I divide sword & sorcery characters into two archetypes: the Achilles archetype and the Odysseus archetype. Conan is of the Achilles faction. Clark Ashton Smith had the first Odyssesus archetype with Satampra Zeiros. Harry Otto Fischer created Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser, Fritz Leiber would expand on the two character and the first to get them published. Fischer and Leiber would combine the Achilles and Odysseus types of character as a duo.
Robert Zoltan has continued in the Fritz Leiber tradition with his own adventures of Dareon and Blue in Rogues of Merth. Rogues is a collection of ten stories. Format is trade paperback, publisher Dream Tower Media, 321 pages, published 2018. Cover and interior illustrations are also by Robert Zoltan who is an artist in addition to being a writer.
The stories are set in the fantasy world of Plemora. There is a map included in the books. Name include the Succulent Seas, Unfettered Isles, Land of Ice and Snow, Astral Mountains, Starry Pass etc. Merth is a city similar to Fischer and Leiber’s Lankhmar. “One Night in Merth” is an origin story where the short and small Dareon the poet swordsman meets the barbarian Blue. Blue is not his real name. He is from far Indar, described as 6 ½ feet tall, black hair, gray-blue eyes, and copper skin. The two are joined in a misadventure and have to leave Merth for a while.
The stories range across Plemora with lengths ranging from 14 to 38 pages, so some are short stories, other reach novelette length. “The Blue Lamp” originally appeared in Heroic Fantasy Quarterly.
Dareon is a dandy who more often than not gets the duo into trouble. Blue is the more pragmatic of the two and generally saves the situation, but not always.
A couple of the stories are more gothic in nature with a horror element (“The Hanged Man,” “The Farmer’s Daughter”). Others are Moorcockian excursions into other dimensions with hallucinogenic imagery. I detect the influence of Michael Moorcock with the reality bending elements. A few of the stories remind me strongly of C. L. Moore’s “Jirel of Joiry” stories being portal fantasy with abduction elements. Zoltan does a better job than Moore at the climax whose prose would turn into word salad. Zoltan does not list Lord Dunsany as an influence but there are elements that remind me of Dunsany.
Like most single author series collections, it is best to space these stories out. It is a type of sword & sorcery that is more of the dream like style than hard-boiled, gritty prose.
If you are a fan of Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser or C. L. Moore’s Jirel stories, check out Rogues of Merth. Layout is good and easy on the eyes. Zoltan’s interior art in the story interludes is a nice added touch.
There have been a few more Dareon & Blue stories in Cirsova magazine and Heroic Fantasy Quarterly recently. I have come across an image for Rogues of Merth Book 2 but Amazon does not have it listed. This might be for a future volume once there are enough stories published (or written).