An Exuberant Celebration of a Century of Fantasy: Flame and Crimson: A History of Sword-and-Sorcery by Brian Murphy

An Exuberant Celebration of a Century of Fantasy: Flame and Crimson: A History of Sword-and-Sorcery by Brian Murphy

Flame and Crimson-small Flame and Crimson-back-small

Cover by Tom Barber

Brian Murphy was one of the most important of Black Gate‘s early contributors. In 59 articles published between 2010 and 2017, he thoughtfully asked what fantasy was good for (“Transcendent Fantasy, or Politics as Usual?“), suggested classic S&S tales for busy modern readers (“Six Sought Adventure: A Half-Dozen Swords And Sorcery Short Stories Worth Your Summer Reading Time“), and vividly recalled the joys of discovering fantasy in the 70s (“An Ode to the Berkley Medallion Conans“).

I can’t think any anyone more qualified to write Flame and Crimson: A History of Sword-and-Sorcery, an impeccably well researched study — and simultaneously an exuberant celebration — of a century of great fantasy. Here’s a representative sample from the Underground, Resurgence, and New Directions chapter, which is packed with enthusiastic recs for those looking for modern writers worth paying attention to.

Other notable recent sword-and sorcery/sword-and-sorcery-infleunced authors and stories include James Enge’s Morlock the Maker series, including Blood of Ambrose (2009), This Crooked Way (2009), and The Wolf Age (2010), and Paul Kemp’s Egil and Nix stories including The Hammer and the Blade (2012), A Discourse in Steel (2013) and A Conversation in Blood (2017)…. the episodic, street-level adventures of the outsider Moorlock [sic] — a spellcaster and black-blade wielder harkening back to Elric, albeit with more heart and humor — returns it to its sword-and-sorcery roots. Kemp is perhaps best known for his work writing fictional tie-ins to the Dungeons and Dragons campaign setting The Forgotten Realms.

When I asked Brian about writing the book, his reply was characteristically thoughtful and humble. Here’s what he said.

I wrote it not expecting fortune or fame, but as a labor of love on a super-niche topic that I happen to care a lot about. It’s what kept me going…. I have had some excellent feedback from a couple readers which I’m happy with. I tried to peel away my opinions and back up my conjectures and assertions with citations and evidence, but I knew going in that my definition of S&S would not align with others’, and I’m also sure I had some authorial omissions that will disappoint some. I had to narrow my focus if I was ever going to finish it.

Flame and Crimson: A History of Sword-and-Sorcery is a terrific addition to the small but growing field of S&S scholarship. It’s well worth your fantasy dollar.

It was published by Pulp Hero Press on January 16, 2020. It is 282 pages, priced at $19.95 in trade paperback and $7.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Tom Barber. See all the details at Brian’s website The Silver Key.

See all out recent coverage of work by Black Gate‘s many talented contributors here.

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“Flame and Crimson: A History of Sword-and-Sorcery is a terrific addition to the small but growing field of S&S scholarship.”

Ordered a copy immediately after reading this article, John…

Have I missed other references in the digital halls of Black Gate referencing the field of S&S scholarship?

Would be interested/happy to follow recommendations/links…

Chuck Timpko

Also just ordered a copy. Looks very interesting. One of the best reasons to read Black Gate is finding out about books I do not know are being published. Thanks !


I picked this up a while ago, and I must say it’s simply the best book on the subject of S&S I have ever encountered. There have been many articles written about S&S, but this is the only in-depth, extensive study available to the reading public that I’m aware of. S&S may start at Robert E Howard, but it certainly doesn’t end there, and this book looks at it all, from every angle. Great stuff, I highly recommend this book!


You two have at least gotten me to put in on a maybe list.

I assumed at 290 pages that i would be aware of most of the authors it talks about.

Gabe Dybing

Thanks for this! I started reading and hope to make some discoveries.

I’ve read most of the writers most often cited as practitioners in the Sword & Sorcery milieu, and here is my highly opinionated disappointment with many of them.

Fritz Leiber (though highly enjoyable) strikes me most often as a satirist.

Michael Moorcock’s iconoclasm strikes me as obnoxious.

Lin Carter, L. Sprague de Camp and John Jakes strike me as superficial imitators.

Karl Edward Wagner might have something—I’ll have to read more.

My most exciting finds, of late, I don’t often see talked about—works by John Dalmas and John Maddox Roberts.

Of the new stuff, though James Enge is enjoyable, it’s heavy on the sorcery.

I have to read more Howard Andrew Jones.

George Martin is 3/5 good.

Haven’t given Joe Abercrombie a shot, and I’m leery to—too many lauded grimdarks read, to me, like a lingering power-chord-paean to sexual violence. Ew.

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