Swords and Sorceries: Tales of Heroic fantasy Volume 7

The seventh in the popular sword and sorcery anthology series edited by David A. Riley contains eleven more appetising tales. Dedicated to the late Charles Black and illustrated by Jim Pitts, Parallel Universe Publications continue their policy of welcoming old favourites and newcomers to the world of Fantasy.

Pitiless by Stephen Frame is a short, neat and enjoyable story to kick us off. When a bleak chap with a sword named Pitiless comes calling at your door, he’s not selling vacuum cleaners or bibles but you might still be wise to leave the door unanswered.

Unhallowed Tombs by Paul Batteiger tells of Turan, ex mercenary leader, whose band of men have followed him into a land populated mainly, and somewhat worrying, by dead people. Other princes are quarrelling over disintegrating empires but Turan has loftier ambitions. It’s a sumptuous tale, well described about a remarkably single minded man.

Newcomer, Andrew Graham conjures up Ossari the healer, apothecary and full-time sorcerer who plays an uneasy game of chance with a priesthood troubled by heretics and suspicious of magic. With punishments like flaying alive on the table, Ossari is relieved to engage Welgar the mercenary. No one likes sorcery or sorcerers including his tough new chum but he isn’t flaying sorcerers and looks a bit handy in a fight. Believe me, there will be a fight.

If you think a warrior just carries a sword around, veteran author Phil Emery will put you right. In Schism of Spectres, Zain the Swordsmen returns and here he must fulfil his task to watch over the treasure of a ravished city. As he strolls through the smouldering remains of greatness, he spots a looter; many forms of people and even more types of swords emerge from the shadows. An enjoyable and erudite short reminding me of how much I like detailed descriptions of grim weaponry.

Gavin Chappell gives us a novelette The Crossroads in the Forest, this is a pleasant mix of fairy tale (with the emphasis on Grimm} and a Vancian world of magic. Our antihero Talon is – like Liane the Wayfarer, more heartless even than Cugel. The story is well paced and our Vancian antihero is nicely naughty,

There is the Old Dying Wizard and a warrior called Heath in Jason M Waltz’s Wisp. It’s an extravaganza. Something of Jurgen by Cabell, something of Joyce and Des Lewis, and there’s probably a difficult word like postmodern antistructuralism, which might describe this tale. Waltz is fabulous with words and ideas and has that welcome hint of living and loving the tale he writes. Definite highlight.

Jalyn Renae Fiske’s Dark the Sky, Radiant the Road brings us a monastery where a repentant soldier beholden to the Goddess of Lost Causes is about to leave the priesthood he’s joined for solace. As is the way, the undead have risen, there are hints of other gods and poor Warwick is off the solace and on to the killing, if murdering gods and undead is a realistic part of the deal. Fiske has given us a well told enjoyable tale not unremarkable given her eclectic abilities.

Craig Comer studied in my hometown in Scotland so I had an interest in his take on the genre. The Blood of Khalid Al’Tahir was a fine reminder of Saturday night Edinburgh in the 1970’s. Tariq, the enigmatic, is off to do a bit of slaying with a sword, people will get hurt, badly. Very good.

Vivid description, pacing and a natural feel for description and dialogue characterise Dark Knight of the Soul by Eric Ian Steel. Not unsurprising given his pedigree as a man of many literary parts. It’s short, not sweet but a definite delight.

I don’t often say this. Jon Zaremba’s Prohairesis is stunningly brilliant. It’s a masterpiece. I don’t think I’ve read anything from a relatively new author which I would describe as faultless. This is. It has everything from conceptual genius, perfect plotting and authentic characterisation to brilliance of expression and a genuine original voice. Not a word is wasted, each sentence seamlessly carries the reader along. Prohairesis should win awards.

Blades for a Bounty by Harry Elliott ends another excellent anthology and believe it or not it ends on a happy note with all bounty paid. Get your coin out folks. This is worth buying.