REVIEW SUMMARY: Stock characters but great action and even greater magic.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: With war drawing to a close Yulan and his mercenary company accept one final commission — to hunt down an old foe and bring him to justice before he can kill more innocents.
PROS: Intriguing setup and setting; better-than-usual revenge motivation; husband/wife dynamic; dynamic action; memorable scenes; stunning magic; Permanences!
CONS: Stock characters.
BOTTOM LINE: Brian Ruckley crafts a fun and satisfying revenge story.
It seems my choice in video games has influenced my reading habits of late. Playing Bungie’s Destiny reignited my desire for military science fiction and so I read Henry V. Neil’s Glory Main and was not disappointed. Last week I started playing Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor and just had to get my hands on some quality fantasy. Fortunately Brian Ruckley’s The Free showed up around this time. This being the first time I’ve read Ruckley’s work, a nice thick standalone seemed a good place to start. I love the current state of the fantasy genre but there are so many different series that a standalone story has a special sort of appeal to it…or at least it did until I finished The Free and immediately wished I could read more about the world Ruckley has created.
REVIEW SUMMARY: Epic Sword & Sorcery.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Freshly blooded from the defense of Lissen Carrak, the Red Knight and his company venture to Morea where they find themselves in the midst of a civil war. Elsewhere in the realm factions move one step closer toward total warfare. Alliances are made and schemes are fulfilled.
PROS: Larger-than-life characters; authentic descriptions; densely woven plot; bold scope; high stakes; complex and mysterious magic; enthralling action.
CONS: The large cast of the first book is expanded even further, and while the characters are well developed, it results in a slowed pace.
BOTTOM LINE: The sequel to one of my favorite novels of 2013 continues to deliver on the promise of the first book. This series is bound to please fans of Epic Fantasy, Sword & Sorcery, and likely even Historical Fiction.
REVIEW SUMMARY: Darkly humorous, intimately violent, promises great things to come.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Small town scribe Arkamondos finds himself in way over his head when he accepts a commission from the enigmatic Captain Braylar Killcoin and his rugged band of Syldoon warriors. As the company of battle-hardened killers embarks on a secretive mission at the behest of the Empire, Arki discovers there are far worse things in life than the mundane histories of millers and merchants…
PROS: Black humor, brutality, camaraderie, detailed yet subtle world building, characters worth caring for.
CONS: Length. This is still a satisfying adventure but it is short.
BOTTOM LINE: I read 70 books in 2012 and I consider Scourge of the Betrayer to be both Debut of the Year and Fantasy of the Year.
John Jakes is a bestselling author of historical fiction, science fiction, children’s books, and nonfiction. Best known for his civil war saga, North and South Trilogy, Jakes also wrote the popular Sword & Sorcery saga Brak the Barbarian. A free Brak the Barbarian short story is available for download and a short video about Brak is available on YouTube and embedded below.
Whatever Happened to Brak the Barbarian?
Back in the day – the mid to late 1960s – I was writing Brak the Barbarian serials and short stories while I still had a day job in advertising. This took me to New York every month or so, where I had commercials to produce or supervisors to see at DFS, a genuine Madison Avenue agency – at the time the seventh largest in the world.
On these trips I would usually manage a lunch with the late Lin Carter; he too was in advertising. He smoked as much or more than I did then. As I recall, he and his second wife had no children, hence he could spend a lot of time on a costume for this or that annual sf and fantasy convention. One year I remember seeing him flamboyantly garbed as Ming the Merciless, from the old Flash Gordon Saturday afternoon chapter plays at the movies.
This June, Tachyon will release The Sword & Sorcery Anthology edited by David G. Hartwell and Jacob Weisman. Check out this stellar lineup:
- “Tower of the Elephant” by Robert E. Howard
- “Black God’s” Kiss by C. L. Moore
- “The Unholy Grail” by Fritz Leiber
- “The Tale of Hauk” by Poul Anderson
- “The Caravan of Forgotten Dreams” by Michael Moorcock
- “The Adventuress” by Joanna Russ
- “Gimmile’s Song” by Charles R. Saunders
- “Undertow” by Karl Edward Wagner
- “The Stages of the God” by Ramsey Campbell (writing as Montgomery Comfort)
- “The Barrow Troll” by David Drake
- “Soldier of an Empire Unacquainted with Defeat” by Glen Cook
- “Epistle from Lebanoi” by Michael Shea
- “Become a Warrior” by Jane Yolen
- “The Red Guild” by Rachel Pollack
- “Six from Atlantis” by Gene Wolfe
- “The Sea Troll’s Daughter” by Caitlín R. Kiernan
- “The Coral Heart” by Jeffrey Ford
- “Path of the Dragon” by George R. R. Martin
- “The Year of Three Monarchs” by Michael Swanwick
Deborah J. Ross, as Deborah Wheeler, published two science fiction novels, Jaydium and Northlight, as well as short stories in Asimov’s, F&SF, Sisters of the Night, Star Wars: Tales From Jabba’s Palace, Realms of Fantasy, and almost all of the Sword & Sorceress and Darkover anthologies. Using her birth name, Ross, she has worked on a series of Darkover, under dual byline with the late Marion Zimmer Bradley: The Fall of Neskaya (2001), Zandru’s Forge (2003), A Flame in Hali (2004), The Alton Gift (2007), and Hastur Lord (2010, from a partial manuscript Marion produced during the last year of her life). Forthcoming from DAW are the Darkover novel, The Children of Kings, and an original fantasy series, The Seven-Petaled Shield, based on her “Azkhantian tales” from Sword & Sorceress. She’s a member of SWFA and Book View Café.
An Apprenticeship With Marion
by Deborah J. Ross
I am frequently asked how I came to work with Marion Zimmer Bradley and to continue the Darkover series after her death. Senior author-junior author dual-bylines are not unusual these days, but each partnership has its own story. In this case, the answer lies in our long-established professional relationship. That in itself would be insufficient to produce a smooth collaboration, but through working together, she knew that my natural literary voice would match hers, and she trusted my understanding and love for her special world.