S.E.Lindberg rating: 5 of 5 stars
Last Man Standing – Seven Delightful, Demonic Duels
The Last of His Kind and Other Stories by Bill Ward packages five of his previously published tales with two new ones (see the table of contents below.) This is highly recommended for Dark Fantasy fans.
One story is “man vs. self/society” but the rest share the conflict of “protagonist vs. rival.” These are the most serious of conflicts, each being a fantastic duel to the death. Hence an apt, alternative title would be “Last Man Standing.” All are dark fantasy, and Ward’s entertaining narrative will escort you kindly through hell (but not back). Each story is original and varied in milieu/perspective/available magic. The tales are also arranged nicely, with two flash fiction pieces breaking up the normal length short stories.
You’ll experience heavy doses of chaotic evil, small aliquots of guns, a bit of oriental mystique, and two solid hits of bewilderment. Also, the last tale echoes the hellish goodness presented in the first; check out these excerpts:
Hellish Environment, from By Hellish Means
…within the amphitheater vestibule was a thick, unbroken darkness, and the demon within her saw through it with a crystalline clarity. It relished, too, the tormented and frozen forms of the hundreds of corpses that filled the place…Caught in their last agony, mummified by the long years in the desert air and any the blast of hellpower that must have slain them, the dead surrounded Yrisa, screaming silent screams. Many of them, impossibly, still stood upright with their withered limbs rooted to the spot, their clothing and flesh long since fused into a single tough skin of mottled black. Most lay in heaps upon the ground, a tangled and undifferentiated mass of contorted bodies...
Hellish Action, from Wyrd of War
A red cliff of seeping flesh reared above Vendic. He charged, penetrating the aura of terror surrounding the juggernaut, his body shuddering from the tortured dirge of the construct’s chorus. He hacked at the nearest limb as one felling timber, chopping a wedge in the unprotected meat. Close now to the beast Vendic saw the individual contours of people entwined in its sickening mass—skinless tissues melding, entire bodies stretched into tendons driving dense clumps of muscle—layer upon layer of manlike shapes slithering above and beneath one another in a nightmarish parody of human anatomy. Through the clot of blood and lymph that clung to the great composite beast, scores of faces wept and screamed.
1. “The Wyrd of War” originally published in The Return of the Sword from Rogue Blades Entertainment, March 2008
2. Shadow of the Demonspawn Emperor – first time published here 2013
3. Above the Dark Wood - first time published here 2013
4. “The Killer’s Face” originally published in Morpheus Tales Issue 6, October 2009
5. “The Last of His Kind” originally published in Heroic Fantasy Quarterly Issue 3, Winter 2010
6. “The Tale of Gerroth the Damned” originally published in Morpheus Tales Issue 2, October 2008
7. “By Hellish Means” originally published in Demons: A Clash of Steel from Rogue Blades Entertainment, June 2010
The titular tale is a fine adventure, but my favorites were the opening tale “The Wyrd of War” and “Above the Dark Wood” since they left me feeling disturbed/uncertain. Make no mistake, they were crisply and deliberately written. They were not as mind-blowing as Phillip Dick, but I was reminded of his ability to pleasantly confuse readers. I devoured the eBook on a business trip and was left hungry for more. And luckily there is! I will be checking out these other Ward anthologies in the near future:
Mightier than the Sword and Other Stories and Heartless Gao Walks Number Nine Hell and Other Stories
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