Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Hocking Understand this S&S kind of Stuff - City of the Dead released

 Most of this content was simulcast on Black Gate June 25, 2024: 


CONAN City of the Dead, by John C. Hocking (2024, Titan Books. 507p)[/caption]

It’s June of 2024, and Titan Books has just delivered John C. Hocking’s City of the Dead which contains both Conan and the Emerald Lotus (1995, TOR) and its follow-up Conan and the Living Plaguea book lost in the limbo of publishing craziness for ~two decades! Hocking also wrote a bridging novella set in between these two novels called “Black Starlight” (serialized across Conan comics in 2019, and provided assembled as an eBook in 2023 as Conan: Black Starlight: The Heroic Legends Series). Since Titan Books & Heroic Signatures had the rights to publish and print “Black Starlight” separately, it seems like a lost opportunity to have it absent from  City of the Dead, but fans are just glad to finally see the Living Plague in print, it is tough to whine about that.

Conan fans will be purchasing City of the Dead in a frenzy since they are familiar with Hocking’s style and its heroic journey

Want to know what the fuss is all about? This post is all about John C. Hocking’s Conan pastiche. It consolidates my reviews from Emerald Lotus and Black Starlight and highlights from my interview-with-Hocking and pre-review of Living Plague (that post contained informational, but distanced comments, about the book since the manuscript was still not available to all… at the time, I was blessed with one of the sacred Perilous World copies by Hocking to read). Read this and you'll have all the excerpts and context needed to lure you into the City of the Dead.

Lord of a Shattered Land and The Doom of Odin: Howard Andrew Jones and Scott Oden deliver high-octane, anti-Roman Adventure

I just finished two Euro-Mediterranean-inspired fantasy novels, and, by chance, both feature dragons on their beautiful covers. This post showcases both. Scott Oden's The Doom of Oden wraps up a trilogy (Grimnir Series) and Howard Andrew Jones' Lord of a Shattered Land begins a five-book series (Hanuvar Chronicles). Each offer anti-Roman myths/legends, Oden's Grimnir overtly calls out Rome (and then introduces loads of Nordic fantasy) and HAJ's Hanuvar's primary antagonist is the Dervan Empire (obviously inspired by the Roman Empire). In the spirit of Robert E. Howard's Conan, who roamed the Euro-Mediterranan continue of Hyboria, these both continue a tradition with a unique flair. These series are not to be missed!

Both are veteran authors with respect for history and historical fiction (HAJ is known for his Harold Lamb series editing and Oden for his bibliography that includes The White Lion, The Lion of Cairo, Men of Bronze, and Memnon). Here they write sagas about veteran protagonists. Don't expect coming-of-age stories or epic fantasy, five-character parties either. These provide the classic Sword & Sorcery approach: the protagonists may have sidekicks, but they operate primarily on their own, and they are already equipped with experience/skills/power from page-one. So the pace is fast and focused.

Both Lord of a Shattered Land and The Doom of Odin blend history with fantasy but each provides significant doses of myth/sorcery, so these are not alternate history novels. Each protagonist is motivated by their respective family too: HAJ's Hanuvar is human, and since he is a displaced general managing to survive as his society is destroyed by Derva (Rome), he operates like a secret agent going rogue behind enemy lines to rescue other stragglers and family members. Oden's Grimnir is inhuman, more of a manifestation of Beowulf's Grendel's kin, and whereas the first two books had Grimnir apart from his estranged family, this last installment showcases loads of family drama (i.e., think family reunion on the scale of Ragnarok, aka, the end of the world, with Rome hosting part of the picnic).

This post provides brief reviews, book blurbs, and excerpts. Read on and battle Rome and ancient Gods!

Hanuvar Series (link)

Hanuvar is a fictionalized general (an incarnation of Hannibal of Carthage) who tangles with the Roman-like Dervani who have invaded his homeland. Expect espionage thriller sorties, gladiator battles, and sorcery-saturated climaxes in each chapter to balance all the melee. Lord of a Shattered Land (Aug 2023) kicks off a 5 book series from Baen, followed by  City of Marble and Blood (Oct 2023), and Shadow of the Smoking Mountain (Oct 2024), (#4 and #5 to be revealed later). 

Hanuvar is Conan possessed by James Bond!

Lord of a Shattered Land Cover Blurb

When their walls were breached at last, the people of Volanus fought block by block, house by house, until most fell with sword in hand. Less than a thousand survivors were led away in chains.

The city’s treasuries were looted, its temples defiled, and then, to sate their emperor’s thirst for vengeance, the mages of the Dervan Empire cursed Volanus and sowed its fields with salt. They committed only one error: the greatest Volani general yet lived.

Against the might of a vast empire, Hanuvar had only an aging sword arm, a lifetime of wisdom… and the greatest military mind in the world, set upon a single goal. No matter where they’d been sent, from the festering capital to the furthest outpost of the Dervan Empire, Hanuvar would find his people. Every last one of them. And he would set them free.

Worst of all, a magical attack had left Hanuvar with a lingering curse that might change him forever, or lead him to an early grave…

Lord of a Shattered features fourteen episodes chronicling Hanuvar's undercover investigations and travels. The settings and delivery are reminiscent of Richard L Tierney's Simon of Gitta (Black Gate review) who was posed as an enemy of sorcerous Rome (the character Simon was loosely modeled after the biblical magus, and was motivated by vengeance.)  Hanuvar is driven more to save his people than to cause further harm, but bloodshed follows him everywhere. HAJ's delivery is splendidly smooth, whether he is describing body horror or humorous situations--at times evoking Leiber's Lanhmar ambiance. You likely have seen some of his stories, since seven of the fourteen episodes/chapters were published in similar form by reappearing here with slight editing to close out a story arc:

  1. “The Way of Serpents,” first published in the Goodman Games Gen Con 2016 Program Guide and then reprinted in Issue "zero" of Tales From the Magician’s Skull, 2018.
  2. “Crypt of Stars,” printed in Tales From the Magician’s Skull, Issue 1, 2018.
  3. “The Second Death of Hanuvar,” printed in Tales From the Magician’s Skull, Issue 3, 2019.
  4. “A Stone’s Throw,” printed in Heroic Fiction Quarterly #40, 2019.
  5. “Course of Blood,” printed in the anthology Galactic Stew.
  6. “From the Darkness Beneath” in Terra Incognita
  7. “Shroud of Feathers” appeared in issue 6 of Tales From the Magician’s Skull.

Excerpt: Vivid, clever, James-Bond-Like Melee

"His opponents were spread out, and while the circumstance was far from ideal, it might not get better. Hanuvar dashed from the brush and slammed the antlered man’s head with his spear haft. This knocked his foe’s deer-hood askew and set him reeling drunkenly. Hanuvar closed and struck him across the throat with the heel of his hand.

Antler-head sank to his knees, gasping for breath.

Hanuvar grasped his cheeks, pushed the severed finger through his teeth, and clamped the man’s jaw shut. “Swallow,” he ordered into his ear, the spear blade against his neck.

The man’s throat moved, he pushed at Hanuvar’s arm with shaking fingers . . . then swallowed as the spear blade pricked him."

Excerpt: Weird, Sorcerous, X-Files-Like Predicaments

"Arcella lay there, at least what was left of her. Her dress had been rent down the front, and her skinless, hairless body lay wet and glistening, the lidless eyes rendered enormous. Unlike the other bodies, her internal organs still lay in their places. The reek was overwhelming.

Even Hanuvar was stunned by the scene, for he could think of no ordinary means by which the woman could have screamed and then been rendered skinless in the scant moment since they had raced to find her."

The City of Marble and Blood (already out) continues Hanuvar's grand adventures!

Grimnir Series (link)

Ymir’s balls! Oden's trilogy comes to an end. This was initiated with A Gathering of Ravens (reviewed by Flecther Vredenburgh on Black Gate) to be followed by Twilight of the Gods. Read those first to become a cheerleader of Grimnir. The milieu is reminiscent of Poul Anderson’s Viking Age The Broken Sword, being full of Dane’s and Celtic faeries and Norse myths. Oden's style is more readable than that classic, but is still saturated with just the right amount of call-outs to geographies and history to blur the lines between fantasy and history. This is no historical fantasy, but the foundation of history is so well played the fantasy feels “real.” Equally balanced are the sorceries of Celtic witches, Norse deities, and Christian beliefs. All supernatural “sides” of faith conflict here. All are presented as real, though some are being superseded.  So who is the orc protagonist employed by Scott Oden to redeem the Orc culture? He is Grimnir...Grendel’s brother, as named by some. The lady Étaín, a servant of the Christian God, the Nailed One, and unlikely companion of him describes him:

“He is called Grimnir… the last of his kind, one of the kaunar—known to your people as fomóraig, to mine as orcnéas, and to the Northmen as skrælingar. In the time I’ve known him, he has been ever a fomenter of trouble, a murderer, and as cruel a bastard… I can vouch neither for his honesty nor his morals, as he is bereft of both. And while he did kidnap me, threaten me with death, mock my faith, and expose me to the hates of a forgotten world, he also saved my life …” from A Gathering of Ravens

Grimnir is a monstrous, brutal bastard!

His name suits him since he might as well be carrying a flagstaff with the contemporary “Grimdark subgenre” splayed upon it. Yet his predicament and motivations are as compelling as any vigilante hero. How best to end the series other than (a) meeting Grimnir's estranged family [i.e., the paternal Bálegyr] while (b) ushering in Ragnarok? This last installment takes us to mindbending travel between ancient Rome and Nastrond/Yggdrasil (i.e. Nordic Otherworlds that Oden can explain better than me). Granted Rome is only part of the landscape here; readers should expect more time in the Nordic realms.

The Doom of Odin: A Novel (Grimnir Series Book 3)  Blurb:

To the Danes, he is skraelingr; to the English, he is orcnéas; to the Irish, he is fomoraig. He is Corpse-maker and Life-quencher, the Bringer of Night, the Son of the Wolf and Brother of the Serpent. He is Grimnir, and he is the last of his kind—the last in a long line of monsters who have plagued humanity since the Elder Days.

Drawn from his lair by a thirst for vengeance against the Dane who slew his brother, Grimnir emerges into a world that’s changed. A new faith has arisen. The Old Ways are dying, and their followers retreating into the shadows; even still, Grimnir’s vengeance cannot be denied.

Taking a young Christian hostage to be his guide, Grimnir embarks on a journey that takes him from the hinterlands of Denmark, where the wisdom of the ancient dwarves has given way to madness, to the war-torn heart of southern England, where the spirits of the land make violence on one another. And thence to the green shores of Ireland and the Viking stronghold of Dubhlinn, where his enemy awaits.

But, unless Grimnir can set aside his hatreds, his dream of retribution will come to nothing. For Dubhlinn is set to be the site of a reckoning—the Old Ways versus the New—and Grimnir, the last of his kind left to plague mankind, must choose: stand with the Christian King of Ireland and see his vengeance done or stand against him and see it slip away?

Grimdark Battles Infused with Norse Mythology

Excerpt 1: 

Grimnir hacked slivers from the skrælingr’s club; over his shoulder, he saw the shuffling kaunr—that straight-legged bastard with a beard like tarry weeds—moving into his blind side. Snarling, Grimnir deflected another blow from the skrælingr’s knotty club, then drove the hilt of his long-seax into the idiot’s teeth. Once. Twice. Blood spurted from the wreckage of his nose and mouth. A third blow snapped the skrælingr’s head back. The club slipped from his nerveless fingers. A fourth crushing blow sent him crumpling to the ground with a broken neck.

Excerpt 2:

Grimnir never let him finish...With a serpentine hiss, the son of Bálegyr snapped his arm forward, driving the blade of his spear into the point of the kaunr’s bearded chin. His drawn breath, meant for the boastful recitation of his deeds, turned into a death-rattle as the spearhead plowed through bone and teeth; it cut through the muscle of his tongue and the soft flesh of his palate, splitting his face from jaw to brow. Blood spewed from the spear-cleft ruin.


Saturday, June 8, 2024

Milton Davis - Meeting a Role Model


I have a mission to meet the authors my stories share anthologies with ("selfie" tag), and for Perseid Presses' Heroika and Heroes in Hell Series, I've cornered a bunch in Chicago, Indianapolis, New Orlean, Norman OK, and now Atlanta!  Beth PattersonCharles GramlichJoe BonadonnaJack William FinleyTom Barzcak  ... and now Milton Davis!

Just ran into one of my inspirational role models for writing and publishing Milton Davis (in this case, I was in Atlanta for an American Chemical Society Green Chemistry convention...which is cool because Milton has been a formulation chemist for decades).

Grateful to chat about storytelling and chemistry. Grabbed an extra signature for Changa and the Heroika Dragon Eater anthology (we both have a story in that) and on Eda Blessed II, which I was honored to provide a cover blurb for. Thanks for your time, Milton!

Blurb on the back cover for Eda Blessed 2:
"Omari Ket is a rogue warrior, not a spy, but he is as suave, cunning, and as lethal as any Secret Agent Man. ‘Agency’ is a term for the capacity of a character to act independently, and Omari is an Agency onto himself: he reports to no one. Omari is a ladies’ man in a dog-eat-dog world. If you like a cut-throat, libertine, action-oriented protagonist, then you are ‘Eda Blessed.’"

Milton and I share a few table-of-contents too: