Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Review: Swords & Dark Magic: The New Sword and Sorcery edited by Jonathan Strahan and Lou Anders

Swords & Dark Magic: The New Sword and Sorcery edited by Jonathan Strahan and Lou Anders (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound) collects original stories from authors who were there near the beginning of sword and sorcery and from the new guys and gals, some of whom have earned reputations as the latest and greatest. As a whole the anthology succeeds with its goal: showcase Sword and Sorcery. These stories are fun and entertaining adventures often full of dark humor. They are not, nor should they be, powerful short stories that punch you in the gut and haunt your dreams – well, OK, some of these stories will punch you in the gut and then kick you in the face, spit on your back and maniacally laugh between guzzles of some horrendous, potent beverage, but I think the point comes across that this is much more of collection of entertainment than deeply symbolic stories on the human condition.

As I was reading I actually kept decent notes for once, so I have at least some comment about every story in the anthology – of course these comments reflect my reading experience and don’t really stand in as true reviews and will probably leave you wanting, but they are what they are.


Anders and Strahan do a good job with a complete and illuminating run-down of sword and sorcery as a genre. I felt like I learned something, which is as it should be.

"Goats of Glory" - Steven Erikson

This story embraces the idea of Sword and Sorcery a bit more fully than many of the other stories in this anthology. A small group of mysterious soldiers are ambushed by a nest of nasty demons – I’ve said before that Erikson excels in the short form and this is a pretty good example of it. And nobody names characters better.

"Tides Elba: A Tale of the Black Company" - Glen Cook

This new Black Company story is one of the standouts in the anthology. It’s fun, full of dark humor and makes me want to read more of Cook.

"Bloodsport" - Gene Wolfe

As with much of Wolfe’s fiction, I’m sure I’m missing something, but in the end I found this story to be dull and forgettable.

"The Singing Spear" - James Enge

This short Morlock Ambrosious story rides firmly in the middle of the pack in regards to quality in this anthology, but in combination with his recent World Fantasy Award Nomination, it makes me want to read Enge’s novels.

"A Wizard of Wiscezan" - C.J. Cherryh

“A Wizard of Wiscezan” is one of most complete stories of this anthology. In fact, I’m pretty sure there is a novel to be had.

"A Rich Full Week" - K. J. Parker

This dark tale of the disposal of an unwanted zombie/vampire/dead guy is subtly humorous and well executed.

"A Suitable Present for a Sorcerous Puppet" - Garth Nix

At times fun and witty, but ultimately more forgettable than anything.

"Red Pearls: An Elric Story" - Michael Moorcock

As the introduction of this anthology states, no anthology about Sword and Sorcery would be complete without the presence of Michael Moorcok. This new Elric story is probably the best written of the anthology, yet it still feels as if it’s missing something – now if I could only figure exactly what that is.

"The Deification of Dal Bamore" - Tim Lebbon

This tale of misdirection surrounding the execution of a potential martyr stands out as one of the best of the anthology. Set in Echo City, it makes me very curious about Lebbon’s new book, Echo City.

"Dark Times at the Midnight Market" - Robert Silverberg

In this all-new Majipoor tale, Silverberg writes a mildly entertaining story about a down-and-out wizard trying to make a living in hard times.

"The Undefiled" - Greg Keyes

I forgot everything about this story immediately after reading it, and I think that speaks for itself.

"Hew the Tint Master" - Michael Shea  

This story of a barbarian and a house painter on a mission to save the world started out to be the best of the anthology. The writing was clever, fun and unexpected, but the tale grows bigger than a short story, looses focus, and ultimately falls flat.

"In the Stacks" - Scott Lynch

With a lot of fans anxiously awaiting the next Lynch book for several years now, this little short story gained some legs. Lynch’s take on an exam in a sorcery academy is a good reminder of why fans are eagerly awaiting that next book.

"Two Lions, A Witch, and the War-Robe" - Tanith Lee

This tale of two good Samarians who find themselves in a bit of bind is one of the more entertaining of the anthology.

"The Sea Troll's Daughter" - Caitlin R Kiernan

I learned something I didn’t know with this story – I learned that Kiernan is a geologist. Now to most people that probably doesn’t matter, but since I’m also a geologist, I found this very interesting. As a result, Kiernan’s correct use of geology in “The Sea Troll’s Daughter” stood out. The story it a good one too – I’ll be reading more of her work in the future.

"Thieves of Daring" - Bill Willingham

This was another clever and fun adventure in an anthology that seems to save its best for the end.

"The Fool Jobs" - Joe Abercrombie

I thought this one started out slow, but by the end of the story, Abercrombie’s characteristic dark humor and sense of ‘not quite you’re father’s fantasy’ adventure really takes hold, making this one of the strongest stories in the anthology and good story to end with. “The Fool Jobs” has also been selected for inclusion in The Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy of the Year: Vol. 5 anthology edited by Strahan (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound).

Swords & Dark Magic succeeds as an anthology, though perhaps not as a great collection of stories. No single story stands out as great, and there are a couple of real duds. However, the stories in Swords & Dark Magic are hugely fun and entertaining and showcase the pulp-ish genre of Sword and Sorcery. 7.5


redhead said...

I've got Swords and Dark Magic, but I haven't read it yet.

Correction: I've read only the Scott Lynch, he's the reason I bought it.

Paul D said...

Interesting, I thought that the Wolfe story was fabulous.

JamesY said...

I bought this anthology becasue of the author line-up which, in my opinion, is pretty impressive. I've read Erikson through to Cherryh to date, and I have to say I'm really enjoying it. Erikson and Cook are the stand-out stories thus far.

Paul D - I'm with you on the Wolfe story. I had a feel I knew where it was going, but that didn't stop me enjoying it.


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