Anthology Review by Lyndon Perry
Start with a disclaimer: I’m in this antho (my story is “To Tame a Demon”) so I won’t review it as I would a collection that I have no connection with, but I will share a few thoughts below on the stories and authors in the ToC.
Quick take: I enjoyed the 11 tales (including mine!) and would recommend the collection to fantasy fans in general and sword and sorcery fans in particular. Though I liked all of them, I had a few favorites, including: “The Horn of Tur” by H. R. Laurence; “The Rotting Goddess” by B. Harlan Crawford; “The Lucky Thief” by Tim Mendees; and “Wind” by Russell Smeaton.
1) In “The Horn of Tur,” Laurence offers an exciting escape and attempted rescue tale featuring our hero Heodric, who is to be sacrificed to the bull-god Tur. There’s a good fight scene, a monster that actually occasions some sympathy, and a nice turn of events at the end.
2) The second story is mine, “To Tame a Demon.” It involves an ambitious and devious wizard who bargains with a few devils in his quest to become the most powerful mage of the Seven Manors. I actually wrote this a few years ago and it never quite worked. When I found out about Feast of Fools, I tweaked and edited it and evidently the story finally worked well enough to be included in this volume.
3) This titular tale by Poyton features Llorc, who is the hero of six novels (check out the author’s The Wolf Who Would BeKing saga) and a collection of stories, including this antho’s “The Feast of Fools.” Feast is a solid quest and revenge tale where our thief – facing sorcery and powerful spells – meets up with an unlikely accomplice, each aiding the other in their separate goals. Nicely told. I hope to read the first novel in Poyton’s Wolf saga soon.
4) The heroine of “The Rotting Goddess” by Crawford is Seanai who takes on a mercenary task for a grieving couple. All is not as it seems, however, and the gruesome sacrifice to the slug-god Lugloth goes awry – thanks to Seanai, of course. This fantasy is a good example of the author’s penchant for writing sorcerous horror. Check out some of his other tales featuring our heroine in the free Whetstone: Amateur Magazine of Pulp Sword andSorcery.
5) “The Colour of Decay” by Ashley Dioses is an intriguing blend of the senses and sorcery and creative magic. The heroine Adara meets the spider-god, Atlach-Nacha, and comes to a surprising end. This one fits nicely with the rest in this volume because of its different feel.
6) Tim Mendees tells a rollicking tale about “The Lucky Thief” – although we wonder throughout the telling if our hero, Rivvens, is all that lucky. Mendees is a good writer, adding humor to the grotesque and alternating between a tavern setting where the story is being told and the flashback sequences that unfold the adventure. I’ll definitely be looking up more of his stories. Tim also has a YouTube Channel where he hosts an excellent podcast. Check it out this show where he hosts the Feast of FoolsLaunch Party.
7) In “Wind” by Russell Smeaton we have another quest tale – this time set in the frozen north – with an unexpected series of unfolding disasters. The chill, the wind, the eerie and horrible atmosphere – along with the utter carnage the monster beast of a god wreaks – just wow! Good storytelling and an author I need to look up.
8) Gavin Chappell’s “The Haunter of the Catacombs” describes his anti-hero perfectly as a thief and a liar – and Talon’s character flaws and misadventures get him into some pretty dire circumstances. This is a darkly humorous quest with two storylines (the other featuring Elenara) that converge, the story ending with a perfect set up to introduce more tales featuring an adventuring male/female duo. I had the privilege of reading another Talon and Elenara story and Chappell assures me more adventures are on their way.
9) “Skyfall” by Glynn Owen Barrass is a fun and fascinating blend of SF, fantasy horror, and future (i.e., lost technology) magic. A short, charming, and thoughtful tale with just the right amount of tension and danger, along with a bit of humor at the end. It was well done.
10) Shelly de Cruz, who also created the cover art and interior illos for this volume, offers a solid showdown adventure in “The Guide, the General, and the Priest.” After a long and dangerous trek, Tehmjin, our mercenary guide, engages in an exciting and climactic encounter with a rogue priest-turned-sorcerer, finally retrieving the object of the group’s quest. Of course, he ultimately says farewell to his traveling companions to head off toward his home country leaving me wanting to follow along and watch him get in and out of more scrapes. Very enjoyable.
11) The final entry is by Lee Clarke Zumpe and is titled, “One Sword Against the Gluttonous Gods.” The story features another rogue priest, but this time the protagonist is the one and fifty year old Emperor Tumen. Zumpe’s is a rich fantasy world with a lot to explore and caps off the collection with an epic tale of mayhem, magic, and sorcery.
Overall impression: editor Robert Poyton pulls together an enjoyable collection of heroic adventures that will likely appeal to fans of the wider genre of fantasy fiction. Not all the entries are tales of sword and sorcery, strictly speaking (mine certainly wasn’t), but the storytelling is fairly solid throughout and most authors wrap up their tales in a satisfying manner.
Quite a few of these adventures showcase an endearing anti-hero mercenary who deigns to guide his charges on some dangerous quest. And while there are similarities in trope, each tale has its own unique take on the plot’s direction and conclusion. While I won’t rate this antho, I will say I’m proud to be a part of it!
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