Media tie-in and brand series novels are rightly viewed somewhat askance by many fantasy readers. While they’re valuable for piquing the interest of those who come to fantasy literature through other mediums, the quality of the fiction within them seldom rises to the average level of the genre. For example, while the original Dragonlance Chronicles and the Dragonlance Legends trilogy are good, solid fantasy fiction, very few of the great mass of Dragonlance-branded books, most of which were written by authors named neither Weis nor Hickman, make for interesting reads. (I must make an exception here for the three Dragonlance Dragons anthologies, however.)
It’s not unreasonable to overlook those writers who are chiefly known for their sharecropping of fertile intellectual properties, but it’s not always justified. Lovers of low fantasy in particular would be remiss to dismiss one such writer to whom long-time readers of Black Gate will not be unfamiliar. In 1994, Nancy Varian Berberick, who contributed the story “Scatheling” to Issue 4, published an excellent novel entitled The Panther’s Hoard which revolved around the same character who features in the Black Gate story, the dwarven skald Garroc.
It’s not an easy book to find on the shelves, and its relative unavailability forces one to conclude it did not sell terribly well, but then, this has been the fate of many a lesser book. Berberick is, quite simply, a much better writer than most in the field, and her mastery of Old English lends her fictional world a versimilitude that is often lacking in most books of this sort. Both the cover art and the title of The Panther’s Hoard are perhaps a little unfortunate, as they tend to lead the casual observer to expect a rather different sort of book than one in fact encounters. But, one can safely say that no fan of either low fantasy or adventure fantasy is likely to be disappointed should he take the time to track down Ms Berberick’s excellent work.