Here’s to Robert E. Howard, creator of my favorite genre, sword-and-sorcery, on the anniversary of his birth. Raise high your goblets and drink deep.
What is best about Robert E. Howard’s writing? The driving headlong pace, the seemingly inexhaustible imagination, the splendid cinematic prose poetry, the never-say-die protagonists? It is hard to pick one thing, so it may be simpler to state that Robert E. Howard possessed profound and often astonishing storytelling gifts. Without drowning his readers in adjectives (he had the knack of using just enough adjectives or adverbs, and knew to let the verbs do the heavy lifting) or slowing pace, he brought his scenes to life. Vividly.
Writer Eric Knight may have most succinctly described this particular aspect of Howard’s power in an article on Solomon Kane:
“’Wings of the Night’ features a marathon running fight through ruin, countryside, and even air that only a team of computer animators with a sixty-million dollar budget and the latest rendering technology (or a single Texan from Cross Plains hammering the story out with worn typewriter ribbon) could bring properly to life.”
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Pyr (345 pages, Trade Paperback, March 2009, $15.98)
Reviewed by Bill Ward
Midwinter is the debut novel from comics writer Matthew Sturges, and it has elves in it. In fact, it’s all about elves, taking place as it does in the land of faerie. But these elves, dear reader, are not your Daddy’s elves — or, more to the point, they are not the sort of derivative elves that tend to find their way into the fiction of writers who have trouble thinking outside their last D&D campaign. Midwinter’s Fae, in all their variety, are much more reminiscent of the Sidhe of Celtic myth that is clearly Sturges’ jumping off point, perhaps with a bit of Tolkien and Moorcock thrown in for good measure. Those who can’t stand heavily derivative fantasy need not worry — in fact, it’s Sturges’ willingness to play with tropes and inject his tale with the unexpected that is the main attraction of his world.
For an example of one of those ‘sit up on the edge of your seat and take notice’ turns, we have an event that occurs early in the book. The premise of the quest is established quickly, and this ‘dirty dozen with elves,’ as Sturges has described the book, kicks off in much the expected direction. We are introduced to disgraced Guard Captain Mauritane, in prison, as well as his despised enemy — a Fae who conspired to bring him down in the first place. The quest is laid out (though not explained — the revelation of the true purpose of the quest isn’t provided until the end), and Mauritane’s team of fellow prisoners assembled. But just when you think the direction of things is all mapped out, Mauritane, seemingly as an aside, ends up traveling back in time (!) and participating in an episode the significance of which is only shown later. Throughout the novel Sturges shows a willingness to make a hard right without taking his foot of the gas — leaving some rubber on the road and, just maybe, making a few white-knuckled passengers uncomfortable — in a way that reminded me of the more daring and fluid fantasies of the past.
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Imaro: The Trail of Bohu
Charles R. Saunders
Sword & Soul Media (217 pages, $20.00, January 2009)
Fans of Sword & Sorcery and Heroic Fantasy had reason to rejoice as 2009 kicked-off with a big release from one of the genre’s master storytellers. No, it wasn’t a new Elric novel, nor a previously undiscovered Fafhrd and Gray Mouser short. And not a book by one of those other famous names, Howard, Vance, Gemmell, or Wagner, either. It was Imaro: The Trail of Bohu, the third in the Imaro series, by the best fantasy author you’ve never heard of.
Of course, many of Black Gate’s readers have heard of and are fans of Charles R. Saunders, but the world at large has been slow to catch up. The perilous journey of the Imaro series into and out of print has been related elsewhere, but finally it seems things have gotten on the right track and this previously unfinished series will at last be in the hands of fans everywhere, thanks to new imprint Sword & Soul media.
Imaro: The Trail of Bohu continues the saga of the outcast warrior Imaro in the land of Nyumbani; a rich fantasy setting based on African history and myth. But, while the first two books in the series, Imaro and Imaro: The Quest for Cush, were essentially episodic in structure (constructed as they were of Saunders’ short stories), The Trail of Bohu, the first Imaro book written as a novel from start to finish, presents us with a bigger overall story — it is, in fact, the beginning of the arc that will carry the reader through books four and five and, let’s just say, things really start to get going in this installment of the Imaro saga.
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Conan the Raider
By Leonard Carpenter (Tor, 1986)
So here I am on the Black Gate blog, your “Tuesdays with Ryan.” I’m already a blog addict, and I’ve run my own extensive blog for two years (after two years of running a sloppy, more personal-blathering journal at a dreadful blog service). I write science-fiction and fantasy, mostly aimed at teenagers (I am an adamant supporter of YA genre literature, and for various reasons I may talk about in another entry, it is the genre niche where I feel the most at home), but I’m also an extensive nonfiction author fascinated with the history of speculative fiction and the stranger corners of it that don’t often come to light. And, in case anyone cares, I am a damned good lindy hoppin’ swing dancer with a love of period clothing.
Now, how to begin blogging at Black Gate? The answer arrived easily. I’ve chosen to return to my “origins” as an online reviewer, and review a Conan pastiche novel. Ambition!
I have a long association with the “Conan pastiche,” here defined as any story about the legendary sword-and-sorcery hero coming from a writer other than Conan’s creator, Robert E. Howard. When I first started reading Howard’s Conan stories in the early ‘90s, the only place I could easily locate them was in the paperback series that mixed pastiche stories among Howard’s originals. I was therefore “trained” to accept the pastiches as having as much validity as Conan stories as Howard’s originals, an attitude I now completely reject. But I was young and eager for more of this sword-and-sorcery goodness, so when I finished off the Howard canon, I decided to peek into the other novels from Ballantine and Tor. Most Howard fans would never touch them, but Conan novels were, at the time, one of the few places to buy genuine sword-and-sorcery at a standard chain bookstore.
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