The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Verging On Fantasy

Posted on | February 20, 2016 | 3 Comments

— by Wombat-socho

So last week I promised you a review of Larry Correia’s Son of the Black Sword, the first in a series of epic fantasy novels from the International Lord of Hate. Short version: this novel delivers. Set in a society looking a lot like pre-Raj India, complete with various societal castes and perennial infighting among the powerful families, this is the tale of a master swordsman, a member of the Protectors, who has an extra edge over demons and humans thanks to his ancestor sword, a weapon forged from magical black metal that contains the memories of all its wielders back to its forging. Ashok needs it, because the demons that live in the sea and prey on seaside humans are damned tough to kill, and when the Protectors are sent in to break up a house war, numbers are never in their favor. Ashok’s entire life is upended by his teacher’s deathbed revelation, a revelation that sends him home to find the truth about his origins. This shows every sign of becoming a rich, complex series, possibly even surpassing his Monster Hunters International universe, though at times it reads more like SF than fantasy. Highly recommended, and I’m just sorry it took me so long to get around to it.

Roger Zelazny is best known for his Amber novels and for his Hugo-winning Lord of Light, and I suspect the latter’s quasi-sequel, Creatures of Light and Darkness, suffers from the comparison in a number of ways. Whereas Lord of Light was a tightly-written tale of transhuman “gods” and “goddesses” contending for power in a world settled by colonists from India, Creatures of Light and Darkness relied a lot more on allegory and poetry to drive its plot, and the both the background and the characters suffer from that reliance. Some of the characters are given different names to start the book, because to name them by their true names would wreck the plot before it even got rolling, and while the presence of Anubis and Osiris is understandable, we know little or nothing about how they came to be the powerful figures they are in the universe Zelazny describes, since there’s very little backstory, and much of what there is lacks relevance to the main plot. It’s not a bad read, but one can understand how people who came to know Zelazny through Lord of Light were disappointed. Worth picking up for cheap.

One of the joys of unpacking all my old books is occasionally finding one I haven’t read in decades, and finding out it’s every bit as good as I remember. Such is the case with Henry Garnett’s Blood Red Crescent, a young adult novel about teenage Venetian Guido Callatta, who winds up with a ringside seat to the Battle of Lepanto in this excellent historical novel. I have the original 1960 edition and was very pleased to see that it’s been reprinted and brought out in a Kindle edition. While written for kids the same age as its 15-year-old hero (or slightly younger), the book still gives an honest portrayal of a divided Christendom facing the Islamic threat in the Mediterranean. Several historical figures make appearances, and at times I felt as if I was having flashbacks to G.K. Chesterton’s “Lepanto”. Definitely recommended.

Also recommended: Castalia House’s reissue of There Will Be War Volume III, which among other great stories includes the classic “The Spectre General” by Ted Cogswell, “The Miracle Workers”, by Jack Vance, “Hide And Seek” by Arthur C. Clarke, and “Silent Leges” by Jerry Pournelle, which many of us will recognize as Mark Fuller’s story from Prince of Mercenaries.


3 Responses to “Verging On Fantasy”

  1. Daniel Freeman
    February 21st, 2016 @ 4:19 am

    I just finished Son of the Black Sword tonight, and it was good. Action, intrigue, interesting characters, vivid setting, curious history, several romances in different stages of advancement, and even some humor. (The “antisocial bookworm who is forced by circumstance to deal with a high-status studmuffin” is a romance novel trope that is amusingly lampshaded by her actually using a romance novel as a guide for what to do at one point.) Already looking forward to the next one.

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    February 21st, 2016 @ 4:40 am

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  3. Daniel Freeman
    February 21st, 2016 @ 7:12 am

    Oh, and then Larry subverted the most basic convention of the romance genre. Every story needs a conflict, and in romance, that is traditionally the heroine needing to get out of her own way and accept the horrible fate of having her life (and legs) entangled with a billionaire handyman/chef who switched to Latin dancing from MMA because his massive dick was too much of an impediment for him to ever be ranked as a fighter, though he could still take out four street thugs if necessary.

    So then Larry showed us what a genre romance might look like if you just removed that one convention, and it didn’t take the heroine 243 pages to get over herself. And I was amused.