S.E. Lindberg rating: 5 of 5 stars
Azieran Adventures Presents Artifacts and Relics: Extreme Sorcery delivers exactly what is promises: fantastic adventure with a focus on artifacts. Highly recommended for dark fantasy fans, or readers looking for varied adventure.
Rogue Blades Entertainment (RBE) and Azieran: In many ways “Artifacts” continues the RBE tradition of themed anthologies (The Return of the Sword, Demons: A Clash of Steel Anthology, Rage of the Behemoth, and Writing Fantasy Heroes). Here Azieran advocates Christopher Heath and V. Shane lead the way, but the Azieran influence is limited to Heath’s two contributions and a shout-out from Bonadonna’s Dowser story. It is noteworthy that Heath contributed tales for RBE’s The Return of the Sword and Demons: A Clash of Steel Anthology with the tales Claimed By Birthright and Azieran: Racked upon the Altar of Eeyuu. In Artifacts, RBE authors appear again: (1) The Mask Oath’s author Steve Goble (from RotS) delivers a great tale; (2) Artifacts contains a reprinting of Bill Ward’s By Hellish Means (originally in Demons; Ward also wrote Wyrd of War for RotS); (3) and more prominently, RBE steward Jason M. Waltz provides an introduction which continues his excellent track record of concisely relaying the motivation for reading a themed collection (as he had for the RBE books):
“…it's pretty safe to say this creation of and questing for ultimate devices is a fixture of myth and fantasy…The Golden Apples. The One Ring. The Holy Grail. A dozen swords followed close by another dozen each of crowns and amulets and all sorts of doodads. Think of it, and there's most likely at least one tale of the one and only “Iron Skillet of Cooking.” Why? What drives our fascination? Superstition, faith, desire both baleful and beatific. That lucky rabbit’s foot — a relic of superstitious belief passed through the ages. Does it really work? Who knows — it seemed to once, and that's all that is necessary. Fortune, like gods and demons, is fickle and cannot be counted upon to strike often or consistently. Or conveniently. And so — unless we are gods ourselves, or blessed with powers beyond the norm — we quest for the next best sure thing.” Jason Waltz Intro.
Azieran Adventures Presents Artifacts and Relics: Extreme Sorcery is a dozen tales, with a variety of styles, lengths (3 novella’s included), and milieus; all are adventurous and entertaining. Readers will get a dose of classic weird, pulp fiction, alongside grim sci-fi blends that pits sorcery against technology (as well as swords). The Table below lists the artifacts of interest per story with notes. Anthologies are a great device for discovering authors, and I did yet again. I enjoyed the whole book, but a few stood out:
(1) The Lovers Quarrel by James Beamon opens the book. I do not seek out sci-fi/gun literature much (Swords & Sorcery for me please), but this duel of sorcery versus guns worked even for me.
(2) The Book of Echoes This was my first Dowser/Joe Bonadonna experience; this is a blend of mystery, noir, horror, and sword & sorcery...with a sprinkling of humor. According to him (via Facebook conversation) the first scene and finale were somewhat influenced by the 1950s film version of Mickey Spillane's "Kiss Me, Deadly." I enjoyed this so much that I purchased Mad Shadows: The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser before finishing the anthology.
(3) The Sword Cult by Steve Goble was poignant and direct. I became a Goble Fan from RotS and am fascinated with his “Faceless Sons” stories; this was my first Calthus experience and was equally engaged. Apparently a collection has been in the works--I would welcome that.
(4) The Highest Price: I’m not a Arthurian Legend fan per se, so I was not excited at first when I stumbled into the story on Excalibur; but Anderson’s perspective was fresh and won me over.
(5) The Black Abbot of Puthuum: Clark Ashton Smith’s classic tale rounds out a great menu; a selection from his Tales Of Zothique worked well.
Being a proud Ohioan, I always am excited to highlight the state’s participation in fantasy fiction. Steven Goble hails from northern OH, and the anthology ends with a story from Oron author David C. Smith. Some minor quibbles: The Lovers Quarrel felt more like a flash fiction outline than it did a fleshed-out story, and Azieran: Assimilation by Second Dawn did not really seem focused on the sword Darkannis (actually there were many weapons/artifacts that shared the stage).
Table of Contents
Artifact / Title / Author / Notes
------------ / Foreword / Jason M. Waltz / another great Waltz introduction
Heart of Alora (red gem #1) / The Lovers Quarrel / James Beamon / Steampunkish, grim duel, guns and magic
Chaos Key / Coup / Fred C. Adams / a short tale
The Book of Echoes (book#1) / The Book of Echoes / Joe Bonadonna / Mystery-Noir, horror adventure, doses of humor; Novella; A Dowser tale
Darkannis (sword) / Azieran: Assimilation by Second Dawn / Christopher Heath/ Magic vs technology; gothic robots!
Red Heart of Dolfar (red gem #2) / The Red Heart of Dolfar / John M. Whalen / Swashbuckling deviltry on the sea
Liber Malefactum (book #2) / By Hellish Means /Bill Ward / Weird hellish duel; reprint
Pipe of Mahmackrah (musical instrument) / The Mad Song/ David J. West / Deserts & ghosts
Stor and Krellindoom (sword #2) / The Sword Cult /Steve Goble / A great Calthus tale
Excalibur (a.k.a Caliburn, sword #3) / The Highest Price / Colleen Anderson / Neat perspective; Celtic lore delivered well
Collar of the Dragon Lords / Azieran: The Slaver of Karsith Keep /Christopher Heath / Dragon fighting, novella
Talisman of Uldor / The Black Abbot of Puthuum / Clark Ashton Smith / Poetic awesomeness; weird desert nightmare from his Zothique cycle
Arax, Spear of the gods / Shadow-born, Shadow-taken / David C. Smith/ warring gods play with human puppets, novella
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