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Black Gate Recommends

The Best in New Fantasy Books

by John O’Neill

So much to read, so little time. It’s a perennial problem for the dedicated genre reader, and it’s not getting any better. There’s an awful lot of material out on the shelves, and only a fraction of it is really worth your time.

We’re here to add to the problem, with a smattering of some promising fantasy books you may have overlooked. Taken from work which has crossed my desk in the last 60 days, these are the titles that have commanded my attention. If I were cast into the Australian outback tomorrow, these are the books I’d smuggle along.


Corsair

  • by Chris Bunch
  • Warner Aspect, May 2001
  • 392 pg, $6.99 (paperback)
  • ISBN: 0-446-60946-3
  • Cover by Ciruelo Cabral
  • Sample Chapter

Okay, this is leading the list chiefly because I’m a sucker for pirate sagas. Plus, it’s portable. Really, if you’re going to kick off your summer reading with a fantasy paperback, it should at least include seafaring action, some flashing swords, and a flag with a skull on it. Check out that cover! I can smell the salt spray already.

I read The Far Kingdoms (Del Rey, 1993, written by Bunch and Allen Cole) some time ago and found it an engaging and original epic, with a well-developed world and some nicely crafted characters. Since then Bunch has done some fine work on his own, including the three-volume Seer King series (The Seer King, The Demon King, and The Warrior King). If you’re going to entrust your pirate reading this summer to a single author, it should probably be Chris Bunch.

For years, the Linyati slavers have raided the coasts of Saros with impunity. But now swashbuckling captain Gareth Radnor has taken command of the carrack Steadfast… and of Destiny itself. For the exiled young sailor seeks vengeance against the slavers who murdered his family.

A man of fearless daring, Gareth is joined by a motley crew — clever Knoll N’b’ry, strongman Thom Tehidy, the giant sorcerer Labala, and the beautiful, rebellious Lady Cosyra. Together, they become pirates against evil, seawolves attacking the Linyati, even defying their own King’s truce. Then Gareth makes a discovery that turns his crusade into a cause more important than glory, wealth, or retribution: The Linyati aren’t human….


The Temple of Elemental Evil

  • A Greyhawk Book
  • by Thomas M. Reid
  • Wizards of the Coast, May, 2001
  • 320 pg, $6.99 (paperback)
  • ISBN:0-786-91864-0
  • Cover by John Sullivan

Yes, it’s a licensed fantasy world (part of Wizard of the Coast’s venerated Greyhawk product line), and it’s written by an author I’m unfamiliar with, Thomas Reid. I’m still excited by this one, and for a couple of reasons.

For one thing, Greyhawk has always captured the primal spirit of Dungeons & Dragons for me. It was Gary Gygax and Rob Kuntz’s original campaign setting in the early and mid-70’s, home base for all those classic adventures — including Against the Giants, Descent into the Depths of the Earth, Tomb of Horrors, and many others. Greyhawk has been something of a ramshackle project, with huge parts of the world bolted on by numerous hands over the years, but for us old timers the magic (and fun) still linger.

Even amidst that prestigious list of adventures, my personal favourite has always been The Village of Hommlet, Gygax’s ground-breaking adventure of treachery and dark intrigue around the seemingly quiet village of Hommlet. Gygax set aside his extremely popular previous adventures (the famous D-series, which culminated in Queen of the Demonweb Pits, authored by David G Sutherland III from Gygax’s notes) to complete this more ambitious project instead. The series was eventually published in a single 128-page volume co-authored with Frank Mentzer in 1985.

More than any of the other Greyhawk novels of the last few years — including White Plume Mountain and Against the GiantsTemple promises a fascinating read because its complex plot, with multiple competing factions secretly vying for power behind the scenes, is far more suited to novelization. The threads of adventure sewn around Hommlet lead towards a series of progessively deadly encounters, finally leading to the ruins of the long abandoned and infamous Temple, where an ancient evil still lurks… it’s classic D&D adventure in every sense, and I’ve long looked forward to seeing just how The Temple of Elemental Evil would fit into the established canon of Greyhawk fiction.

Tom Reid has previously contributed to several TSR publications, including a Star*Drive novel, Gridrunner.

An elven wizard on a quest for vengeance… A knight on a holy crusade… A young druid fighting to preserve her homeland… A rogue repaying an old debt… And a band of warriors just trying to get out alive.

A foul demon struggling to escape her prison… A power-hungry demigod plotting to bend her to his will… A sadistic priest wakening a slumbering evil… as the Spider Queen weaves her webs around them all.

Join in the adventure as these heroes and villains clash in the darkest pit of despair in all the lands — the Temple of Elemental Evil.


The Ring of Five Dragons

  • The Pearl, Volume One
  • by Eric Van Lustbader
  • Tor, May 21, 2001
  • 608 pg, $27.95 (hardcover)
  • ISBN: 0-312-87235-6
  • Cover by Keith Parkinson

Before he wrote the oriental-themed bestsellers The Ninja and The Miko, Eric van Lustbader published some well-respected fantasy novels, including the Sunset Warrior series: The Sunset Warrior, Shallows of Night, Dai-San, Beneath an Opal Moon, and the recent Dragons on the Sea of Night (not yet released in the US).

Now he’s returned to epic fantasy with a new series, and those of us who enjoyed his early work finally have something to look forward to. Lustbader has a gift for colorful settings and action, and it’s good to see him back in the fold.

The next volume, The Veil of One Thousand Tears, is due in April of next year.

Struggling to survive an existence of enforced slavery on their home planet, the people of Kundala are slowly dying. Their oppressors the V’ornn, a technologically advanced, alien race, have reigned over the Kundalini with unyielding power for more than one hundred years.

Only through the power of the lost, god-given Pearl can the Kundalini be saved from extinction, for within it lies a secret so potent it could tear the entire planet apart. However, only one man is destined to find and wield the awesome power of the Pearl, his name is Achaea, high prince of the alien V’ornn, foreordained to become his enemies’ saviour – the fabled and long awaited Dar-Sala’at.

To fulfill his destiny he first must die and be reborn, his spirit fused into the body of a young Kundalini girl, Riane. As coexisting spirits in a single body, the two young identities of different gender, culture and race, will not only have to hide the quest for the Pearl from those who would seek to try to snatch such power for themselves, but also resolve deeply ingrained prejudices, for without doing so, the Pearl will never be found, and the Kundalini, and Achaea are doomed.


Blade of Tyshalle

  • by Matthew Stover
  • Del Rey, April 3, 2001
  • 736 pgs, $16 (trade paperback)
  • ISBN: 0-345-42144-2
  • Cover by Dave McKean
  • Sample Chapter

The sequel to the well-received Heroes Die (Del Rey, August 98), Blade of Tyshalle continues the story of Hari Michaelson, whose VR persona Caine the assassin was one of the most famous and feared inhabitants of Overworld. Caine was not your traditional hero — far from it — but the realistic depiction of violence and the well-realized fantasy setting in the first book were very refreshing.

Matt Stover (who until recently published as Matthew Woodring Stover) burst onto the scene with the two-volume fantasy saga Iron Dawn and Jericho Moon, set a decade after the fall of Troy. Like Heroes Die, the books had a lot of action and an RPG feel. Blade of Tyshalle is the biggest book he’s ever done, perhaps his first true epic fantasy, and I’m looking forward to spending some quality time with it.

Twenty-seven years ago, they said Hari Michaelson didn’t have a chance. He was just a loser, a street criminal from a disgraced family. He’d never make anything of himself. They were wrong. He made himself into Caine: Killer. Superstar. Hero…

Six years ago, Ma’elkoth — a god of Overworld — held Pallas Ril in his merciless grip. Earth’s ruling elite wanted her dead. Caine swore he would save her. They said he didn’t have a chance. They were wrong. He sacrificed his career as Caine to crush Pallas Ril’s enemies and bring her home.

Now Hari Michaelson is the only man who stands between the soulless corporate masters of Earth and the green hills of Overworld. Caine’s victory over Ma’elKoth opened a door between the worlds, and the faceless masses of Earth are killing everything he loves. Enemies old and new array themselves against him. And Hari’s not even Caine anymore. He’s just one man — alone, half-crippled, powerless. They say he doesn’t have a chance.

They are wrong…


The Beyond

  • by Jeffrey Ford
  • Eos, January, 2001
  • 290 pg, $24 (hardcover)
  • ISBN:0-380-97897-0
  • Cover by Phil Singer

Jeffrey Ford wrote one of the most powerful and critically acclaimed pieces in Black Gate‘s premiere issue, “Exo-Skeleton Town,” selected by Locus magazine as one of the finest stories published in the Spring of 2001. His latest novel is The Beyond, the capstone to the strikingly original fantasy trilogy that began with the World Fantasy Award-winning novel The Physiognomy. Highly recommended.

The Physiognomy introduced Cley, master of a twisted and terrifying science utilized to keep order in a nightmare city. In the brilliantly audacious Memoranda, the reformed physiognomist embarked on a surreal quest through the mind of the monster who imagined and constructed the dark metropolis. Now the third and final chapter of Cley’s strange life journey dispatches him to the inconceivable ends of his world — and strands him in the perilous heart of a sentient wilderness.

Cley is a man who has witnessed miracles, and both he and his world have been changed by them. But remnants of his grim past still haunt the former Physiognomist, First Class. And the old Cley cannot be buried until he meets once more with a woman he gravely disfigured — who, in turn, served as catalyst to his transformation from man of “science” to folk healer to wilderness hunter — and she waits in the true village of Wenau in the hidden heart of the Beyond.

The journey promises to be a lengthy and a dangerous one, with astonishing sights and circumstances at every turning. Demons and wraiths inhabit this strange land, feeding on flesh and terror. Each step forward brings Cley inescapable responsibilities as it carries him into the core of legend and deep into a mystery as old as time. For the Beyond has its needs — and a living consciousness that encompasses all the wonders within its boundaries. And it has important plans for the hunter that require more than he may be able to give.


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