters come to mind). Blackguards: Tales of Assassins, Mercenaries, and Rogues provides a whopping 27 stories—24 of which are linked to established series. The “Roll-Credits” section in the end is designed to link readers to the authors they just liked. Classy. This book was launched via Kickstarter and Ragnarok Publications delivered a solid product. Me? I was just a Bung Nippers level supporter, but am still part of the band wagon and proud to be acknowledge in the contributor section.

Variety: A menu of 27 entries starts off with ~4 female protagonists, which was unexpected and enjoyable. The range of characters and milieu is truly broad. There is surprisingly little redundancy. As mentioned above, the Sword & Sorcery genre was influential: Michael J. Sullivan and Paul Kemp offer duos reminiscent of Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar “Fafred and Mouser”; and Jon Sprunk seemed to write a pastiche/fan-fiction of Glen Cook’s The Black Company.
Many are tales of betrayal and grim situations; the most impactful was Peter Orullian ’s "A Length of Cherrywood" which was uber-dark, but very well written--this story is one you’ll enjoy reading once, and then never again. Not all these are grim. There are several comedic entries, the funniest for me was Richard Lee Byers’s "Troll Trouble" which had me laughing out loud. There are several others that have the protagonist as savior/hero, or the target of blackguards; Kenny Soward’s "Jancy's Justice” was one such which also offered a bit of steampunk/gnome technology. The last several entries really cast the net: James Enge casts Odysseus as a blackguard, Lian Hearn provides some Japanese inspired darkness, Snorri Kristjansson offers Viking flare, and Anton Strout brings a psychic- sorcery into contemporary art crime.

Personal Favorites: S.R. Cambridge’s "The Betyár and the Magus" blends magic into western-European history—great characters and setting. Equally entertaining & well written was Shawn Speakman’s dose of druidic/Celtic lore; his "The White Rose Thief" made me aware of “Rosenwyn Whyte” a musician with a dark past which I am anxious to read more about. Tim Marquitz ’s "A Taste of Agony" got me intrigued about the “outlaw, eunuch assassin Gryl”, even though the story’s mission was obscure. Anthony Ryan’s "The Lord Collector" offered it all—an intriguing world of assassins, dark magic, and interesting characters.

Art: The cover art by Arman Akopian is nicely done and representative on the book’s contents (yes, there are plenty of female protagonists). Interior art for each of the stories is bonus flare, well done by artists Orion Zangara and Oksana Dmitrienko

Foreword by Glen Cook
Introduction by J.M. Martin
JEAN RABE, "Mainon" (Original tale) *
BRADLEY P. BEAULIEU, "Irindai" (Shattered Sands) *
CAT RAMBO, "The Subtler Art" (Serendib)
CAROL BERG, "Seeds" (Lighthouse Duet)
KENNY SOWARD, "Jancy's Justice" (GnomeSaga)
MICHAEL J. SULLIVAN, "Professional Integrity" (Riyria)
RICHARD LEE BYERS, "Troll Trouble" (Plague Knight)
PAUL S. KEMP, "A Better Man" (Egil and Nix) *
DJANGO WEXLER, "First Kill" (Shadow Campaigns)
MARK SMYLIE, "Manhunt" (The Known World)
JOHN GWYNNE, "Better to Live than to Die" (Faithful Fallen)
MARK LAWRENCE, "The Secret" (Broken Empire)
LAURA RESNICK, "Friendship" (Silerian Chronicles)
CLAY SANGER, "The First Kiss" **
SHAWN SPEAKMAN, "The White Rose Thief" (The Dark Thorn)
PETER ORULLIAN, "A Length of Cherrywood" (Aeshau Vaal)
TIM MARQUITZ, "A Taste of Agony" (Prodigy series)
JAMES A. MOORE, "What Gods Demand" (Seven Forges)
DAVID DALGLISH, "Take You Home" (Shadowdance)
JOSEPH R. LALLO, "Seeking the Shadow" (Book of Deacon)
JON SPRUNK, "Sun and Steel" (Shadow Saga)
S.R. CAMBRIDGE, "The Betyár and the Magus" **
SNORRI KRISTJANSSON, "A Kingdom and a Horse" (Valhalla Saga)
JAMES ENGE, "Thieves at the Gate" (Morlock)
LIAN HEARN, "His Kikuta Hands" (Tales of the Otori)
ANTHONY RYAN, "The Lord Collector" (Raven's Shadow novella)*
ANTON STROUT, "Scream" (Simon Canderous Chronicles)
* stretch goal achieved
** open submissions winners (

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