It is intentionally overwritten with excess adjectives, and offutt referred to this as "BS" (short for many things, Black Sorcerer included.) The story has the common tropes of a lone hero fighting ~3 representations of something evil capped with a final confrontation with a malicious wizard. Plenty of silly call-outs to the S&S crowd are within (i.e., the wizard is named Reh after Robert E Howard).
The afterword reveals the story's evolution. More importantly, it showed how multiple readers/editors preferred a particular balance of humor and action. In fact, offutt confessed he learned via working with BS of his Great Discovery:
"pornography and heroic fantasy have something much in common: both quite for different reasons, need to create a mood and a spell, and to make it last --and neither, can be overwritten.
Richard Lee Byers's Author's Note in Arrival invites the reader to provide feedback regarding the future of The Paladins (the series that ArrivalRichard Lee Byers's Author's Note in Arrival invites the reader to provide feedback regarding the future of The Paladins (the series that Arrival novella kicks off).
Note the book blurb (below) is an excellent synopsis. It combines Lost-World tropes with Sword & Sorcery, as a witch in an alternate realm summons six warriors (five Christian Crusaders and a Muslim/Saracen fighter) that team up to fight an evil force called the Stain.
It reads really fast. This is true to Richard Lee Byer's style who has a long bibliography of fantasy books, many associated with RPG games.
Would I buy Book Two: yes.
What would I want/expect: - More explanation about the Stain: is it a curse on the land, or some mutagen? I hope for something to show the commonality in all its manifestations: Parchment-men, one-eyed-dogs, sentient mud, mutating children... - Kolinda's plan (she could have used her six warriors behind enemy lines to her advantage, but she lead them to her homeland, but it is not clear how they are going to help still) - The continuing reveal of the Muslim (Saracen) Jibril's collusion with the Christian Hospitalers (Ox, Ottoman), and escalating tension between the Hospitaler and the Crusaders (hot-blooded Pierangelo and his more empathetic companions: Gaspard, William)
The author is accessible at conventions (such as GenCon). After meeting Richard Lee Byers, I interviewed him in 2018. Check it out to learn more about his views on Art and Horror.
Official Arrival Book Blurb:
Prophecy said holy warriors would travel from another world to save the Western Kingdoms. The men who showed up were rather different.
The priestess Kolinda risked her life to travel deep into the Stained Lands and cast the summoning in the only place where the ritual could be performed. She believed the magic would bring a fellowship of paladins.
Instead it snatched six warriors from the so-called Holy Land of the Earthly Crusades: Pierangelo the fanatic, Gaspard the pragmatist, William the callow novice, Ottomar the politician, Ox the dullard, and the enigmatic Jibril. Flawed men with no interest in helping a strange land of pagans solve its problems. Enemies who sought to kill one another only moments before.
Now, however, they must band together to escape a country blighted by the foulest sorcery and stalked by unnatural terrors like the parchment men, the One-Eyed Hounds, and the ice witch Lady Coldbreath. It’s a brittle alliance born of necessity, in danger of shattering at any moment and surely not fated to last should the company be lucky enough to reach the Western Kingdoms alive.
The Paladins: Arrival is the start of a new fantasy epic about swordplay, war, demonic magic and horrors, and, just maybe, second chances and redemption.
Reading anthologies enables readers to discover new voices and authors, and since short stories launched the Sword & Sorcery genre in the ~1920's,Reading anthologies enables readers to discover new voices and authors, and since short stories launched the Sword & Sorcery genre in the ~1920's, the Goodread's S&S Group has a 2-month groupread every Jan-Feb for this purpose. This is my first DMR anthology and I am impressed. This bodes well for many others (like Swords of Steel Omnibus, Warlords, Warlocks & Witches, and the The Infernal Bargain and Other Stories). I only knew of Keith Taylor from this set. Three of the four that stick with me are ones that had less forward-momentum than I normally expect, but they ended strong and surprised me. I star my favorites below. The genre may have started in the 1920's, but anthologies like this one demonstrate that it still lives strong.
“Q’a the Librarian” by Buzz Dixon Many others on Goodreads enjoyed this the most. It is true to the theme of “Death Dealers and Diabolists”. You can root for the anti-heroine Q'a since the other characters are eviler than she. Involves plenty of sacrifice and murdering children, and Q’a could care less. However, her immorality wore off on me, so I wasn't as engaged with any of her antagonists/plight. This opening entry consumes 28% of the book too, which wasn't necessary. Would definitely appeal to Grimdark readers.
“The Man With the Evil Eye” by Keith Taylor I adore Keith Taylor's work (i.e., Servant of the Jackal God: The Tales of Kamose, Archpriest of Anubis ). This one was ok. Three crusader buddies (Palamides, Chiron, Michael) save an alleged murderer, a runaway woman, from a bunch of thugs hired by an evil magician/collector. Was hooked up to the point when the merry men met Harmatius. The ending battle/climax ended abruptly and with less reader-engagement than expected.
* “The Vault of Geigar Varakas” by Kenneth R. Gower The tale of the thief Kral Mazan starts slow and meandering, but it ramps up nicely. He's good at cards and doesn't like cheating (stealing is alright though), and a card match with the wealthy, cheating Varakas gets him tossed into a street. There, a conniving woman, Firien, hires him to break into Varakas' treasure trove to retrieve an heirloom item for her--and seek revenge for himself. An eruption of Lovecraftian-like horror explodes on the scene which made the build-up satisfying.
* “Lord of the Wood” by Geoff Blackwell This tells of the hunter Ville returning to a ravaged home. He tracks the death-dealers of his family considering revenge. Not much sorcery/diabolists in here. Very, very grim. Beautiful wording drew me in:
“Cold azure glitter replaced warm red glow. Skies lay naked, the moon and stars shone like pinpricks in tough fabric. Trails of teal and rich violet whipped across the firmament. He whistled into the shimmering aurora as though to beckon it closer. The sky fox danced tonight. A beautiful night to start Ville’s last hunt.”
“Ranorax, Son of Tiger” by Mark Taverna Haukan of the Tiger Clan is a real ass and hopes to lead his clan soon. A pesky prophecy from their shaman indicates the leader will instead be a strange boy emerging from the woods. An okay entry. Not sure if Death Dealing or Diabolism motivated it.
* “Intrigue in the Unassailable City” by Carl Walmsley Menias returns to his island city/home after sailing abroad as a mercenary for over a decade. He has a slim hope of reuniting with Carwynn, a lady of higher class who had a crush on him before he trekked off. But to find her he has to climb up the strata of the island from the poor docks. Having been sailing with a bunch of pirates hasn't helped his network. Old "friends" slow his mission to his love interest. This is the second of three tales that were a slow brew, that delivered in a satisfying way. Nice milieu and characterization.
“Three Coins of Doom” by Bryan Dyke This has humor in it, which many like. But I am more of a curmudgeon, enjoying the humor only if there is a deeper story. Mau-Keefe is a pirate on a cryptic quest to track down an acquaintance (Naravian), while his compatriot wizard-buddy Lucrutius drinks more than he helps. Levity was nice to include to break up the grimness of the other stories, but the purple pummich's silliness overshadowed any story arc.
* “The Age of Crows—The Return of the Swarm” by Jed J. Del Rosario A slow start sets up the epic premise of Angel vs Demon warfare. For the first third, I wasn't sure about its direction. Duryodan is the protagonist, but he is driven by a higher power (which chimes in via first-person narrative) and was summoned by a fellow angel, Vidur, to tackle a big job. Another angelic immortal, Nakula, also meddles as they battle a corrupt Emperor. Weird corpse-possessing flies/insects play a dominant role. I’m a sucker for necromancy and angelic battles like this one....more
"Rejoice, mortals! I have heard your pleas and returned to grant your greatest desire: More sword-and-sorcery!
Once again I will bring you tales
"Rejoice, mortals! I have heard your pleas and returned to grant your greatest desire: More sword-and-sorcery!
Once again I will bring you tales of thrilling adventures in time-lost lands. There are swords, and there is sorcery. There are dark deeds and daring rescues...." The Magician's Skull speaks in Kickstarter
Should you trust a talking skull? Well, no sane person would, but I attest this Skull does not lie (and I am making a habit of listening to it). Tales from the Magician's Skull (installments #1 and #2) spawned from a successful 2017 Kickstarter Campaign in which Howard Andrew Jones (Sword & Sorcery guru, author, and RPGer) teamed up with Joseph Goodman of Goodman Games (publisher of Dungeon Crawl Classics). The resulting magazine reflects this partnership, marrying great stories with corresponding RPG elements. This July 2019, the Skull resurfaced with promises to bring us issues 4-6. As a backer and enthusiast of fantasy fiction, I couldn’t be more pleased.
If you missed the Kickstarters, have no worries, you "mortal dogs" (another Skull saying). Behold! Goodman Games and Amazon offer them. Future plans are as follows: "Issue #4 will release in March 2020, and others will follow bi-annually thereafter. Upon reaching issue #666, the Skull will travel to a higher plane and the magazine will end."
Quality: The print quality is great again (the artwork, editing, illustrations, tan-cardstock pulp-feel etc.). The magazine is just fun to hold.
Appendix: The last item in the Table of Contents (below) should be the first to discuss since it is iconic: The Appendix. What a great design idea! To drive home the RPG elements of the stories, Terry Olson once again created items and Dungeon Crawl Classic RPG rules related to each story. This is really cool. Read the stories...then go re-live/play them. I enjoy reading this section each time just to re-imagine the stories (without playing an RPG).
Illustrations: The cover is by master Sanjulián (Manuel Pérez Clemente). Many full-page, detailed illustrations decorate the interior by established artists: Samuel Dillon, Justine Jones, Doug Kovacs, Brad McDevitt, Russ Nicholson (an old-time favorite from Fighting Fantasy), Stefan Poag, Matthew Ray, and Chuck Whelan. There is a short contribution in which Samuel Dillon explains how he created one the frontispiece for "The Second Death of Hanuvar."
Tales #3: Contents. All six are quality Sword & Sorcery stories, and there is plenty of bonus content like flash fiction, author and illustrator notes, and the appendix of RPG-items. Most stories have some mystery or police-procedural flare; several are serials from the previous Tales magazines; others have characters appearing in other venues. For me, since I am a huge fan of Clark Ashton Smith and poetic/weird adventure (Dunsany too), the last story by Sarah Newton was a true highlight.
(1) "Face That Fits His Mask"by William King: King's Kormac is available in a series of anthologies (starts with Stealer of Flesh). Kormac is a hunter of dark creatures with some supernatural abilities of his own. With the aid of a suspicious demon, he goes after a kidnapper to rescue children from an underworld full of rat-men. Even though this is not Warhammer, William King has written for the Black Library and the rat-kin resembles Skaven.
(2) "Tyrant’s Bane"by John C. Hocking: More mystery! This time our King's Blade (i.e., the king's right-hand man) is sent to find a missing colleague named Viriban—well, sent after his missing corpse. The shady King Flavious wants to know what is going on in the mortuary. Benhus sets out to solve a weird necromantic tale, armed with his Nobleman's Comfort wand of freezing and his master's sword. Yes, this is the third tale of Benhus in as many Tale's magazines. It is really rewarding to see Benhus evolve. From Tales #1: “The Crystal Sickle’s Harvest. From the World of the Archivist" thieves were breaking into royal crypts, but not necessarily to steal. Why? The police-like duo of Thratos (mentor Hand of the King sorcerer) and Benhus (young mentee, warrior sorcerer) investigate. And from Tales #2, "Trial by Scarab" showcased the rapid rise of Benhus from being a dexterous student of the military arts … into something better.
(3) "Five Deaths"By James Enge: More S&S police procedurals/mysteries! I recall reading my first Morlock tale in Rogue Blade Entertainment's Return of the Sword: An Anthology of Heroic Adventure ("Red Worm's Way"). "Five Deaths" reads as two cops tracking a thief/criminal. Morlock is a thain (servant) to the older Lernaion (a summoner). Both are dwarf-like, with Morlock being a better caver and Lernaion being able to sense the demon's trail. The pair chases a murdering demon in a tale that is more Sorcery than Sword. Morlock's strange optimism balances the seriousness of the adventure well. I laughed out loud when Morlock surmised:
"The sorcerer died for a flippancy?"
Morlock's exploits are in the book Blood of Ambrose, and the first two Tales from the Magician's Skull. From Tales #1 "The Guild of Silent Men : A Story of Morlock Ambrosius", a fantasy-murder mystery fleshed out Thain Morlock's background and motivations. And from Tales #2 "Stolen Witness" the sorcerer investigator overcame his father's legacy in a compelling (pun intended) mystery regarding a stone--a device of sorts that reminded me of Robert E Howard's "The Black Stone" (1931).
(4) "The Forger’s Art" by Violette Malan: A mystery adventure regarding forged art and theft! Dhulyn (finally, a lead female protagonist) and Parno are Mercenary Brothers for hire, but in this case they are also out to avenge a fellow Brother's death. They also appeared in Tales #2: "A Soul’s Second Skin" in which the duo with telepathic skills unraveled a mystery, and accidentally caged themselves in another plane with antagonist magicians.
(5) "Second Death of Hanuvar" by Howard Andrew Jones. Twice as long as any other story herein, this one stands out. Hanuvar (a fictionalized anti-Roman general...could this be an incarnation of Hannibal Barca?) tangles with the Roman-like Dervani who have invaded his homeland. Expect espionage thriller sorties, gladiator battles, and a sorcery-saturated climax that balances all the sword fights prior. Hanuvar appears in Tales #1: "Crypt of Stars, From the Chronicles of Hanuvar Cabera."
(6) "The Wizard of Remembrance" by Sarah Newton: Wow, there are few who can roll out a tale as smoothly as Dunsany or Clark Ashton Smith, but Sarah Newton delivers this literary dose with excellence. I admit this was my first experience with her writing and couldn't be happier to discover someone "new" (to me). That's the fun of anthologies and magazines...enjoy the stories and find new authors to track down. Here is an excerpt of her voice:
"So Suven would summon the memnovores, as was his duty, and close his doors and stop his ears to the screams as the demons devoured the thoughts of his women in return for terrible gifts. Later, when the sight of their placid faces, cleansed of all care, became too much to bear, he would bow his own head and submit himself, too, to the ministrations of the memory eaters.
The Empire of Ubliax waxed mighty on the strength of its forgetting, and the savage lands of the Men of Mogor grew smaller each year. No one in the Empire knew how long its glory had endured..."
"By That Much", "Dead Wood", "The Return", and "Duel's End"by Joseph A. McCullough: These flash fiction pieces are sprinkled throughout all feature the grave digger Nick Bury. Full of whimsy and irony. Nice change of pace to complement the longer contributions.
The Appendixby Terry Olson. This is the aforementioned collection of spells, creatures, and magic items for RPG play derived from the stories.