Saturday, April 22, 2017

Dossouye by Charles R. Saunders - review by SE

Dossouye (Dossouye, #1)Dossouye by Charles R. Saunders
S.E. rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dossouye, a female version of Imaro in many ways; just as entertaining. A solid entry in the Sword & Soul subgenre by the man who started it, Charles R. Saunders. Highly recommended for fantasy fiction readers.

Sword & Soul & Availability: Charles R. Saunders led the creation of the Sword & Soul sub-genre (under Fantasy). My previous review of Saunder’s more famous, male character Imaro details more about his writing history. In short, he was compelled to create myths stemming from Africa rather than the typical European-centric standard. He spins a good tale, and his perspective does feel fresh. Like Imaro, Dossouye is a essentially a lone warrior (she does have a trusty mount called Gbo, a war buffalo!). Do not expect elves or party/fellowships. Do expect to experience strong mix of sorcery/magic, creatures (supernatural and wild), and lots of fighting. Some of his books are difficult to track down, but they are worth it...and... he has been writing many short stories (those count too for if you can't find the books, look into the anthologies he contributed for....list below).

Dossouye Source Material:
This novel combines six tales originally published (in different form) are combined into chapters:
Original Publications
Amazons! 1979 (Jessica Amanda Salmonson)
Sword and Sorceress, 1984 (Marion Zimmer Bradley)
Sword and Sorceress II, 1985 (Marion Zimmer Bradley)
Sword and Sorceress III, 1986 (Marion Zimmer Bradley)
Dark Matter, 2000 (Sheree Renée Thomas)
Dark Matter II: Reading the Bones 2004 (Sheree Renee Thomas)

Chapter List and some notes (not spoilers)
1 – “Agbewe’s Sword”: Two cultures, the Abanti and Abomea, battle with sorcery and buffalo mounts. Dossouye is introduced, chosen via a bokono dream, and eventually exiled in a unique way.
2 – “Gimmile’s Songs”: A chance encounter with cursed magician/musician and thieves that follow him.
3— “Shiminege’s Mask”: Someone draws the short straw to be sacrificed to a sichi (akin to a immortal vampire?)..who were destroyed mostly by Dossouye’s ancestors and war bulls
4— “Yahimba’s Choice”: Tarusi (realized forms of mens’ fear of girls not getting circumcised) take center stage. Best story in the set. With Saunders already infusing black history into dark fantasy, with this collection he strived to go further by taking on a woman’s character. From the outset, I had in mind doing some type of Bechdel-Test (one measure of how well women are portrayed in movie scripts in relation to male dominance). For this, I mentally noted how much Dossouye was just a “chick-in-chainmail”; ie how often did her gender really play a role in the story and not just be easily replaced/switched for a male stand-in. Although female issues are mentioned throughout, it wasn’t until this chapter did Saunder’s hit his stride across the board: African culture & myths, Dossouye’s gender, and classic Sword & Sorcery (battles with supernatural) all synchronize.
5 – “Marwe’s Forest:” A shapechanger confronts/seduces Dossouye
6 – “Obenga’s Drum:” Embiti (pygmy/dwarves) are saved by Dossouye, but then she is injured and traverses another bokono dream

The short stories flow as connected chapters, but the publication/creation history still affect the read. Saunders has a narrative voice that leans toward “telling” rather than “showing” but the plots are full of twists and milieu so unique that they read fast. Dossouye’s main motivation/choices stems from a culture around associating one’s three souls with feti trees. Without the trees living, one may turn into a zhumbi (a soulless Abomean). To achieve a 5-star, this critical relationship needed to be fleshed out earlier (or “shown” more). That said there is a sequel, and Dossouye evolved into a more realistic character with each story. The next one should be a great read too.

Finding Books
There is at least one eBook version of Imaro available via Lulu...and ~$20USD version of most of his library; there are two pages.
1) The spotlight page for Charles R Saunders has most (link)
2) The page for Charles Saunders (no "R") has Dossouye available (link)

Short stories: From his website Saunder’s author page we can get a list of Charles R. Saunders's short stories and the collection they appeared in.

2017 and beyond This April, Sword and Soul guru Milton J. Davis revealed that “A few years ago Charles Saunders shared with me an excellent story he wrote set in the world of Imaro titled 'The Return of Sundiata. Just recently he revealed to me that he has written a collection of such stories, tentatively titled 'Nyumbani Tales.' It is my honor and privilege to announce that I will be publishing this historic collection this year! Stay tuned for more details. Sword and Soul forever!"

Saunder's Sword & Soul portfolio
The Quest for Cush
The Trail of Bohu
The Naama War

Dossouye: the Dancers of Mulukau

Imaro by Charles R. Saunders The Quest for Cush (Imaro #2) by Charles R. Saunders The Trail of Bohu (Imaro, #3) by Charles R. Saunders The Naama War (Imaro, #4) by Charles R. Saunders
Dossouye the Dancers of Mulukau (Dossouye, #2) by Charles R. Saunders Dossouye (Dossouye, #1) by Charles R. Saunders

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Friday, April 21, 2017

Moorcock and Leiber - May-June 2017 Groupreads

All are welcome to join us for our May-June Groupreads:

(a) Moorcock - Elric, Corum, pick an eternal champion! Folder Link: 

(b) Leiber - Fafred and the Gray Mouser! - Folder Link

Banner Credits
1974 Michael Moorcock's The Sword and the Stallion Cover art by David McCall Johnston
1974 Michael Moorcock's The Oak and the Ram Cover art by David McCall Johnston
1976 Fritz Leiber's - Zwaarden tegen Magiërs Cover art by Bruce Pennington. (Swords against Wizardry)
1975 Fritz Leiber's Zwaarden in de mist Cover art by Bruce Pennington

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Children of Hurin - Tolkien's Grimdark Saga reviewed by SE

The Children of HúrinThe Children of Húrin by J.R.R. Tolkien
S.E rating: 5 of 5 stars

In short, The Children of Húrin is very Tolkien... but much more dark/grim than most people have read. I own the Alan Lee illustrated version and the audiobook narrated by none other than Saruman-actor Christopher Lee. Extremely dark! A dense read made easier by the narration and tenor of Lee. Listening to C.Lee while looking at A.Lee's illustrations (who was concept artist for the movies too) is a great experience.

Audible Book Link - click to listen to sample

If anyone thinks JRR only wrote happy fairytales, then they will be surprised by this ultradark tale. On the other hand, Tolkien-tropes/style are still very much present:
1) A dragon, Glaurong, terrorizes Middle Earth (reminiscent of Smaug in the Hobbit)
2) Evil villain-god Glaurong is a servant of Morgoth, once named Melkor whose lieutenant Sauron appears in LOTR; Morgoth has a large role in this book.
3) Forbidden man and elf-woman relationships, in this case Turin has a few relationships with women, and elves, but one relationship echoes that of Aragorn & Arwen from LOTR ... which echoes that of Bereth and Luthien in and Tale of Tunuviel
4) Abandoned Dwarf place: in the Hobbit and LOTR we were treated to ruined Dwarf holds (Erebor and the Mines of Moria); here we have the petty-dwarf Mim and his abandoned hold Amon Rûdh.
5) Secretive Elf places: in the Hobbit and LTOR, we had Rivendell and Lothlórien... here we are graced with Doriath and Nargothrond)

These Tolkien-tropes reinforced my take on the Hobbit and LOTR's themes; if you've read those and are entertaining reading the Silmarillion, I suggest reading Hurin first. It is easier to read than The Silmarillion and expands the milieu well.

The Children of Húrin really extends the World of the Hobbit and Return of the King. Easier to read than the Similarion, but still pretty thick. From this I learned lots of nuances (like Elrond is half-human). Would make an awesome movie (which will not happen :( ). Highly recommended.

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Saturday, April 15, 2017

Rypel's Gonji Sabatake returns in "Dark Ventures"

GONJI DARK VENTURES is now available as 

eBook/Kindle & Paperback!

Rypel's Gonji Sabatake is back on stage with new tales!  The original 1980's Gonji Trilogy is great fun, a mashup of Sword & Sorcery and Godzilla-like monster movies. They were released recently, but there has been no published new Gonji for decades... until now.  And this one promises even more!

Contents of Dark Ventures 

(paraphrased from the book blurb):

Hear the rallying cry for fans of the popular 1980s heroic-fantasy series. Here are two new tales of GONJI SABATAKE, the itinerant samurai-Viking warrior.. and an excerpt of another forthcoming novel! An ideal entry point for new readers.

1) The novelette "Reflections in Ice" -- picking up a mature Gonji, already well into his ca. 1600 A.D. European adventures, ensnared in a desperate crossfire between monstrous oppressors: the undead assassins of the Dark Company; and mysterious horrors residing in remote caves of the snowbound Pyrenees…

2) The novella "Dark Venture" -- the most intense, action-packed and classic-pulp-worthy Gonji tale in the canon. The first-ever story of "young Gonji," in dishonored exile from his native land. Now facing deadly peril during a bizarre and ghastly sea voyage; caught in the clutches of a hell where corrupted spells of evil magic go to die…

3) A generous preview of the coming new forthcoming Gonji novel "Born of Flame and Steel": the audacious origin tale of Gonji’s world.

Gonji Series: 

The initial Zebra books of the 1980’s essential split one long novel into a trilogy (I suspect the split was arbitrary). T.C. Rypel’s 1980 series has been released in a more complete forms (more books, eBooks, audiobooks). The newer releases from Borgo Press seem to have maintained this split. 

1) Gonji: Red Blade from the East: The Deathwind Trilogy, Book One
2) Gonji: The Soul Within the Steel
3) Gonji: Deathwind of Vedun: The Deathwind Triology, Book Three
4) Gonji: Fortress of Lost Worlds
5) Gonji: A Hungering of Wolves
6) ... and now in 2017... Gonji: Dark Ventures
7) ... and soon to follow ... Gonji: Born of Flame and Steel

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Mouth of the Dragon - Review by SE

Mouth of the Dragon: Prophecy of the EvarunMouth of the Dragon: Prophecy of the Evarun by Tom Barczak
S.E. rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mouth of the Dragon: Prophecy of the Evarun is surreal, angelic warfare

Enjoy walking in cemeteries? This book is for you. If Edgar Allen Poe or Clark Ashton Smith were to rewrite Tolkien, they would produce something like Tom Barczak’s Evarun series. There are no elves here, but there are angels who have abandoned a land to susceptible humans. Disembodied forces and corporeal possession abound. The author’s dark, poetic style keeps bringing me back to his portfolio.

Mouth of the Dragon: Prophecy of the Evarun continues the royal Chaelus’s journey from Veil of the Dragon, which readers will want to read first. His body has become a puppet in war between good and evil. He is currently possessed by good-natured angel(s) tasked to confront the demonic, disembodied evil that was mastered him. The major conflict is between Chaelus (and the spirit Talus within him) versus the titular Dragon that has corrupted land of the Theocracy and his betrothed Faerowyn. The war escalates to epic, apocalypse. It closes well but sets up for another book.

Deep and Poetic: As revealed in many interviews, Barczak is an architect by day and writer/painter by night; he also experienced the death of a 2yr old daughter named Olivia. His artistic flare shows through with wonderful architectural descriptions including “clerestory lights” and “dark pools of cenotaphs.” He paid homage to Olivia with a character of the same name who first appeared in the Awakening Evarun set. Olivia appears in Mouth of the Dragon as Revered Mother over the Servian Order, centuries old. This echoes other instances of children saving adults. From the prelude book Veil of the Dragon, “Al-Aaron,” a child priest-warrior, saved and mentored Chaelus. Barczak continually explores the role of children saving or superseding adults: in Mouth the main duo for this interplay is Login and Maedelous.

Style: Barczak style defines his writing. He writes with entertaining paradox. In one sense, the conflict could not be more stark: good angels vs. evil demons; yet both are presented as reflections, or veiled versions of the other. The author is fascinated with sensing strange/beautiful things, such as the ailment synesthesia which refers to a secondary stimulus of senses. For instance, a subset is called chromesthesia, in which hearing certain sounds will trigger recoloring of whatever is being viewed by eye: one could be looking at a white wall and it would change to red or blue as certain music is played. Such dissonance is similar to one making sense of Rene Magritte’s Ceci n'est pas une pipe (this is not a pipe). Barczak intentionally provides beautiful synesthetic observations. Here are example excerpts:
There was nothing to see here but a sullen whisper.

Darkness seared her vision. It bled down her cheeks like oil. It drained from her mouth, like every soul she had ever taken it from.

The gray morning light, sullen, settled in full over the golden city of Paleos, the glimmer of its domes struck mute by its haze.
Everything is veiled and unsettled: A surreal milieu pervades the book. The best example is of the gossomar covered blades of Servian knights who vowed to kill only non-blooded humans (i.e. wraith like Remnants). The cover of Veil of the Dragon drawn by the author displayed this. It highlights the paradox of a military legion representing a benevolent religious organization. Again, Barczak intentionally blurs what is superficially clear. The Servian Order plays a large role again in Mouth, of course. However the cloth “veil” over the blade resonates with myraid other veils: ghostly phantoms, smokey tendrils obscuring vision, memories bleeding into dreams and reality. There are two contrarian, prophetic forces running in parallel: two sets of Servian knights, two sets of prophets, two armies…etc. It is like both good and evil are personified and stare through a window at each other; the reader is watching too, trying to figure out which one is real… or are they reflections of the reader in a mirror?

Poetic Style: There is an obvious rhythm. This is done in part with oft repeated words (azure, veil, Happas…which is an archaic word for a Roman highway), and with repeated phrasing such as:
The man’s eyes stared up at her from somewhere beyond, where he cradled himself at her feet. The stain of blood and darker things colored his chin, his face, his chest. Black tendrils had begun to lace across his pale skin. Soon, the Dragon’s Sleep would take him. Soon, the Dragon’s Sleep would take them all. Even the one she had just let go. Even her lover who was coming for her, for she knew it was the only way he could save her.

He could still see them, all of them. He could still see the knights’ faces staring back at him with their dead eyes, staring back at him from the edge of the encampment; seven of them, each of them with arms and legs flayed out upon a prostrate cross, staring back at him, staring through him long after they had passed from his sight.

Evarun series: Evarun’s audience and backing is deservedly growing. The serial Awakening series was an independent endeavor, but not Barczak now has the backing of Perserid Press who provided the book with a Roy Mauritsen designed cover (elegantly embedding the author’s sketch).

Awakening Evarun (Part I of VI) by Tom Barczak Awakening Evarun (Part II of VI) by Tom Barczak Awakening Evarun (Part III of VI) by Tom Barczak Awakening Evarun (Part IV of VI) by Tom Barczak Awakening Evarun (Part V of VI) by Tom Barczak Awakening Evarun (Part VI of VI) by Tom Barczak
Veil of the Dragon (Prophecy of the Evarun) by Tom Barczak
Mouth of the Dragon Prophecy of the Evarun by Tom Barczak

Judging by the author’s blog, the next installment is to be called “Hands of the Dragon,” which would refer to several wizards serving all-things-dragon: Vas Ore and Vas Kael. The author has drawn them too.

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Saturday, February 25, 2017

Saunders and Gemmell - Mar-Apr 2017 Groupreads

Everyone is welcome to participate in the next two-month, two-topic groupreads. The polling was tight, but we have our Mar-Apr Topics selected:

(The third topic was very close: Steven Erikson's Gardens of the Moon, Deadhouse Gates or Forge of Darkness; those voters are encourages to read those too...perhaps try out the Buddy Read Section.

Banner credits for cover art of books by : Charles R. Saunders and David Gemmell; Cover Artists:
The Quest for Cush (no. 2) 2007 Vince Evans 
Legends of the Drenai Ken Kelly 1990
Sword in the Storm (The Rigante Series, Book 1) 2001, Artist Doug Beekman
The King Beyond the Gate 1995, Louis Royo
Imaro 2006 Vince Evans

Any David Gemmell is fair game! Newcomers will likely want to grab hold of Legend. His work is easy to find.

And it's Sword & Soul time! This is for anything Charles R. Saunders wrote. Some of his books are difficult to track down, but they are worth it...and... he has been writing many short stories (those count too for if you can't find the books, look into the anthologies he contributed for....list below).

We had a related group read in 2013 Imaro Groupread (link to that discussion)

Finding Books
There is at least one eBook version of Imaro available via Lulu...and ~$20USD version of most of his library; there are two pages.
1) The spotlight page for Charles R Saunders has most (link)
2) The page for Charles Saunders (no "R") has Dossouye available (link)

The Quest for Cush
The Trail of Bohu
The Naama War

Dossouye: the Dancers of Mulukau
Short stories: From his website we have a list of Charles R. Saunders's short stories and the collection they appeared in (link).