Sunday, January 2, 2022

Blood on the Blade - Review by SE

Blood on the Blade by Cliff Biggers

S.E. rating: 4 of 5 stars

Overview: Blood on the Blade (Edited by Jim Beard, John C. Bruening) offers 10 varied S&S tales, several that stick to the tropes (super-charged male heroes takes on evil sorcerers), and several that showcase non-standard milieus (such as Polynesian and Meso-American settings). The subgenre/tones range too, from violent-Grimdark, to light-adventure, YA-fantasy, to humor. I star the ones that I most enjoyed.

The “Scroll of Scribes & Artisans” Afterword offers nice biographies of all the contributors. It’s a great way to amplify a key purpose of anthologies: explore a variety of authors, discover a new one; let it guide you to more of their work.

I learned of this book by following DMR’s blog and publications (; he has a nice contribution here. Also, the cover art by Mark Wheatley resonates with the title (and I believe the “GodKiller” opening story).

Some spoilers are below, but I attempt to obscure them

“Godkiller” by Cliff Biggers
Hero vs. sorcerer mayhem. Fast-paced to the point I would have enjoyed the story being longer (i.e., when certain enslaved warriors re-awaken). It’s solid S&S fare with a few memorable writing moments: (1) the hero butchering a priest and (2) learning that the body can be fashioned into weapons.

“The Unlidded Eye” by James R. Tuck
Reads like a Conan pastiche with all its Hyborian Age references. Threok the barbarian is our hero, and the slow-start has a drawn-out, weird-romance with a Prince. Suddenly, the story ramps up so fast it almost stumbles. Uneven pacing, but a satisfying conflict with the god Set. Apparently, Tuck has a book out on this dude: Theok the Indomitable: A Spill of Sorcerer's Blood.

* “The Island of Shadows” by Paul R. McNamee
Starts in media res with two protagonists on a boat (an outrigger actually) so the conflict is not clear. A magical storm get forces them onto a haunted island, so the conflict is not clear at first. The Polynesian milieu was great to be immersed in (ka magic and patu clubs, tiki statues, and puipui skirts). Fun stuff.

* "More Blood" by D.M. Ritzlin
An extended gladiator battle with an overpowered hero (without memory of who is) almost feels like a juvenile attempt at writing fiction, but then the setting clarifies, and the denouement rocked. A fun read brought to you by the champion of DMR books.

"Hounds of Morhullem" by James A. Moore
I’ve had James A Moore’s Seven Forges/Godless books in my TBR for too long. Here we have another duo of protagnists. Valen and the mercenary Berek make a fine pair as they experience an extended battle with undead hounds. It’s fun, but the setup appeared for a goal outside the story; the initial goal is discarded for a battle. Fun, but a sucker-punch for expectations. This must serve as a chapter for a larger series (or the Worthy of King book mentioned in the Afterward).

"The Sorceress Maiz" by Anne Marie Lutz
Vinton and his mother are spellcasters (with royal ties) out to save brother prince from the evil dad-king-sorcerer. There is a ton of sorcery here (paralysis, invisibility, body-switching). The pacing and delivery felt YA-fantasy-ish; the variety complements the other stories. Wish more female writers were out there!

"The Bloody Crooked One" by Charles R. Rutledge
The next overpowered hero is Kharrn. He’s got a big ax and is nigh-indestructible. He teams up with some stray Roman getting slaughtered by a dark-druid, a druid he had dealings with. The plot was supported by ample exposition.

* “Knock the Hell Out of You” by Steven L. Shrewsbury
I tend to roll my eyes anytime heroes enter a tavern, and I tend to like my heroes challenged a lot. In this case, despite the tavern scene and lack of a challenge, it felt fun because it was an over-the-top gorefest. The body-hopping demon fights our protagonists Gorias La Gaul and his daughter, Roan. They make for an interesting pair (there are a bunch of Gorias La Gaul stories elsewhere according to the Afterward). I'm leaning toward tracking these down.

"Dishonor Among Thieves" by Adrian Cole
I’ve enjoyed Adrian Coles's works (i.e. the Dream Lords, and his Elak of Atlantis pastiche), but this was my first exposure to Elfloq, the batrachian familiar. He’s seeking to connect with a bad-arse Voidal sorcerer. Cole already has two short stories about Elfloq in Parallel Universe Publication’s S&S anthologies). This was not classic S&S; it featured our fairy-like familiar Elfloq messing with idiotic mages and barbarians. The humor and tone were a pleasant variation from the others.

"Blood Games in the Temple of the Toad" by Frank Schildiner
The setting shines here, being a Meso-American backdrop. Obsidian Jaguar, a way-overpowered hero, kicks tons of arse. His primary enemies are Caiman (reptile) tribal folk who also have lots of societal issues, including an authoritarian theocracy with a penchant for gladiator fights. I enjoyed the potential here, especially with Clawed Butterfly, a sorceress frenemy. Overall, this felt longer than it had to be, and the plot felt a bit forced.

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