Sunday, October 31, 2010

Swords and Dark Magic: Book Review

Swords and Dark Magic, edited by Lou Anders & Jonathan Strahan
Subtitled the New Sword And Sorcery, this collection was closer in my opinion to a wide collection of fantasy types across the board.
Seventeen new stories by some old masters and relative newcomers (in comparison) to fantasy. I'm split in which stories I liked best, the old hands versus the new.
Likely my favorite was also probably the shortest-Bill Willingham's Thieves of Daring, it made me very irritated that it ended so soon. On the strength of that short piece I will absolutely pick up his other works.

Opening with epic writer Steven Erikson, I was at first a little worried, Goats of Glory started just a tad slow (I didn't feel like it really got going until page 20). Erikson's writing and characters are top notch but I was pondering for several pages if this was really going somewhere considering this was a short story collection and not one of his massive tomes. But once it did-excellent, truly entertaining.

I have only read a little of Glen Cook's Black Company series, but what I have I have enjoyed so I was looking forward to Tides Elba. I liked it, but wondered if it could have been the opening to another novel rather than a short story.

Gene Wolfe's Bloodsport was a tad confusing for me. Beautiful prose (as Wolfe always delivers) but I have to admit I was lost at times and never really got what was happening.

The Singing Spear by James Enge is great, the twists and surprises of Morlock Ambrosius truly had me on edge. He is quite the character. I'll be reading more of Enge's work very soon.

I could not get past C.J. Cherryh's prose in A Wizard of Wiscezan too jarring for my taste and the beginning sounded a little too Global Warming/Pollution whatevers to me. Both threw me out of the story.

K.J. Parker's A Rich Full Week one of the more interesting conversations with a dead man in fiction I have read.

A Suitable Present for A Sorcerous Puppet by Garth Nix, held my attention, forced me to reread paragraphs and then ended too soon.

Red Pearls by Michael Moorcock is the first Elric story by his creator I have ever read. I know, I know,-he is credited on the first page here as a grandfather of Sword & Sorcery and yet this is the first time I have read him-GRANTED I OWN ALL THE ELRIC books, I just haven't read them yet. Something always gets in the way. Well, I will get to them, no worries. Moorcock has luxurious purple prose (which is not an insult to me) and incredible world-building. While I enjoyed Red Pearls it did seem to have a Deus ex Machina ending.

Tim Lebbon's The Deification of Dal Bamore left me feeling torn. On one hand it has fantastic prose and great storytelling BUT I thought I sensed a not-so subtle dig from an atheist and that's where the story floundered for me. NOT because I am a Christian but because the dig seemed like a straw man argument. Having Dal Bamore argue with the priestess on the futility of faith just came off like a weak argument. (Maybe this reveals more about my psyche than anything-but that's what I got out of it) I still want to read more by Lebbon though.

Dark Times at the Midnight Market by Robert Silverberg had its moments but also stumbled for me. The names all sounded like he was trying too hard to be bizarre and some character issues seemed reaching. Is an octopus-man really going to have a beauty ratio on a human female? I found it weak. It also marked where I stopped enjoying the antho so much.

The Undefiled by Greg Keyes, falls into a category I always have problems with-liking a story when I don't like anyone in it-it just doesn't happen.

Hew the Tintmaster, by Michael Shea. This was another of the longer shorts that took too long for me to get into, 20 pages before I realized it was a Cugel the Clever tale. Having never read Cugel before, I am still not sure I will read anymore.

I am still midway in Scott Lynch's first book so I was excited for In The Stacks. Lynch did not disappoint, great reversals, monsters and ending.

Tanith Lee's Two Lions, A Witch and the War-Robe and Caitlin Keirnan's The Sea Troll's Daughter did nothing for me.

I already mentioned Willingham's short piece and I sincerely hope he does more.

Lastly a favorite author of mine, Joe Abercrombie's The Fool Jobs ends the collection. Its a good tale, introducing characters we will meet again in his upcoming The Heroes, and even while I am singing his praises, it is probably the weakest, most predictable thing of Joe's I have ever read. Am I still dying to get the Heroes when it is released? Yes I am.

Overall very enjoyable, though there will be about 6 tales I doubt I will reread-others I know I will. Wish it had a better cover-if I didn't know and want some of the authors, I may not have picked it up. Aside from that, a great collection overall.


Charles Gramlich said...

Cool review. I never get Gene Wolfe's stuff either, but I do like the Elric stories and will pick this collection up for that, if for nothing else.

Paul R. McNamee said...

I have this, but I have only read "Tides Elba". I really enjoyed revisiting the Black Company banter, but I admit not much happened in this story.

Yes, for all I've read of reviews, this anthology is more fantasy than sword-n-sorcery sub-genre - but still an enjoyable book.

Thanks for your own take.

Bruce Durham said...

Between your review and Jason's I think I'll spend my money elsewhere. There just doesn't sound like enough good material in the antho to warrant buying it. Thanks for posting your thoughts on it.

David J. West said...

Thanks Charles-glad I'm not the only one.

Paul-yes its still good.

No problem, Bruce.