This week’s fantasy new releases feature sword princesses, armored Christian Templars, elemental mages, and superhero spies.
Altina: Sword Princess: Volume 1 – Yukiya Murasaki
Inept with a sword, unable to ride a horse, and apathetic toward the empire he serves, Regis Aurick is a hopeless soldier who spends his days buried in books. Banished to the borderlands, he encounters a stirring young woman with red hair and ruby eyes. She is Fourth Princess Marie Quatre Argentina de Belgaria, known simply to Regis as Altina.
“…Do you want to become my tactician or not?”
Having sought him for his rumored strategic prowess, she aspires to reform an empire led by self-seeking nobles and driven to pointless wars, the legendary blade of an emperor, the Grand Tonnerre Quatre, at her hip. Continuously underestimated by her regiment, including her would-be tactician, the princess resolves to prove her worth beyond a shadow of a doubt—no matter the risk. Here is a tale of war, love, and politics, woven by the bookworm and the sword princess.
The Best of Glen Cook – Glen Cook
The best short fiction of legendary author Glen Cook (The Black Company, the Dread Empire) is collected into a new hardcover volume.
For over forty years, Glen Cook has been among the most well-known, influential, and widely respected authors in science fiction and fantasy. Through classic series such as The Black Company, Garrett P.I., the Dread Empire, Starfishers, Darkwar, and more, his gritty, down-to-earth style left an indelible impression on his readers around the world, forever shifting the genre landscape and carving out his place as a pioneering icon.
The Best of Glen Cook collects eighteen of his greatest stories—as chosen and introduced by the author himself—including a new, never-before-published Black Company novelette. With works set in all of his most famous series, these tales of science fiction and fantasy offer both the perfect way for longtime fans to trace Cook’s history and for new readers to become familiar with one of the finest genre authors of the twentieth century.
The Crimson Spark (Vagabond Legacy #1) – William Hastings
Break the shackles of the mind.
Leo is a boy grieving his twin. Nea is a girl living as a boy to escape her past. Two slaves, carrying the scars of abuse. They form a connection, only to be split apart when their ship arrives in a mysterious and fragmented land, cut off from the rest of the world.
Leo becomes apprentice to a vagabond swordsman and together the two set out to find a stolen weapon locked away in a catacomb city. But what is his new teacher hiding? Tormented by a crippling injury and an anxious heart, Leo must find the strength within himself to keep going despite all that he has lost.
Meanwhile, Nea is conscripted by the Captain of the Royal Guard, who ropes her into the search for a group of men hunting a boy matching Leo’s description. But to Nea’s dismay, the Captain is a woman and Nea must fight past her hateful and damaged mind if she ever hopes to earn her freedom.
When a former child soldier threatens to spark a revolution, Leo and Nea will choose sides. Will they fight to save this cruel land, or punish it? To find the answer, they must confront the horror of the past and fight for the greatest freedom of all, freedom from the fear that rules their hearts.
Crown of Chaos (The Knights of Alana #3) – Aaron Hodges
High in the mountains, Pela and Ruebyn have finally escaped the deadly Knights of Alana. But the future remains uncertain, their only way forward the forbidden lands of Trola. Buoyed by their recent victory, Pela is confident they can overcome whatever lies ahead. When they find the Trolan countryside empty, its villages abandoned, they realise nothing is as it seems in the western nation. There is an evil on the air, an ancient darkness that neither sword nor magic can fight.
Meanwhile, King Braidon has earned a victory against his treacherous wife and her zealous Knights. If only the war could be so easily won. Marianne still holds the capital, and has magic enough to conquer the Three Nations. Braidon must gather the forces of good beneath his banner, and fast, before the queen can march on his stronghold.
The breathtaking finale to the Knights of Alana trilogy by NYTimes Bestselling Author Aaron Hodges Read More
The much-anticipated monthly subscription to join the Castalia Deluxe Book Club and receive a deluxe leather-bound book published by Castalia House every other month is now available.
The first Deluxe Book Club book is the Deluxe edition of The Missionaries by Owen Stanley. And for the seriously hard-core book collector who has all the Franklin Signed First Editions, it’s also possible to sign up for the limited-edition Library subscription.
Just to be clear, Castalia Deluxe is the main product and the Deluxe editions are the focus of this project. The Library editions are an ancillary experiment we’re doing at the request of some very serious book collectors, and which the Deluxe editions make possible. In quality terms, we are targeting the late ’80s Franklin Library editions for our Deluxe editions, albeit with better cover designs.
Is Autarch, the guys behind one of the better OSR megadungeons (Dwimmermount) and the Adventurer, Conqueror, King system, recently released the digital version of their highly successful Kickstarter, Secrets of the Nethercity. Unavailable on the open market at this time, it’s wide release is one to watch for if you have any interest in organically driven D&D campaigns.
Before we dig too deep into what this dungeon does right, let me state outright that if my descriptions seem a bit vague, that deliberate choice stems from a desire not to ruin the secrets for DMs or players. Also, due to the recent release and mid-level challenges, it will be some time before you can expect a proper post-play review.
Yes, we are taking a broad definition of “wargame” in order to include this review the House Blog on a Wargame Wednesday. Guilty as charged.Read More
Heroism (Rogue Blades Entertainment): “The heroic books, even if printed in the character of our mother tongue, will always be in a language dead to degenerate times …” Henry David Thoreau wrote those words in the mid-19th Century for his distinguished book, Walden. They rang true then and they ring true today. Of course there will be those who say we do not live in degenerate times, that we live in the greatest of all ages, that our technological and social achievements are pressing us towards some utopia, but those who are true students of history and have open eyes might argue otherwise, or at least they might hold more than a little skepticism about the potential greatness of the immediate future.
Fantasy (Tor.com): Here’s a funny thing about “action reads:” a lot of people would equate that to mean a whole lot of running and chasing and swordplay. They wouldn’t be wrong, of course, but all the physical action in the world can’t liven up a bland tale, or make boring characters interesting, and there’s actually plenty of forward momentum and tension to be had in some fantasy adventure stories without the more obvious blood-letting. And then of course there’s lyrical prose. Me, I prefer to see my action with great characters and some lovely writing, and today I’m going to share a few favorites that deliver all those things. Read More
I have written about paperback writer Lou Cameron. Zulu Warrior is a book I have been trying to procure for around 10 years. Enter paperback trading on social media. I picked up some paperbacks at PulpFest this past summer for the purpose of trading. An associate on social media was interested in some titles in my possession and he lives in the area of one of the great used bookstores in U.S. I gave him a list of things I was looking for including Zulu Warrior.
Lou Cameron wrote mostly westerns, detective, and war novels. He won the Spur Award for best western novel in 1976 for The Spirit Horses, a novel about the U.S. Army and camels in the 1850s. Read More
“The Horror on the Links”, by Seabury Quinn, first presented in Weird Tales, introduces the adventures of the French occult detective, Jules de Grandin. De Grandin is a step on the progression from Semi-Dual, one of the earliest–if not *the* first–occult detective, to the weird menace of Marvel and beyond. (The Pulp Super Fan has an excellent introduction to Semi-Dual, whose Argosy stories we will see soon.) Seabury Quinn’s Jules de Grandin stories were a cornerstone of Weird Tales throughout the Farnsworth Wright era. Today, however, he is overshadowed by Howard, Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith.
“Physicians’ sleep is like a park—public property.” With that lamentation, Dr. Trowbridge is summoned to treat the long gashed wounds of Paul Maitland, who, in his delirium, cries out about an ape-thing chasing him. Meanwhile:
“Almost entirely denuded of clothing, marred by a score of terrible wounds, her face battered nearly past recognition and her neck broken, the body of pretty Sarah Humphreys, was found lying in one of the bunkers of the dub’s golf course this morning.”
Sarah’s wounds are similar to Paul’s. Dr. Trowbridge, as Paul Maitland’s physician is drawn into the investigation, headed by Sergeant Costello, and assisted by a criminologist, Jules de Grandin. De Grandin’s renown in the scientific world is such that Trowbridge recognizes his work.
Upon questioning, Paul says he was attacked by a hairy ape near the golf course. An examination of Sarah’s body confirms the unlikely story.
“But certainly, One does not look to see the beautiful in the morgue. I ask for what you see, not for your aesthetic impressions.”
Meanwhile, another of Dr. Trowbridge’s patients, a Mr. Manly, was shot out by the same country club. De Grandin, struck by the coincidence, goes digging through the trash and discovers a shirt belonging to Manly with gorilla hair on the inside. But how to reconcile the all-too-human Manly with the ape that attacked Paul and Sarah? Or, more importantly, should Dr. Trowbridge even entertain de Grandin’s apparent fancy? Read More
This week’s science fiction new releases feature a dementia-stricken hitman, the son of a genetic slaver, a galactic crusade, and two anthologies by science fiction’s best.
Authority – A. K. Meek
The aliens came to conquer. We won, but billions died. Now, it’s time to rebuild.
The neons do as they’re told. Chemically bound to their masters by the experimental chemi-chip implant created from alien technology, they are genetically engineered at rapid rates to be servants for the survivors of the war against alien invaders. Without neons, reconstruction would be impossible.
Colin Hanston—the unremarkable son of the genius who invented the chemi-chip—leads a simple life as a farmer, helping feed his district as any good citizen should. But when he redeems his voucher for a neon servant of his own named Michael, everything changes. His father’s old friend-turned-rebel shows up, and Colin learns that not everyone believes the neons are a simple commodity used by the Authority to fix the world and help prepare in case the aliens return.
Knowing he could be killed just for talking to the rebels, Colin will have to decide for himself whether his father’s work is truly a benefit to humanity as his leaders claim, or a perversion.
Is the truth worth destroying his father’s legacy and putting his family in danger? Is it worth dying for?
Empires Ascendant – Jay Allan, Jason Anspach, Daniel Arenson, J. N. Chaney, Nick Cole, Joshua Dalzelle, Ken Lozito, and Jasper T. Scott
The rise of empire. The golden age of expansion, of exploration. Stories of new and vibrant civilizations growing, reaching out…and sometimes fighting desperately for the future.
Empires Ascendant brings 6 masters of military science fiction and space opera together in one volume of all new, original material. Including:
Banshee’s Last Scream: From the world of Galaxy’s Edge: When a Dark Ops legionnaire is found dead under suspicious circumstances, his fellow operatives employ the notorious bounty hunter Tyrus Rechs to find those responsible and make them pay for their actions. But Rechs uncovers a sinister plot much bigger than a simple murder.
Invasion: Chris Randall just got fired. On his way to break the bad news to his wife, an explosion rips through the night–followed by a dozen more. Scimitar Fighters are streaking down from space. Before Chris can wonder what starfighters are doing over San Bernardino, he sees the clouds light up with laser fire. That’s when he sees it: a dark wall of shadows hovering over the valley and drifting toward LA.
Shadow of Purple: Altharic Vennalus is a general, and a loyal servant of the Republic. He has battled endlessly, fighting to preserve the Republic from the usurpers who would topple it. The civil wars that have raged for three decades are nearly at an end. But peace is an elusive dream, and pain and loss will drive Altharic to places he couldn’t have imagined. In the end, he will be faced with answering one burning question. What is the cost of his honor?
Optional Retirement Plan – Chris Pourteau
When retiring isn’t an option, it’s kill or be killed.
Stacks Fischer is a killer for hire. For more than three decades, he’s loyally served the Syndicate Corporation as its most-feared and respected enforcer around the solar system. He’s buried the company’s dirty laundry six feet deep, no matter who had to be taken out to do it.
Now, Stacks has a problem—he’s losing his mind to an incurable form of dementia, and unwittingly spilling corporate secrets in public.
When SynCorp decides Fischer has outlived his usefulness, they decide it’s time to permanently retire him. But Stacks isn’t quite ready to go. With every one of SynCorp’s Five Factions gunning for him—and his own mind slowly rebelling—Fischer leads a pack of would-be assassins in a final, deadly chase across the solar system.
The old hitman refuses to fade quietly into oblivion at the hands of his disease or the business he’s dedicated his life to. He’s choosing an Optional Retirement Plan.
Places Beyond the Wild (Z-Day #4) – presented by Daniel Humphreys
The world did not go quietly into the night.
The vast wilds outside a place called Hope hold their own stories. When the end came, what happened to everyone else?
Massachusetts. Texas. Alabama. Tennessee. Pockets of humanity have persisted through the apocalypse. All have tales of survival and loss.
Mad Dog Mattis’ last stand at the Pentagon. The first Christmas after the end of the world. A family isolated on their homestead as the evolving dead press at the fences. A desperate quest for helicopters to destroy the undead.
Come read through this expansion of Daniel Humphreys’ Dragon Award nominated Z-Day universe. Twelve brand new survival stories written by the best up and coming independent sci-fi and fantasy writers will thrill fans of the series.
Find tales of hope in a desolate world and read Places Beyond The Wild today! Read More
David V. Stewart’s work returns to the Castalia House blog with The City of Silver. Regular readers will recall last August’s review of his sci-fi horror and military bloodbath novel, Voices of the Void. This time around David presents another fairly short novel with an equally straightforward premise.
A reluctant countess chooses to leave her arranged marriage for a life in exile. The man she finds to act as her champion-for-hire is a sorcerer in a world where such men are hunted down by a Church and political system that views them as a dangerous wild card in the game of power. The bulk of the narrative follows their flight to the coast, and then their maneuvering through the streets of a hostile city to secure passage to a potentially safe neutral country. Naturally, this being Book One of a longer series, it’s a good bet that that neutral country won’t be terribly safe.
Considerably more complex than Voices of the Void, despite its short length, this novel feels a lot bigger than its page count. Not because the story drags – it’s a fun “escape from a foreign city while pursued by agents of the crown” adventure – but because it occurs in a fully realized world and because the characters leap off the page. The addition of black powder weapons and an Amish sort of ban on certain technologies add another layer of
Many authors blunder unto the big pitfalls of epic fantasy by wasting too much time on world building and setting dump expositions. David does edge along that precipice with a few brief scenes that paint a larger world. Instead of “as you know” style conversations, he steers things into a more “how can you think” debate between people whose opinions on politics and religion differ. The resultant scenes help establish a nice change of pace between action scenes and ease the reader into the wider world to provide context for the central conflict of The City of Silver. These passages help ground the action, and potentially lay the groundwork for future installments of the Moonsong Saga.
Of particular note is the black powder technology level of this otherwise straightforward fantasy setting. A ban on certain technologies, reminiscent of the Amish prohibitions on tech, appears at first glance to be a power play by the authorities. That is a dangerous assumption built on other works, given the way David hints at other, more practical, factors weighed in that decision. Add a powerful monotheology predicated on a god known as The Dreamer, served by angelic godlings, and you’ve got the makings of one of the more original versions of Christianity with the serial numbers filed off of it. All told, it works well to present something greater than the sum of its parts.
But it is in the characterizations where David truly shines. In addition to several strong character arcs, he crafts well rounded characters who continue to surprise the reader with depth and nuance. The central couple feature a pampered countess who understands political struggles among the gentry, but must learn how politics operate at the level of the people in the gutter. The square jawed hero and hired muscle has a lot of rough edges that hide a gentle demeanor he dares not show, given his line of work. Even the villains have moments of humanity that, while not exactly redeeming them, remind the reader that they are not cartoons but living people with their own reasons for what they do.
There is no word yet on the release date for the second book. My return to Mr. Stewart’s works serves as a strong indicator of his worth as a writer. My anticipation for the sequel to this work should provide ore evidence that any fantasy reader would do well to add his works to their library.
The corporate cancer of social justice convergence is costing corporations literal billions of dollars even as it drives both productive employees and loyal customers away, destroys valuable brands, and eats away at market capitalizations. From Internet startups to entertainment giants, convergence is killing corporations as they focus on social justice virtue signaling at the expense of good business practices, sales, profits, and retaining loyal customers.
In Corporate Cancer, Vox Day explains how you can fight social justice convergence in your own organization for both personal and corporate profit, and why you must do so if you want to keep your job.
Writers (Less Known Writes): David William Jarrett was the son of Mervyn Spencer Jarrett (1906-1986), a works engineer, and his wife Olive Elizabeth Jenkins (1907-1997), who were married in the summer of 1940. He had one older brother. Jarrett’s novel was Witherwing (London: Sphere, 1979: New York: Warner, 1979). It begins as a kind of heroic fantasy novel in which Witherwing, the youngest of six princes of Tum-Barlum (the name clearly modeled on Twm Barlwm, the name of a hill in south Wales, but that has no significance to the story).
RPG (Walker’s Retreat): With last weekend’s Big Brand marketing event masquerading as a fan convention came the announcement–with no release date–of the fourth installment of its iconic isometric dark fantasy action RPG franchise. You know which one I’m talking about, and it’s not the MMORPG. I thought I’d take the time to give you all some alternatives that you may have overlooked or forgotten about, beside Path of Exile and adaptation of other Big Brand properties. This is not an exhaustive list; most of these will be linked to their Steam entries, but I advise you to look at GOG also if you want DRM-free versions or see if you can buy used physical copies.
News (Niche Gamer): On October 22nd, the United States House of Representatives voted 410 votes to 6 (16 abstained) in favor of the CASE Act- dubbed the “Anti-Meme law” by its critics. The “Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act of 2019” was introduced by Representative Hakeem Jeffries (Democrat, New York) on January 5th, 2019. The bill’s purpose was to help content creators utilize a small claims court for copyright infringement, as the current law means copyright disputes must go through the more expensive federal courts.
This just arrived in the mail. I have written about New Texture’s books that focus on the men’s adventure magazines of the 1950s through the 1970s. Their newest offering is Eva Men’s Adventure Supermodel, an art book featuring model Eva Lynd. Read More
Black Mask alumni Frederick Nebel’s Jack Cardigan was one of the main reasons behind the success of the legendary Dime Detective Magazine. Cardigan first appeared in “Death Alley.”
This is a tale for jazz and bourbon. Cardigan’s partner is dead–done in by drive-by–and the case is apparently closed. Only Cardigan believes otherwise. It doesn’t take long for Cardigan, P. I. to find trouble, both with the crooks and with the law. Said trouble sends the rest of his private detective office into the hospital. After all, St. Louis is a rough city–and a blissful change from New York or Chicago.
The familiar hand of Lester Dent’s Master Formula can be felt guiding events. Cardigan gets dropped into one peril after another, and not all he can fight his way out of. The murders of the detectives cross over with a spot of trouble that a newly widowed heiress finds herself in, drawn together into one final standoff, and a public gunfight.
“Death Alley” truly is a perfect four-chapter execution of Dent’s formula, awash in gin, whiskey, and tobacco smoke. Compared to the more adventurous Race Williams, Cardigan actually has to rely on some proper sleuthing–and an ability to ferret out connections as tenuous as smoke. It isn’t noir, Cardigan is never tempted and is instead vengeance personified as he searches for the killer, but you can see it from here.
There’s something about Black Mask writers that, even when riddled by slang now long out of date, their prose has a freshness to it that the 1930s hero pulps and 40s science fiction lack. Even when the hard-boiled stories are dated, they aren’t. Nebel is no exception. That’s not to say that I didn’t have to rely on a dictionary a click or so away for a couple terms. But in the end, with the required and satisfying twist, I want to see this done on the silver screen in proper black and white.
Out of the foggy night steps a ghostly figure in gray — The Whisperer! His super-silenced automatics spitting blue flame, he hurls a hissing challenge to the Law and lawless alike! And hot on his crooked trail, legendary lawman Wildcat Gordon!
In “The Six Pyramids of Death”, Commissioner James “Wildcat” Gordon starts sneaking around a countess’s house in the guise of The Whisperer, a vigilante in the same ominous mode as The Shadow. While searching for evidence that would convict the countess, The Whisperer gets mired in a net of bad luck–and frequent blows to the back of his head. For when he wakes up, he observes a secret meeting as cutthroats argue over six golden pyramids. But as the pyramids start disappearing, the cutthroats start dying. While The Whisperer is caught in a web of death, Commissioner Gordon must also fen off the machinations of his hostile mayor.
Billed as the most violent series Street & Smith ever published, The Whisperer wears its homage to The Shadow on its sleeve. Everything in that classic formula is present, from the ominous atmosphere to the brooding in the shadows, a radio-friendly calling card, and the twin automatics. Even the cadence of the story matches The Shadow, including the refrain of “For the man watching from the hiding place was The Whisperer.” Unfortunately, when assembling that classic formula, something broke along the way, as the sum is decidedly less than the parts.
Wildcat Gordon turns into The Whisperer through the addition of dental plates that build out his jaw. The catch is, they also affect his voice, reducing it to the whisper that gives his alter-ego his name. A novel solution to the quandary facing any vigilante trying to hide his identity–and one more convincing than the Moon Man’s–but it undermines the ominous mystery of The Whisperer with weakness. Worse still, The Whisperer gets knocked out on a regular basis in this story. While it gives Gordon personal stakes in bringing the criminals to justice–or a grave, for the murderers–With how many times someone has snuck up on and decked the Whisperer, it’s a wonder he still has a secret identity…or a life.
On top of that, the mood whiplash continues, replacing the dark, brooding ominous man of shadows with the folksy, good old boy commissioner. Knowing too much about the man behind the mask does undermine the story. Why not a folksy good old boy? Because, at least in fiction, most good old boys settle matters directly, without all the theatrics and sophistication a man of the shadows must use. But what is believable is the violence.
As for six pyramids of death, which have been an afterthought not just in this review, but in the story, a more classic example of a MacGuffin will be hard to find. There’s no mystery here, just a lure to get the gunmen shooting at each other, and the reason for their existence is a disappointing capstone to such a violent treasure hunt.
For writers, the prose of The Whisperer is an object lesson. As Lester Dent says, wave those tags. Not only does it give readers quirks that identify characters, but they also allow writers to use more than full names and pronouns to refer to their characters. This is especially helpful in action scenes, where the constant usage of a character’s full name brings The Whisperer’s fights too close to the dreaded checklist.
The sum total is that in “The Six Pyramids of Death”, The Whisperer misses the mark of the hero pulps. As such, he is more notable as being one of the many inspirations swept up into the plagiaristic Batman than for his own adventures.