A good buffet has something for everyone. Similarly, a good anthology treads the delicate balance of achieving a consistent feel while rewarding the reader with a mix of tales. “Swords & Sorceries: Tales of Heroic Fantasy” achieves this balance as one would expect from a veteran editor. David Riley has previously expressed his fondness for Lin Carter who almost single-handedly resurrected the fantasy anthology and it’s no surprise that this collection of stories seems a worthy successor.
After a fascinating introduction dedicated to the late Charles Black,
we have eight very different fantasy tales enhanced by the distinctive
art of Jim Pitts.
In The Mirror of Torjan Sul by Steve Lines a powerful necromancer sends his dubious apprentice to collect the mirror. It has a plot reminiscent of Jack Vance and convolutes in an interesting manner.
Desert peoples, suspicious meteorites, and the hero, Bohun, a young adventurer from the south, entertain in The Horror from the Stars by Steve Dilks. Bohun is on the hunt for his wife, bought by the evil sultan of Ibn-Shahik. The sultan may have bought a lot more than he bargained for as Bohun is not a happy fellow and will stop at nothing.
Trolls are Different by Susan Murrie Macdonald, is a little gem involving a head village lady in some subtle diplomacy to sort out the bad guys. The tale departs some way from a conventional fantasy tale but loses nothing by this.
I never got into the Grey Mouser or spoofs but Chain of Command by Geoff Hart is really a marvellous take on Leiber, brilliantly crafted, funny and slick. Suspiciously familiar heroines join with incompetent mages on a quest for the Chain of Office of a long dead king. Doesn’t work out well for most involved. Ten out of ten.
Disruption of Destiny by Gerri Leen had me yawning in the first page
and applauding by the last. It starts in an innocuous manner and then
takes on a maze of interesting twists. It’s a standout in a very good
anthology. Don’t be fooled by the tarot cards and the witch. It is a far
deeper and more interesting tale.
In The City of Silence by Eric Ian Steele the king Ariston and his loyal vizier, Obadiah seem to have come to the end of their adventures. When the king loses his sword, and some other bits, it looks like the end is nigh. But it ain’t.
Another standout is Red by Chadwick Ginther with its neat female
protagonist on the search for her recalcitrant brother in the
underground city. Funny at times, exciting at others this was one of
the most enjoyable tales.
The final tale, The Reconstructed God by Adrian Cole, is an excellent and well plotted piece about the Key of Keys. Elfloq comes to an arrangement with the merchant Aggrabal but who will end up with the master Key? Keeps you guessing.
One of the most cheering aspects of this anthology is ‘Volume 1’ on the front of a striking cover. Thankfully, there is no boring literature here and no mundane facts. There is action, intrigue, impossible places and unlikely scenarios. In short if you like fantasy you are in the right place. There is also a refreshing hint of the good old days in “Swords & Sorceries: Tales of Heroic Fantasy” spiced up with the approach of a new generation of fantasy writers – Let’s hope Volume 2 is not too long in coming.