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Book Review: Swords and Dark Magic edited by Jonathan Strahan and Lou Anders

Genre: Sword and Sorcery
Paperback: 544 pages
Publisher: Eos
Publication Date: June 22, 2010
ISBN-10: 0061723819
ISBN-13: 978-0061723810
Editor Websites: Lou Anders, Jonathan Strahan

Swords and Dark Magic has already been reviewed in many other places (positive: here, here, here, here, here, and here; negative: here, here and here), most concluding that the anthology as a whole is hit or miss, and it is unlikely my opinion could add much to it at this point, so I thought I would try something different and write individual review/summaries for each story in 5-7-5 haiku form. I apologize in advance for the bad poetry. Though I love poetry, I write it badly at best, horrifically at worst.

Steven Erikson “Goats of Glory”

Liar village laughs.
Cocky party fights demons.
Black humor wins day.

Glen Cook “Tides Elba”

Soldiers help Limper,
find hidden rebel leader.
All in a day’s work.

Gene Wolfe “Blood Sport”

Game servant betrays,
she who led him down the path.
Honor is oblique.

James Enge “The Singing Spear”

Morlock hunts wielder,
of weapon he created.
Trickery trumps magic.

C. J. Cherryh “A Wizard in Wiscezan”

Smart apprentice helps
captor save metropolis.
Boy finds destiny.

K. J. Parker “A Rich Full Week”

Funny wiseman solves
zombie pickle of village.
Two in one person.

Garth Nix “A Suitable Present for a Sorcerous Puppet”

Heroes on leave fight
demon nun for magic book.
Fitz gets his present.

Michael Moorcock “Red Pearls”

Elric visits other
side of world; meets dragon tribe.
Left undone, confused.

Tim Lebbon “The Deification of Dal Bamore”

Jan Ray tortures rebel.
Priestess must kill sorcery.
God dies at man’s hand.

Robert Silverberg “Dark Times at the Midnight Market”

Merchant makes bad deal.
Prince discovers love potion.
Zwoll tastes own serum.

Greg Keyes ”The Undefiled”

Wolf slaved to spirit.
Cursed man saves virgins from rite.
Gods don’t share heroes.

Michael Shea “Hew the Tintmaster”

Allies seek color cave,
inhabited by Slymires.
The world is saved now.

Scott Lynch “In the Stacks”

Wizards fight living
books in deadly library.
Traitor comeuppance.

Tanith Lee “Two Lions, a Witch, and the War-Robe”

Witty comrades are
shapeshifted by fair witch.
Clever boys win day.

Caitlin R. Kiernan “The Sea Troll’s Daughter”

Heroine kills troll.
Broken body burns village.
Revenge is not sweet.

Bill Willingham “Thieves of Daring”

Dungeon crawl goes bad.
Thievery of wizards will
leave one forsaken.

Joe Abercrombie “The Fool Jobs”

Uncouth heroes have
Smash-and-grab job for some “thing”.
Poor plans go awry.

In summary, the reader can easily conclude that if they have read the works of the authors in this collection before, and liked them, they will love this anthology. If not, and prefer to avoid the darker, uncouth, more earthy stories; preferring instead high or epic fantasy of the 1990’s variety, then you should disdain to read this particular collection.

I liked most of the stories, but left the keynote work by Michael Moorcock unfinished. I just couldn’t get into the tale or find the character of Elric compelling in this particular tale, though I am determined to immerse myself in the tales of Elric at a later date, as I see the potentiality of the character and of Moorcock’s unique style. The Abercrombie, Lynch, Keyes, Silverberg, Cook, Erikson, and Nix were all superb example of the “new” style of sword and sorcery, which prefers darkness, sweat, and tragic or open-ended outcomes to the hero conquers all mentality of the heroic sword and sorcery of Robert Howard and his contemporaries.

If you are a reader looking for new writers like the one you have read in this anthology before and liked this might be a good buy for you. If you are a newcomer to sword and sorcery, avoid it, as it is not representative sword and sorcery at all. If you want really good stories of swashbuckling fantasy more representative of the subgenre, you might prefer instead Lords of Swords and Sages & Swords edited by Daniel E. Blackston, Return of the Sword edited by Jason Waltz, or purchasing a subscription to Black Gate.