I have mentioned before that the small press is where the action is with sword and sorcery fiction. Case in point, Swords of Steel. The back cover says “Not For Wimps!”
Swords of Steel came out in February 2015. I had heard about the anthology before it came out. Editor/Publisher Dave Ritzlin had an idea for an anthology. All the contents would be written by heavy metal musicians.
I met Dave at Windy City Pulp & Paperback Show two years ago. He had the book in hand. I got the information on how to order it and got a copy. I just did not get around for whatever reason to reading it until this year.
This is a fun book. It is paper bound and mass market paperback size. The paper itself is rather thick and stiff. If any of you remember the old Centaur paperbacks from the 1970s, this is very similar paper.
The book is 254 pages. The introduction by David C. Smith, a sword and sorcery writer who penned Oron, The Sorcerer’s Shadow, Red Sonja, Fair Rules of Evil etc. Smith stakes out the territory of sword and sorcery.
“Our fiction is dark, often very dark, in the same ways that unsettling dreams are never far from nightmares, and not at all comforting. Our fiction can be brutal–and brutally honest about life and the human condition. . .These stories offer a heroic sensibility only by stretching the idea of what constitutes a hero or heroines.”
Contents include 9 stories, one poem, and a prose poem. Byron A. Roberts’ “Into the Dawn of Storms” is set in Elizabethan England. Captain Caleb Blackthorne. He has sought out Doctor Dee to interpret a curse of ever more vivid dreams. The story has an interlude of a knight battling a supernatural fiend called The Dark Warrior. The inference is Captain Blackthorne is tied in with these visions. There is a dark haired witch involved. There is some tavern violence as Captain Blackthorne prepares for a journey to find a clue for resolution of his current predicament. Chapter II is to follow.
Edgar Allan Poe is the subject of “The Riddle Master” by Ernest Cunningham Hellwell. A strange dark man challenges Poe to a wager in a game of riddles.
A bandit hired to seek out Arath the Exile who stockpiles plagues is the basis of James Ashbey’s “The Mirror Beguiling.” The bandit leader takes up the job which turns into a treacherous quest to find Arath the Exile.
“All Will Be Righted on Samhain” is by-lined Howie Bentley and David C. Smith. The story is set in the early days of Roman Britain in the aftermath of Boudica’s revolt. Boudica’s daughter seeks supernatural help in taking revenge on a couple of Roman officials. I asked Howie about David C. Smith’s contribution. Howie told me that the story is his but Dave performed a heavy edit on it. Howie wanted to acknowledge David C. Smith’s contribution. This story features Thorn, the mascot of Howie’s band, Cauldron Born.
Harold Page’s “Headbanging Warriors” is a short non-fiction piece on warrior chanting, drum beating, dancing etc.
“Journey in Somnamblia” had a quartet of would be exiles from the sorcerous city of Weydan. There is a journey through a haunted wood and confrontation with magisters leading a group of chained captives.
Scott Waldrop’s “Eve’s Grave” is not really sword and sorcery but rather a meandering piece of stream of consciousness psychedelia. I did not care for this one.
Howie Bentley returns with a prose poem, “Stygian Dust and Black Lotus Slumber: In Thoth Amon’s Tower.” It is something of an homage to Robert E. Howard and H. P. Lovecraft.
“Blue Mistress” by Jeffrey Black is a sailing yarn with a mermaid and battle with an oceanic behemoth.
Jason Tarpey’s “Vengeance of the Insane God” is old school sword and sorcery with a wandering barbarian with a renowned sword, a tyrant of a city, a forbidden cult, and a really bad god waiting to return. Tarpey has a nice amount of action in this story.
I have to keep reminding myself that sword and sorcery fiction of the second decade of the 21st Century is not 1930s pulp sword and sorcery, or even 1970s sword and sorcery fiction. Often, the new stories strike me as being on the lighter side. This is not the case with Swords of Steel. If you will pardon the pun, these stories are heavier than what I have been reading the past few years. There are some rough edges. The authors have a love for words such as lambent, vermilion, viridian, and cyclopean that you don’t see used too much these days. I am willing to fore go polish for sincerity. This sort of fiction will make some with sophisticated airs to roll their eyes. These stories won’t make it past the gate keepers of the major publishers. It is also the type of fiction that a regular guy wants to read.
The authors in Swords of Steel are not afraid of a masculine vibe and not afraid to indulge in gratuitous violence and cosmic horror. It is refreshing to see.
You can order Swords of Steel at: http://dmrbooks.storenvy.com/products/11974566-swords-of-steel for $10.00.