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Book Review: Rage of the Behemoth edited by Jason M. Waltz

Genre: Anthology, Sword and Sorcery
Publisher: Rogue Blades Entertainment
Publication Date: June 1, 2009
Edition: Trade Paperback (344 pages)
ISBN: 0982053622
ISBN-13: 978-0982053621

Rage of the Behemoth the new anthology of sword and sorcery fiction from Rogue Blades Entertainment takes as its theme the constant struggle between man and beast. Since Perseus first slaughtered the sea monster or Beowulf his dragon, the epic story of man versus beast has been a part of every mythology worldwide. And although in our modern times we do not believe in the monsters the ancients did, we still find a great deal of pleasure in reading about how a human David beat a monstrous Goliath.

Editor Jason M. Waltz has collected twenty-one stories for Rage of the Behemoth. The anthology is divided into five sections: Depthless Seas, Frozen Wastes, Scalding Sands, Mysterious Jungles, and Ageless Mountains. Each story in the section has as its setting one of these (save one) but no one story is entirely alike.

The first story is the only one set outside of the five sections of the anthology as it takes place in a world of floating islands and so did not qualify for the categories the editor created. “Under Red Skies” by Frederick Tor is the story of the hero Kaimer. Kaimer wakes up and find himself locked in a cage, set in the middle of an arena. The rest of the story flows as you might predict, as Kaimer is forced to battle a monstrous bird. Although the story is very descriptive in its fight sequence, including the unusual use of a rate as weapon, the story itself is wholly predictable, even up and past the point of the revelation of the true nature of the beast Kaimer fights. The story would fit well into a larger context, but Tor fails to give the story much depth beyond a simple hack and slash. As a story for the theme of Rage of the Behemoth, it is acceptable, but was a poor choice by editor Waltz for the anthology’s opening tale.

Depthless Seas

Sadly, “Portrait of a Behemoth” by Richard K. Lyon and Andrew J. Offut is not an improvement on the first tale of the anthology and is quite the worst tale of the whole bunch. The tale begins roughly in first paragraph by having three uses of the phrase “in fact” in four sentences. Two of these are entirely superfluous. The narrative also contains some facts that I believe defy the laws of physics, such as painting on sand in watercolor. Paint with water in it would soak right through sand, it seems to me. Lyon and Offut made a noble attempt to be creative by having their monster be a wizardly concoction of paint, but this tale of Tiana Highrider has so many unrelated elements that have little or nothing to do with the primary story that it reads like it was cobbled together at the spur of the moment.

With “Black Water”, Sean T.M. Stiennon begins to redeem the hero vs. monster theme of the anthology. Shabak, the hero of the story, is a nonhuman with the features of a monster, which is an unusual twist to this type of story. In addition the theme of the sins of the father being visited on the son appears in several subtle and direct ways into this adventure tale. Steinnon’s lacks nothing for adventure, but manages also to rise above a simple hack and slash narrative.

Robert Mancebo’s tale of an evil Djinn and the captain who finds her is one of those types of tales that harken back to the ancient Greek story of Oedipus and the sphinx. “Passion of the Stormlord” is tightly written, with no excess dross, and celebrates the cleverness of man. A fine story for this collection, as it both entertains with the action as the ship tries to outpace the Stormlord, and keeps the reader’s attention by making the reader wonder just how Captain Asad Al Din is going to manage to outwit the Genie. The conclusion is quite clever.

“The Beast in the Lake” is a good tale of how teamwork, with the help of a clever leader, can overcome where brute force cannot. The beast of the title had managed to kill two princes of the realm, so Crow Thiefmaster, a friend of their father, decides to help. Through a combination of wit and ingenuity, Crow takes on the beast. It is quite an exciting story, and author Kevin Lumley is to be commended for it.

Frozen Wastes

In “Serpents Beneath the Ice” a party of adventurers takes on an interesting monster, the ice hydra. Carl Walmsley’s story ends with a bit of morality about tampering with unknown forces. It is a reasonably good story, nice to read, though it suffers from the fact that there is nothing which makes it stand out from its companions in the anthology.

Bill Ward writes a tale in “Wolf in Winter” where the monster the protagonist faces is as much himself as it is a physical being. Ward’s story of death, renewal, and the beast inside each person is one of the best of the anthology, and turns an apparent sword and sorcery tale into something quite a bit deeper. Worthy reading.

“Nothing Left of the Man” by Jeff Stewart is reminiscent of older, darker fairy tales. Set in a historical period rather than secondary world, this tale is a sad love story as seen by a third-party, after the fact. Like Bill Ward’s before it, this narrative blurs the lines between human and monster effectively and interestingly.

Mary Rosenblum’s “Blood Ice” has a rather nice twist of an ending. In addition, rather than writing a fight scene between man and monster, Rosenblum instead uses something she had foreshadowed, but which is easily dismissed as nothing early in the story. The story contains some interesting potentialities for future stories, and is a good story about familial ties in it s own right.

Scalding Sands

“Black Diamond Sands” is another tale about sins of the father being visited on the son. The protagonist is forced into slavery to a wizard, forced to become a spy into a rival wizard’s diamond mine. In this tale, it is not a human versus a monster but rather two behemoths battling it out. Lois Tilton creates a character the reader sympathizes with and whom we cheer when he becomes something better than those who have destroyed his life and threatened his sister. A fine and quite different story with a more subtle characterization that is greater than its length implies.

“The Hunter of Rhim” is a slayer of monsters. In the world that Martin Turton creates, these monsters take over the bodies of human hosts and turn them into rampaging beasts. But Hunter Jon is something more than a simple slayer of beasts, and when the greatest monster ever seen arises in the Wastes; Jon takes off after it with a female companion. Although Turton has a great idea and interesting world that is the most horrifying of the anthology, he does damage to the quality of his story by including a gratuitous sexual encounter that does not fit with the character of the female companion, especially given later revelations. Otherwise, a good story with a deeply flawed but heroic protagonist.

Michael Ehart
continues his tales of the servant of the Manthycore with “As from his Lair, the Wild Beast”. This is strictly an action story, but its powerful female protagonist and its Babylonian setting add interest to an otherwise unoriginal tale.

A. Kiwi Courters’ tale of African warriors and elephants is a prolonged story of a battle to capture a kill a mantichor, a monster the warriors had never encountered before. Courters manages to make the grand battle lengthy without being tedious. With the little bit of humor as well, “Stalker of the Blood-Red Sands” becomes one of the more inventive of the anthology and quite and entertaining one as well.

Mysterious Jungles

In “Poisonous Redemption” Kate Martin writes on of the strongest stories of the anthology. Her protagonist Rica must prove her bloodline by capturing and surviving a cockatrice. Beyond the unusual choice of monster, Martin’s cockatrice is one of the most difficult of any of the tales in this collection. Though ludicrous in appearance, the cockatrice of the story is horribly powerful, even more so than the traditional dragon. This is one of the best stories of the anthology, behind only the contribution by Brian Ruckley. It is a tale full of adventure and the triumph of overcoming near impossible odds.

Bruce Durham’s “Yaggoth-Voor” has as a hero a normal soldier, making it a stand-out from all the others in the anthology. As well, his touching concern for the life of a young girl is different from many of the others in the collection. Durham throws a great twist in into the end and it was wholly unexpected but at the same time is an extremely satisfying ending. A greatly entertaining story.

The “Runner of the Hidden Ways” of the title is a young messenger who is the last survivor of a kingdom massacred. Seeking revenge, Ikuru is actually drawn into saving a powerful beast, seen as a god by the locals. In this particular story, the protagonist finds new purpose in his encounter with the saving of the monster, rather than its destruction. It is good and especially creative jungle story by Jason Thummel.

Brian Ruckley’s “Beyond the Reach of His Gods” is hands-down the best of story of the anthology. Ruckley tells a monster tale that has several levels of meaning, and the transplantation of a Viking warrior into a jungle setting has echoes of real history. The theme of the story become the triumph of humanism over religion, and yet is still a perfectly entertaining adventure tale.

Ageless Mountains

“The Rotten Bones Rattle” by C. L. Werner is the only story in the anthology with an Asian setting. Shintaro Oba the demon-hunter finds himself up against very human monsters in the form of a clan of assassins. The story of how Oba assists in the wreaking of vengeance for the sins of the assassin clan is very satisfying.

“Vasily and the Beast Gods” by Daniel R. Robichaud gives a tantalizing glimpse of what the reader can only presume is a post-apocalyptic setting. The tale is full of action in addition to a little bit of cleverness on the part of Vasily, and mixes sword and sorcery with a bit of technology to make this story stand out in creativeness from its fellows.

Jeff Draper’s “Thunder Canyon” brings monster and man together against something much more evil. The hero Rath is seeking revenge for the death of his lost love, in a very Braveheart fashion, though with a more positive ending. Draper writes a good tale of friends found and revenge taken.

“Where the Shadow Falls” by T. W. Williams is the only story that really gets in the mind of the monster. Like one or two others of this anthology, this is not entirely a man versus monster story, and in fact the griffin and the hero ending up working together. The two of them are quite wild card characters, and together they wreak quite a bit of havoc on the evil Lictians. Williams’ story concludes the anthology well.

Editor Jason M .Waltz has collected quite an anthology in Rage of the Behemoth. Although at first glance, it seems that with such a singular theme, the stories would simply be repetitious in content, the authors chosen have managed to broaden the man versus monster theme and give it more depth. Rage of the Behemoth takes the best of Robert E. Howard and revitalizes it for the twenty-first century.