Two weeks ago I bought a small collection of 90s paperbacks online. There wasn’t anything particularly valuable in the set, but there were several books that I didn’t recognize, and that’s always makes me curious. One was John Deakins’s 1990 novel Barrow, which I talked about here. And another was The Mace of Souls by Bruce Fergusson.
I didn’t recognize the name Fergusson. But after a little digging I discovered The Mace of Souls is the middle book in a fantasy trilogy. This shouldn’t have been surprising (statistically 90% of all titles published in the 90s were the middle book of a fantasy trilogy), but it was. I had to track down the other two volumes, and it turns out there’s an interesting story behind it all.
Bruce Fergusson’s debut novel was The Shadow of His Wings, published in hardcover by Arbor House in 1987 and reprinted in paperback in March 1988 by Avon. It was nominated for the Locus Award for Best First Novel, and was a finalist for the Crawford Award for Best First Fantasy Novel. I found this fascinating reference in Orson Scott Card’s essay “The State of Amazing, Astounding, Fantastic Fiction in the Twenty-First Century,” in the 2008 Nebula Awards Showcase.
Trilogies and series dominate, but the exciting thing, for me, is the way that the current crop of fantasy writers steal from every source and make it work… I remember back in 1988, when I read Bruce Fergusson’s seminal In the Shadow of His Wings, thinking this is fantasy as the most serious world-creating sci-fi writers would do it. Fergusson himself didn’t follow up, but the method thrives, as Robin Hobb, George R.R. Martin, Kate Elliot, Brandon Sanderson, and Lynn Flewelling have created masterpieces of thoroughly created worlds that, instead of imitating Tolkien’s choices, imitate his method of creation.
Card was incorrect about Fergusson’s follow-up, however… there are two more novels in the series, and more in the pipeline.
[Click for plus-sized images.]
The Shadow of His Wings was warmly received when it was first published. Fantasy Review called it “beautifully written, and highly recommended.” It caught the attention of Charles de Lint, who declared it “an outstanding debut” in his F&SF book column.
With his provocative prose and a well-rounded cast of characters, Bruce Fergusson brings a breath of fresh air to a tired genre. The hero, the quest, the dragon-like creature and its hoard, are all brought to life in such a way that the reader feels as though he or she is approaching them all for the first time. The Shadow of His Wings is an outstanding debut…
Fergusson followed his debut two years later with the first sequel, The Mace of Souls, published in hardcover by William Morrow in June 1989, and reprinted in paperback in 1991 by Avon. Here’s the back covers of both books.
That was it for the series for 14 years. Until a third volume, Pass on the Cup of Dreams, appeared in trade paperback from Lucky Bat Books in 2013.
According to Fergusson, there’s more in the works. On his website he talks about the series and its future.
The dark, gritty fantasy world of the Six Kingdoms materialized over many years, unearthed book by book, and it comes with kraken that rule the seas and Erseiyrs the skies; with magnificent castles and timbered roads that link villages high in the canopy of forest wilderness; and in cities like Draica you’ll find bloodsnare dens, where pale musicians play living, parasitic creatures, the symbiosis producing an audible narcotic.
And somewhere above, the High Fates at their Loom Eternal weave the fabric of lives, whether human, stoneskin, Timberlimb or the mysterious and nightmarish Murkmen who haven’t as yet made their appearance in the series but will, I promise.
If you visit the Six Kingdoms I just hope you’ll be cursing or thanking those High Fates for what they’re doing to heroes, heroines and the in-betweeners: Lukan Barra and Rui Ravenstone; Falca Breks, Amala Damarr, Shar Stakeen and a Timberlimb named Gurrus. And hissing at the likes of Vearus Barra, Saphrax, Lambrey Tallon and Heresa Hoster.
The first book in the series, The Shadow of His Wings, was a finalist for the Crawford Award for best first fantasy novel and was Nebula nominated like the second, The Mace of Souls. Pass on the Cup of Dreams is the third and longest, to be followed by Kraken’s Claw which is set primarily in the city of Milatum, the jewel of the kingdom of Keshkevar, though for a time Falca Breks finds it anything but glittering…
There’s also a fine summary of the opening novel.
The Shadow of His Wings is the story of a miner’s son, Lukan Barra, and his quest. Set near the end of the first millenium in Myrcia, one of the Six Kingdoms, the novel opens with the estrangement of Lukan from his criminal brother, Vearus, who returns from exile with the secret of healing and transformation of the flesh that gains him power second only to Myrcia’s despotic ruler, the Sanctor Grouin.
An invading army from Skarria is threatening Myrcia’s capitol city of Castlecliff. Lukan, fallen from his apprenticeship as a woodworker, is pressed-ganged into military service, only barely surviving the battle of Dawn Horse Hill which only temporarily halts the onslaught of the Skarrians, led by Gortahork, the dreaded Hook of the East.
The desperate Sanctor declares the throne open to anyone who can secure the intervention of the fabled Erseiyr, the immortal winged creature worshipped and feared by the Myrcians, that lives in a mountaintop cavern laden with golden tribute of ages past. Lukan, thrown unjustly into prison after the battle and then mysteriously released, must leave Castlecliff. Despite his doubts about the sincerity of Grouin’s offer he resolves to join the many questers eager to claim the prize of the throne.
A late start, it develops, is an advantage to Lukan, who avoids the invaders stripping corpses of murdered questers and joins forces with the beautiful and unpredictable Rui Ravenstone, his brother’s former lover, in an attempt to be the first to reach the lair of the Erseiyr, the god and monster whose great wings shadow the future of the land, whose fate becomes linked with Lukan’s in a strange and wonderful bonding.
Here’s the publishing details on the paperback editions of all three existing novels:
The Shadow of His Wings (Avon, 278 pages, $2.95, March 1987) — cover by Darrell K. Sweet
The Mace of Souls (Avon, 319 pages, $3.95, June 1991) — cover by Darrell K. Sweet
Pass on the Cup of Dreams (Lucky Bat Books, 417 pages, $17.99 in trade paperback, December 2013)
Although he published a couple of short stories in the late 80s, the Six Kingdoms trilogy is Fergusson’s major contribution to the genre. I’m very pleased to see he is continuing to add to it. I’ll keep an eye out for additional news and, as always, I’ll keep you posted here.
The small collection of paperbacks that included The Mace of Souls cost me $18 (including shipping) on eBay; I’m still slowly making my way through it, finding strange treasures as I go. It includes books by Julian May, Robert McCammon, KW Jeter, Douglas Adams, Ray Bradbury, Kris Jensen, and many others. Here’s a peek at the spines.
See all our recent Vintage Treasures here.