Saturday, July 27, 2019

Savage Sword of Conan #5 and #6

Savage Sword of Conan #5 - 2019
Savage Sword of Conan #6 - 2019

4 stars for each; reviews by SE

Well #5 was satisfying. Was just getting into Koga Thun as a villain... and that may be unwise. Trying to avoid spoilers, but even from the cover blurbs (below), it is clear that Koga Thun's story arc runs dry. Cripes, there was enough material there to stretch it out, but Marvel seems to insist on a lack of focus.

As before, Scott Oden's "Sword of Vengeance" continues at a nice pace throughout. Octavia is in a real pinch now.

I am confused about where #7 will go, since #6 is pitched as a stand alone tale.  I'll be disappointed if #7 ignores the trajectory of prior #6 issue: As per my other reviews of this series, Marvel already has three separate and simultaneously released Conan comics in 2019... and each of those have separate stories/novellas. The last thing any of these is reboot of a story after 5 episodes. 

Official Blurbs
#5: SHOWDOWN WITH KOGA THUN! The mystery of the magical treasure finally revealed! It’s now or never, and CONAN must make a choice that will determine the fate of Stygia! Either way, KOGA THUN will not let the Barbarian go without a fight! Plus: The next chapter in the all-new CONAN novella, “The Shadow of Vengeance”!

#6 :THORFEL’S REVENGE FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE! Brought to you by the creative team of Meredith Finch and Luke Ross, this all-new self-contained story springs from classic Conan mythology as Conan is led to death by the son of a man he had wronged in the past. But stripped of his weapons, his strength, and even his wits, Conan will have to dig deep if he wants to live to see the dawn! Plus: Continuing the all-new Conan novella “THE SHADOW OF VENGEANCE”

Savage Sword of Conan #4

Savage Sword #3 - Review by SE

SE Review of #2
SE Review of #1 

Sunday, July 21, 2019

The Reign of Wizardry - review by SE

Frazetta's Reign of Wizardry cover
The Reign of Wizardry by Jack Williamson
S.E.: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to the Sword and Sorcery Group on Goodreads continuing to sponsor group-reads, I re-discovered Jack Williamson who wrote fantasy from ~1930-2001. I tracked down The Reign of Wizardry (with the Frank Frazetta cover) and Golden Blood to read. This review covers the first.

This ~142 page novel, first published in 1940, reads as a solid pulpy adventure. It could easily have been a Howard Conan novella. Jack Williamson presents the classic Theseus (i.e., Minotaur slayer of Greek mythology, and founder of Athens) as a heroic avenger out to remove the evil, Minoan sorcerers of Crete.

In fact, Theseus conceals his identity, going as "Captain Firebrand." There is an over abundance of going undercover; Firebrands even assumes the role of "Gothrung the wandering Northman" (a third identity, and very Conan like). It reads real fast, and in a few hours you join Firebrand on a dozen daunting missions. Betrayals and disguised impostor-ing abound. It fits most requirements of Sword & Sorcery:

  1. Magic abounds, and it is usually evil black-robed wizards dishing it out
  2. Our hero has a magic sword with special powers, called "Falling Star"
  3. Melee - lots of battles
  4. Fast pacing, focus on action more than character (though the characters had just the right amount of depth
  5. Lots of early pulp adventure were steeped in historical fiction; Robert E Howard's fascination with pioneer-like adventure and the history-infused Hyborian Age, this one retells classic Greek mythology with pulpy flare
  6. Predicaments - Theseus is constantly challenged by overwhelming odds, and manages to survive somehow.

Highly recommended for fans of pulp adventure and Sword & Sorcery

The Reign of WizardryCover Blurb:
Before the Glory of Greece, Crete ruled the known world - and kept it enslaved by black magic! The evil of Minos held sway, protected by three unconquerable walls. First is the fleet that they call the wooden wall. Then there is a giant of living brass - he is the second wall. Then there is another barrier about the power of Minos, the Wall of Wizardry. Theseus, the tall Achean, the man they called Captain Firebrand, vowed to scale and destroy all three, and to rid the world of the evil yoke of Crete.

But Minos had other defences besides the walls, and many ways to attack as well...

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Saturday, July 20, 2019

Gen Con - Q&A with Anna Smith Spark

The GenCon Writer's Symposium is fast approaching!

Coinciding with this is Anna Smith Spark's released of the third installment in the Empires of Dust: HOUSE of SACRIFICE!

Earlier this year I interviewed the Queen of Grimdark over on  (May 2019):Disgust and Desire: An Interview with Anna Smith Spark

And in ~2weeks, I'll be moderating her Q&A session at Gen Con! Please join us, and bring your questions.

The whole Writer's Symposium is a blast. Check out the events: 

Monday, July 8, 2019

Hell Gate by Andrew P. Weston review by SE

Hell Gate by Andrew P. Weston
S..E rating: 5 of 5 stars

Who “was” the Grim Reaper before becoming Satan’s strongest champion? This series chronicles the exploits of Satan’s right-hand warrior, Daemon Grim (the reaper). It began with Hell Bound and Hell Hounds … and continues with Hell Gate. In addition to my reviews of those, I capture some key

  • The series is all about Daemon Grim
  • Hell Gate is all about revealing the mystery Daemon Grim’s past, which we’ve been teased about for two books, and here it is!
  • The crazy milieu of Hell persists, so start with Hell Bound to get grounded; more on WTH is Hell below.
  • The cat and mouse hunt after Frederic Chopin and Nikola Tesla reaches a climatic milestone; the duo’s evil plotting that began in book #1 is finally revealed too.
  • Grim takes readers in realms of the Quran (Jahannam)
  • The inclusion of mystics (namely from ~1500, Saint Teresa of Ávila and Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim) was a pleasant addition

Hell Noir Style: The milieu and conflict are so epic in scope, and weird in substance, that the story lends itself more for narrative storytelling over dramatic showing. As before, Mr. Weston doles out exposition-through-dialogue; as I read this, I just envisioned a Noir film in which the protagonist provided a snarky voiceover. I felt like I was called into Grim's police office and sat in a room full of smoke as he coached me through a mysterious case.

What is Hell’s Milieu? Grim was introduced to the Heroes in Hell series in the anthology Doctors in Hell. Heroes in Hell is a fantastical place built from myths and religions—so do not expect Tolkienesque elves or dwarves. The primary realm explored is called Juxtapose, which is a satirical mirror of our earth’s cityscapes (the Seine river featured as “Inseine”, Paris called Perish, the Eiffel Tower represented as the Awful Tower, Facebook is called Hatebook). Since time has little meaning in Hell, beings from past and present meet and scheme (i.e., Tesla and Chopin). There are other realms beyond Juxtapose connected with ethereal gateways. All are populated by beings being tormented and try to outwit Satan or their comrades. Even Erra, the Akkadian plague god, has visited Hell to torment Satan. No one is safe! It is a splendid, wacky place that works well.

Where to Start on your trip to Hell: Hell Gate is wacky and fun, but is not the beginning. The Heroes in Hell is primarily a series of anthologies; this novel focuses on Grim but has story arcs connected to HIH. Given the breadth of abstract interactions, I recommend initial readers begin with either:

  1. Doctors in Hell (HIH #18): Daemon Grim is introduced in this collection, and even though it is #18 in the series, it is a perfect entryway for HIH newcomers.
  2. Or…. Hell Bound (Grim novel #1): Daemon Grim’s first novel, occurring chronologically after Doctors, but before Hell Hounds.
  3. Or for those who’ve done that, note Grim also appears in Pirates in Hell and Lovers in Hell

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Saturday, June 22, 2019

Sword and SorceryGroupreads: Jack Williamson AND Lumely's Primal Land 2019 July Aug

Sword & Sorcery: "An earthier sort of fantasy" 

July Aug 2019 Groupreads topics have been chosen. Please join in the discussion or groupreads!

A) Jack Williamson group discussion-read-LINK 
Classic Jack Williamson, ie The Reign of Wizardry or Golden Blood (~1933 Weird Tales)

B) Lumely's Primal Land group discussion-read-LINK 
Brian Lumley's Primal Land (Shad) series, The House of Cthulhu: Tales of the Primal Land Vol. 1 and Tarra Khash: Hrossak!: Tales of the Primal Land

Banner/Masthead Credits
Frazetta's 1964 cover to Jack Williamson's "The Reign of Wizardry"
Melvyn Grant's cover to Brian Lumely's Tarra Khash: Hrossak (Primal Lands #2) 1991
The Reign of Wizardry by Jack Williamson Tarra Khash Hrossak! by Brian Lumley 

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Eternal Champion - Erekose - Review By SE

The Eternal Champion: Book 1 of Erekosë Trilogy by Michael Moorcock
S.E. rating: 3 of 5 stars

Michael Moorcock has been dishing out pulpy fantasy since the 1960's. Perhaps his most famous brand is his skein of adventures from "The" Eternal Champion--which actually refers to many heroes (Elric, Corum, Hawkmoon, Erekose, etc.) not just this book; the anti-Conan hero called Elric is arguably the most recognizable. The champion mashup is huge, although many are short stories or collections of them, the bibliography has >100 entries. Despite the huge popularity of these, there is a dearth of film/movie adaptions (however the BBC is taking on a TV version of the Runestaff/Hawkmoon stories this yr (2019).

Moorcock's books read at the same blistering pace he writes. He blends metaphysical ideas (time travel, coexisting multiverses...) with epic adventure. In just ~180pages, you'll be whisked across continents and decades of history. This can be fun, but there always seems to be a loss of realized potential and strings of inconsistency.

Cover: My paperback of The Eternal Champion from 1970 has a splendid Frank Frazetta depiction of a heavily armored knight on horse wielding an ax...under the title "Eternal Champion." The art is awesome, but Erekose has a sword (and occasionally a lance).

The Eternal Champion (Eternal Champion, #1) by Michael Moorcock

Sword Kanajana: Speaking of that sword, it is magical and can only be wielded by Erekose; however, it doesn't play a huge role in the book beyond that; and, late in the book when awesome weaponry of ancient days are needed, this sword is not used.... but an unnecessary/genre bending sci-fi element is introduced from out of nowhere. The climax of the book would have been awesome if Moorcock stuck to his sword (rather than his figurative "guns).

Multiverse weirdness: This serves as John Daker's initial awakening as "the Eternal Champion." Our protagonist doesn't seem to care that he is/was married. His mental struggles to come to terms with his predicament do not resonate since we get near zero information of his real life.

Love?: Several romantic relations are introduced, but are seeping with shallow masculine perspectives. I was reminded of Moorcock's stunningly misogynistic entry into the Ghor, Kin Slayer: The Saga Of Genseric's Fifth Born Son (which soured the whole collection for me).

Pacing and consistency: The first 60 out of 180 pages are a drag; for a warrior called from another world to do battle, there is surprisingly no action for the initial third. This is a strange setup for an ambitious take on war... and that theme I found enjoyable to explore (depressing to read).

Supposedly, the Humans are threatened so much that their king calls upon Erekose via sorcery to help them against the evil (sorcerer) Eldren. However, we are not shown any instance of threat or attack. This approach reinforces the idea that the threatened Humans may actually be the aggressors in the war; that's okay, but we are not shown any indication that the Eldren are even in contact with the Humans. Why would the king stoop so low to use sorcery (which he loathed)?

In short, the first third of the book really needed to show some Eldren vs Human conflict, even it was to be misinterpreted by readers, the Humans, and Erekose.

Not Cliche: Despite the execution, I do admire the idea of an Eternal Champion and the approach to blurring the lines of good-vs-evil, especially in war. Trope fantasy usually has evil wraiths/orcs vs. good human knights. I suppose the current Grimdark genre would like this tone.

In summary, fans of the Eternal Champion will think this is ok. New to the Eternal Champion? I would not start here. Starting with Corum, Elric, or Hawkmoon may be better.

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Saturday, June 8, 2019

Transformation - Review by SE

Transformation by Carol Berg
S.E. rating: 5 of 5 stars

Transformation has been on my to-read list for almost two decades, and I'm glad to have finally focused on it. It is one of Carol Berg first novels, and she is still cooking up new fantasy (pen name Cate Glass, An Illusion of Thieves).

Transformation is epic, but feels fresh, and is very engrossing. It is highly recommended for fantasy readers. Here's why:

- Perspective: It is written in first-person perspective, and at 450 pages it's a decent size. Yet it reads fast. Most fantasy epics are omniscient third person. Inherently, first-person indicates the narrator will always survive, but Seyonne and his friends, family, etc. are always in peril.

- Complex, fun story: There are tons of plot twists, betrayals... so it is tough to share a summary without spoiling (the official Book Blurb is a good overview). Somehow every story arc is concluded in a satisfying way, but that doesn't mean you'll stop at this first installment.

- Atypical, angelic warfare: The overriding conflict is essentially "~angels/humans vs. ~demons" but none of those categories match religious cliches or fantasy tropes. There are several humanoid cultures, but not the trope elves, dwarves etc.. The sorcerers are the "angelic" ones, but are far from perfect.

- Exorcism/magic: A key magic system has several types of sorcerers/sorceresses that need to work together as team: i.e., one can find possessed victims, another can open doors into mental-battlegrounds, and another can enter and fight/exorcise demons. Other fantasy may have different flavors of mages (druids, illusionists, etc.) but they aren't dependent on each other--here we have Searchers, Aifes, Wardens that truly rely on one another.

- The Books of the Rai-kirah trilogy: Transformation starts the series, then Revelation, then Restoration

- The Author's website has excerpts, reviews, glossaries, maps, and more.

- Official Book Blurb:
"Seyonne is a man waiting to die. He has been a slave for sixteen years, almost half his life, and has lost everything of meaning to him: his dignity, the people and homeland he loves, and the Warden's power he used to defend an unsuspecting world from the ravages of demons. Seyonne has made peace with his fate. With strict self-discipline he forces himself to exist only in the present moment and to avoid the pain of hope or caring about anyone. But from the moment he is sold to the arrogant, careless Prince Aleksander, the heir to the Derzhi Empire, Seyonne's uneasy peace begins to crumble. And when he discovers a demon lurking in the Derzhi court, he must find hope and strength in a most unlikely place..."

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