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Retro Reviews: Tainted Blood by Nathan Long


Retro Reviews: Tainted Blood by Nathan Long



Tainted Blood
Author:  Nathan Long
Series:  Black Hearts 3
Original Publisher and Date:  Games Workshop, July 4, 2006
Availability:  You can find it used online and in omnibus format
ISBN:  9781844163717 (print)

Retro Reviews: Tainted Blood by Nathan Long
Brief History

Nathan Long started writing at the age of 12 and spent several years writing screenplays for TV and films. He's written 15 novels in the Warhammer shared world so far, and Valnir's Bane was his first book published in 2004. His first original world book is Jane Carver of Waar, a parody/ode to Edgar Rice Burroughs. He's also written a few video games.

The Black Hearts series is a reflection of Long's love of the old classic film heroes, everyday men who went through incredible events, and, just as often as they were heroic, they also showed their fear or weaknesses.


Description

Still shocked by the death of their comrade Abel, Reiner and his cut-throat companions, the Blackhearts, are horrified to learn that there may be a spy amongst them. Imprisoned and forced into dangerous missions under threat of death, they are press ganged into working as bodyguards for their "employer", Count Manfred, as he journeys to Talabheim, where the forces of magic are running wild. With enemies all around and a traitor within, can the Blackhearts solve the mystery and save the city from destruction?



Brannigan's Review

I'm sad to see this series come to an end. I found it by mistake and count myself lucky. Tainted Blood the last book in The Black Hearts series takes you out with a bang.

Tainted Blood starts out with the Black Hearts at their worst with a traitor among them. Who it is and how not knowing the identity of the traitor worms its way into all the Black Hearts and nearly destroys them. I enjoyed the intrigue and guessing and was honestly surprised with the reveal. Long continues to shine with his characters, we see several continue to grow and meet new ones along the way. It amazes me that he has been able to kill off so many members of the Black Hearts and add more with each book. So many authors are unable to find the right balance in killing their darlings, but Long is one of the few that does it right.

The main storyline is a lot of fun as the Black Hearts are once again forced into service and find an impossible path out trouble. Long continues to raise the stakes without turning the whole thing into a gross misuse of the fantasy genre. I love it when an author brings things back from past books without making corny mistakes. It gives the series as a whole a united feel and also helps bring the story to a satisfying ending.

My only complaint with the book or the series as a whole is that it's over. I wish I had another book to read of the Black Hearts. Thankfully, I bought the omnibus, so I have a couple of short stories to enjoy. Nathan Long is now an author I will be keeping my eyes on for future releases. I hope he continues to write in the sword and sorcery genre that he does so well. I'd also love to see him write in his own world. I think he could bring us something new an interesting in world building.

Tainted Blood is sadly the final book is the series, but I'm happy with how it ended, which is more important than how it all began, because now it'll be a series I'll reread for years to come—a testament to Long's skill and the characters he created. There are a few minor moments of descriptive violence and implied sexual activities, but I have no problem recommending this book to teens or adults. It's a go-to series for me to recommend to anyone who enjoys cheering on reluctant heroes without having to be disgusted by them. It's got it all folks. Go buy all three books or get your hands on the omnibus. You'll thank me later.

Retro Reviews: Courageous by Jack Campbell



Retro Reviews: Courageous by Jack Campbell


Courageous
Series:  The Lost Fleet 3
Author:  Jack Campbell
Original Publisher and Date:  Ace, December 18, 2007
Still in Print: Yes
Current Formats and Length: Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 320 pages
     Used: Trade Paperback (Titan Books)
Availability:  Online and in stores
ISBN:  9780441015672 (print)

Retro Reviews: Courageous by Jack Campbell
Brief History

Jack Campbell is an pseudonym for John G. Hemry. John G. Hemry is a retired U.S. Navy Officer and a son of U.S. Navy officer, who was a mustang, a Navy term that describes an enlisted sailor who rises in rank to become an officer. Hemry spent his childhood traveling the globe as his father served in the Navy (Florida, California and Midway Island to name a few). He graduated from the U.S. Navy Academy in 1978. He learned Russian from a relative of Tolstoy. He currently lives in Maryland with his wife and three kids. Hemry is also a member of the SFWA Muskateers. Hemry's first published story was "One Small Spin" in Analog Magazine, September 1997 issue. Hemry's first published novel is Stark's War, April 2000 (written as John G. Hemry). He has written twenty-one novels to date.

The first book in the Lost Fleet series, Dauntless, was published in 2006. There are six books in The Lost Fleet series. A newer series that ties in with it called The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier currently has four books (a fifth will be published in May 2015). The Lost Stars series also takes place in the same universe, but from the view point of a different main character, and presently consists of three books.

Description

Badly damaged and low on supplies, the Alliance Fleet is raiding Syndic mines for raw materials--and Captain "Black Jack" Geary hopes they can continue to remain one step ahead of their enemies. But the Syndics are the least of Geary's worries when he learns of the existence of aliens with the power to annihilate the human race.


Brannigan's Review

I picked up my copy of Courageous on a whim at my local used bookstore about a month ago mostly because I liked the cover, and I enjoy military science fiction more than any other sub-genre. It wasn't until I got home that I noticed it was book three in a series, which can be a daunting read. I have never read anything by Jack Campbell and I hate reading books out of order because I can never be sure how lost I'm going to be in the story or how long it'll take to get into the book. Campbell quickly put my mind at ease. Within a few pages, I knew all the basics of what was going on and even some clues as to what had happened before. All the major key points in the story were explained clearly and even the characters were introduced with enough information from the get go to keep the confusion down to a minimum.

Courageous has a wonderful pacing and description that made me feel like I was on the space ship Dauntless with Captain John “Black Jack” Geary, a futuristic mix between Rip Van Winkle and King Arthur, as he struggles to find a safe way home in enemy space. Campbell eludes to the past history of the Navy as far back to ships powered by sail, which adds a nice romantic touch to the past that blends well with futuristic ships in space.

At the heart of the story, Courageous is a chase book—Captain Geary commands a fleet of alliance spaceships that are being attacked by enemy ships at every turn. Campbell shines as he explores the reality and drama of everyday military ship life. While there are great battles between the warring ships, there's more drama in the struggle to keep the fleet up and running and working as one.

Captain Geary is an interesting character, a man who awoke to find himself in the future and called to lead. He struggles with the myth of who he was prior to his sleep and who he truly is. At times he takes advantage of his myth, but for the most part he almost forces himself to reject this “Black Jack” who everyone loves. Campbell does a masterful job of exploring this topic and the struggle. The supporting cast is well developed and helps balance out the story.

It's a straight-forward science fiction novel with future technology in a human-only universe—so far. The book hints there may be an alien civilization lingering on the edge of the universe. None of the technology is mind-blowingly different than what you'll find in other science fiction books, but I did enjoy some of the military tech used in the battles.

My only criticism would be that at times I felt a little bogged down in the descriptions of the actual directions the ships were going in the midst of the battles. I feel this is more my fault as I have little understanding of navigation, however it does add a sense of realism. The only other complaint I have is I would have liked to know the characters better by the end of the book. I was thoroughly engaged in their struggles, but I don't feel as if I know them personally that well. Granted, this is book three in a six book series so there's a chance the characters were established more fully in the previous two books.

Courageous is a top-notch military sci-fi novel with a heavy emphasis on the Navy. There's plenty of realism mixed with future tech. I found the struggles engaging and the end of the story rewarding. There are plenty of great battles and thought-provoking ideas to keep anyone entertained. As it is a military novel, there is violence but nothing graphic, light to no language and only implied adult situations so I can recommend it to teen and adult readers. This is definitely a book to check out at the library or borrow from a friend. If you enjoy it, you should have no problem finding the rest of the books in the series. I enjoyed myself so much that I'll be keeping my eye out for more books in the series on my next trip to the bookstore.

Favorite Quote:

“Not gladly, not embracing death as some key to heroic salvation, but because she knew others would be counting on her. In the end, that was what it was all about. Do what was needed for those counting on you, or let them down.” Captain Geary thinking about Captain Dejani and the crew of the Dauntless. p. 273

Retro Reviews: The Broken Lance by Nathan Long



Retro Reviews: The Broken Lance by Nathan Long


The Broken Lance
Author:  Nathan Long
Series:  Warhammer: Black Hearts
Original Publisher and Date:  Games Workshop, November 29, 2005
Still in Print:  Not as an individual novel
Current Formats and Length: Paperback, 256 pages
Availability: You can find it used online, or in omnibus format.
ISBN: 9781844162437

Retro Reviews: The Broken Lance by Nathan Long
Brief History

Nathan Long started writing at the age of 12 and spent several years writing screenplays for TV and films. He's written 15 novels in the Warhammer shared world so far, and Valnir's Bane was his first book published in 2004. His first original book written out of the shared world is Jane Carver of Waar, a parody/ode to Edgar Rice Burroughs. He's also written a few video games.

The Black Hearts series is a reflection of Long's love of the old classic film heroes, everyday men who went through incredible events, and, just as often as they were heroic, they also showed their fear or weaknesses.


Back Cover Description

A deserted outpost...A cry for help...or a trap! In the second book of the "Black Hearts series", Reiner and his band of reprobates are given a new mission. All communications with a vital Imperial border fort have been lost, and they are sent to find out what's going on - has the commander gone rogue, or are more sinister forces at work! The memorable rogues from last year's Valnir's Bane return with another tale of bravery and treachery. Reiner and his fellow criminals are back with another suicide mission. Can their luck hold out once more!


Brannigan's Review

In my review of Valnir's Bane, I mentioned I came across this series by mistake as I was looking for a different series with the word 'black' in the title. Since then, I've read the first book in each series and The Black Hearts series is by far the more enjoyable one, so I had to dive into its second book.

The Broken Lance is a superb second book. It gets right into the action and has an even quicker pace than the first book. Our favorite group of dishonorable men—and one woman—find themselves once again forced to serve the crown on a secret mission to discover the intentions of a general that feels slighted by the king. Of course, Nathan Long begins to throw enjoyable twists into the plot that force the protagonists to battle with the choice of protecting their own hides or saving the kingdom again.

I truly enjoy a well-written rogue, and Long does it marvelously. He knows how to make scoundrels worth rooting for. It's one of the reasons I hate the modern, dark, and gritty fantasies with their unlovable rogues. I want to laugh and cheer my scoundrels to victory. Even with the fun of the book, Long still allows moments of emotional weight to come into the story and show that his characters have substance.

The Broken Lance is the second book everyone wants to read. It adds to the mythology of the characters and amps up the action and twists. I'll be reviewing the third book in the near future so keep an eye out for it. There are a few minor moments of descriptive violence and implied sexual activities, but I have no problem recommending this book to teens or adults. After enjoying the first and second book, I recommend you go out and buy your own copy, or better yet, the omnibus.

Retro Reviews: The Vanisher by Kenneth Robeson



Retro Reviews: The Vanisher by Kenneth Robeson


The Vanisher
Author:  Kenneth Robeson
Series:  Doc Savage 52
Original Publisher and Date:  Street & Smith Publications, December 1936
Still in Print:  No
Current Formats and Length:  Mass Market Paperback, 139 pages
Availability:  online
ISBN:  Predates ISBNs

Retro Reviews: The Vanisher by Kenneth Robeson
Brief History

Kenneth Robeson was a house name used by Street & Smith Publications. Ten different men wrote under that name. Lester Dent wrote The Vanisher.

Lester Dent (Oct. 12, 1904 – March 11, 1959) spent his early years in Wyoming and Missouri. In 1926, Dent went to Chillicothe Business College in Chillicothe Missouri and received a degree in Telegraphy. Dent worked as a telegrapher, and during the slow grave yard shift began to write stories. His first published story was Pirate Cay in the Sept. 1929 issue of Top Noch magazine. Soon after, Dent was contacted by Dell Publishing and received a contract to write for them exclusively. In 1932, Dent signed a contract with Street & Smith, and with the help of Henry W. Ralston and John L. Nanovic created Doc Savage. Issue 1 of Doc Savage magazine was published in Feb. 1933.

Dent was a voracious reader and also loved to learn new skills. While writing Doc Savage stories he also found the time to pass the electrician's and plumber's exams, and take courses in technology. He received his amateur radio and pilot's license. He learned to sail a 40-foot schooner and mountain climb. He traveled so much in his life that he was awarded membership in the Explorers Club.

Doc Savage magazine ended in 1949. There are 181 Doc Savage novels, and out of those only 20 were written by someone other than Dent. The March 1944 issue, The Derelict of Skull Shoal, was the only story where Lester Dent's name appears as writer instead of Kenneth Robeson, and it was done in error. After Doc Savage, Lester Dent went on to write mysteries and westerns. His last novel Lady in Peril was published the month he died. In recent years, his work has been republished in omnibus form. Dent created a Master Fiction Plot formula that he used with great success and Micheal Moorcock has recommended it to aspiring authors.

Doc Savage has appeared in magazines, novels, radio, film and comic book formats.


Back Cover Description

Twenty convicts vanished without a trace from maximum security cells, and top businessmen suddenly disappeared. The tabloids trumpeted the reign of a small, deformed man — or woman — spotted at the scenes. Strangely, Doc Savage was framed for the disappearances — and then the murders … But the Horrible Hunchback hadn’t counted on the wrath of the mighty Man of Bronze!



Brannigan's Review

I've always known about Doc Savage, but I've never read any of the books. The first time I had any exposure to him was in Brian Azzarello's comic First Wave through DC comics. It was set in the 1930s and had Doc Savage and his team working with Batman and The Spirit. It was a fun comic and ever since I've been wanting to read one of the old pulp stories staring the man of bronze.

For a book written 79 years ago, I really got caught up in it. Let me start off by stating that if this same story was published today, it would be considered racist and male chauvinistic. I wouldn't say any of it was cruel or hurtful, but it's definitely not politically correct. You have to read the book with the understanding of when it was written and know that the social and political environment then was very different from today.

The story itself started out with a great hook. Twenty prisoners are freed from their prison cells and vanish right under the noses of the prison guards. Doc Savage is called to the scene of the crime as a suspect, but quickly begins to solve the mystery. There's double dealing, murder, dames, and plenty of fist fights and shoot outs. The pacing of the story is all about momentum, getting the reader to keep reading. It still works and held my attention until the end.

As far as character development, there aren't enough pages to really get a strong connections to any of them, so they do come across as a little one dimensional. Some of the reasoning behind the choices of both the heroes and villains are also tenuous, but then I don't expect anyone to read these books seeking depth or allegorical meaning in the text.

The Vanisher is fun junk food fiction. It's a perfect book to cleanse your palate between weightier novels or after your finals and you want a quick book that you don't have to think about. Compared to today's moral standards, there are no issues with violence, adult situations, and language, so it would be safe for teens or adults to read. This is definitely a book to check out at the library or borrow from a friend. You could also buy one used for pretty cheap. I got mine for a buck fifty. I think everyone should read at least one true pulp novel before they die, so why not this one.

Retro Reviews: The Batman Murders by Craig Shaw Gardner



Retro Reviews: The Batman Murders by Craig Shaw Gardner


The Batman Murders
Author:  Craig Shaw Gardner
Original Publisher and Date:  Warner Books, October 15, 1990
Still in Print:  No
Formats and Length:  Mass Market Paperback, 246 pages
Availability:  online
ISBN:  9780446360401

Retro Reviews: The Batman Murders by Craig Shaw Gardner
Brief History

Craig Shaw Gardner was born in 1949 in Rochester, NY, and was raised there as well. Gardner graduated from Boston University. He sold his first short story in 1977 and his first novel, A Malady of Magicks, was published in 1986. He has written 35 novels so far. Gardener also wrote the novelization for the Batman movie in 1989, which spent time on the New York Bestsellers list.


Back Cover Description

A banker, missing for months, finally turns up dead - wearing the unique costume of the Caped Crusader. Three other prominent Gotham City citizens are also missing, and the only clue to their abductor's plot is a calling card - a joker with a bullet hole through it. It's only the beginning of the ultimate prankster's devastating new scheme to destroy the real Batman, even if he's got to spill the blood of everyone in Gotham City to do it. If the Joker succeeds, it will be his greatest gag of all time. But only one very twisted and very dangerous man will be laughing...



Brannigan's Review

I've been a fan of Batman since I saw my first Batman cartoon in the late 70s. I read the novelization of the Tim Burton Batman film after watching and falling in love with the film as 13-year-old boy. Since then I've always kept my eyes open for other Batman fiction outside of the regular comic format. Some are great and others fall very flat. Sadly, this book was one of the latter.

I can see how writing Batman can be a hard thing to do. To do it right you have to really get into the character's mind and understand his motivation for doing what he does. If the author can make the readers feel like they are in Batman's head, it's a great book. If the author doesn't do this properly, he can still salvage the story by presenting Batman with an interesting challenge or villain, and, at the very least, have Batman do some cool stuff.

In this book, Batman and Joker both come across as boring and one dimensional. Gardener tries to bring some emotion to Batman by having the story take place just after the second Robin is blown up by the Joker, giving him reason to be mad or in mourning, but none of the emotion feels real. I think Gardner picked the hardest villain to do right. If a reader is going to spend anytime inside the mind of the Joker, they should leave scared, confused and a little amused. The Joker acted more like a birthday clown that had performed at one too many kid's birthday parties.

The story itself was full of holes and had no wonder or mystery to it. Gardner, had the habit of telling instead of showing, over and over again. I think the success of the novelization made the studio greedy and demanded a second book without bothering to actually have a story worth writing or reading. There are no issues with violence, adult situations, and little language so it would be safe for teens or adults to read. However, this is definitely a book to pass on if you see it anywhere. Even for those of you who want to own every bit of Batman merchandise you can, just let this one go.

Retro Reviews: Magician: Apprentice by Raymond E. Feist



Retro Reviews: Magician: Apprentice by Raymond E. Feist


Magician: Apprentice
Author:  Raymond E. Feist
Series:  The Riftwar Saga 1
Original Publisher and Date:  Bantam Spectra, October 1, 1982
Still in Print:  Yes
Current Formats and Length:  Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 512 pages
        (originally 323 pages)
Availability:  online and in stores
Original ISBN:  0-553-56494-3

Retro Reviews: Magician: Apprentice by Raymond E. Feist
A later edition of the novel
Brief History

Raymond E. Feist was born in 1945 in Los Angeles, CA, and was raised in southern California. Feist graduated from the University of California at San Diego in 1977. Magician: Apprentice was his first published novel in 1982. He has written 36 novels so far. 32 of those novels and novellas take place in the same world as Magician: Apprentice. There are also role-playing games, video games and graphic novels based on this creation.

Magician: Apprentice was originally published as a larger book titled Magician, but the American publisher made Feist break the book into two parts Magician: Apprentice and Magician: Master. Even after splitting the book in two, the publisher still required the book to be edited further, until it was only 323 pages. Once the book became popular, it was republished with the edits removed and retitled Magician Apprentice Author's Preferred Edition, with a page count of 512 pages. It's been published in 20 countries.


Back Cover Description

To the forest on the shore of the Kingdom of the Isles, the orphan Pug came to study with the master magician Kulgan. But though his courage won him a place at court and the heart of a lovely Princess, he was ill at ease with the normal ways of wizardry. Yet Pug's strange sort of magic would one day change forever the fates of two worlds. For dark beings from another world had opened a rift in the fabric of spacetime to being again the age-old battle between the forces of Order and Chaos.



Brannigan's Review

I loved this book. It immediately felt familiar and fun while still offering new wonders. I've known about this book and series for awhile now, but never got around to reading it. A few years ago there was a graphic novel adaptation of the book, that I read, but didn't like, which made me put off reading the book even longer. I'm so glad I finally opened the book and gave it a go. I quickly fell into the story.

Before I get going too far into my review, I would like to mention the back cover description is a bit odd as it makes the reader believe that Pug traveled to apprentice under Kulgan. That isn't actually the case. Pug grew up in the castle as an orphan and was raised by the cook and baker of the castle, along with their son Tomas, Pug's de facto brother. Once the two boys are old enough, they and other children of the castle are assigned crafts and positions to apprentice under masters. Tomas apprentices under the Sword Master of the castle to be trained as a castle guard. When none of the regular craftsmen and masters pick Pug, a scrawny small lad for his age, Kulgan the magician takes mercy on him and takes him as his apprentice. From this point on the description is correct.

Feist takes the familiar hero's journey/quest storyline we are all familiar and comfortable with, and then introduces his own twist to the story with 'aliens' from another world entering their world bent on world domination. The mix of familiar and strange make the story both comforting and exciting at the same time. I also found it interesting how Feist removes Pug from the story all together a little over three quarters of the way through. Normally, this would be frustrating, but Feist did such a great job of developing his second-tier characters, that once the main protagonist is gone, the supporting cast easily steps up and keeps the story going.

Feist does a great job of world building and also showing it to the reader. The castle Pug grew up in is on the far west edge of the kingdom and the capital is on the far east end. We follow Pug and other members of the castle as they seek to warn the King of the impending invasion. Along the way, we meet the Elves, Dwarves, The Brotherhood of the Dark Path, and other monsters that make up the world. We also get to spend time in a large forest, mountains, underground caves, and crossing the sea, as well as several different cities. All of this helps to immerse you in the world.

The only issues I have are due more to the editing of the original book than the actual book itself. It feels rushed at times and several battles are just barely mentioned before we move on. There are also several large jumps in time at the end of the book that make me wonder why would Feist do this, if I wasn't aware of the massive cuts made prior to publishing. All of these things would aid in building tension, emotion and connection to the characters. With as much fun as I had with the original book, I can't wait to buy the extended edition and dive back into the full story of Pug.

Magician: Apprentice is one of the most enjoyable first books to a series I've read in a long time. I would normally hesitate starting a series that is currently 32 books long, but I enjoyed this book so much I can't wait to dive into this series. I have no problem recommending this book to teens and adults. There are no issues with violence, language or sexual situations that warrant any caution. This is definitely a book to buy and add to your collection. I would recommend buying the newest edition, as I feel it will fix some of the issues I had with this first edition. It's the perfect fantasy book for those familiar to the genre and those who would like a fresh take on familiar ideas. It's also accessible enough for readers unfamiliar with the genre.

Retro Reviews: The Black Company by Glen Cook



Retro Reviews: The Black Company by Glen Cook


The Black Company
Author:  Glen Cook
Series:  The Black Company 1
Original Publisher and Date:  Tor, May1984
Still in Print:  Yes
Current Formats:  Trade Paperback, Mass Market Paperback, eBook
Availability:  online and in stores.
ISBN:  9780812521390

Brief History

Retro Reviews: The Black Company by Glen Cook
Glen Cook was born on July 9, 1944 in New York City. He began writing short stories in the 7th grade. He served in the US Navy and attended the University of Missouri. He worked for General Motors for 33 years and started his professional writing career in 1968. His first published novel was The Swap Academy in 1970 under the name 'Greg Stevens'. Cook has written 51 novels and numerous short stories.

The Black Company series is a ground-breaking series. Its blend of realistic military fiction and fantasy is popular among fantasy fans and members of the US Military. In an interview with Strange Horizons on January 17, 2005, Glen Cook was asked why this series was so popular with soldiers and he had this to say:
... The characters act like the guys actually behave. It doesn't glorify war; it's just people getting on with the job. The characters are real soldiers. They're not soldiers as imagined by people who've never been in the service. That's why service guys like it. They know every guy who's in the books, and I knew every guy who's in the books. Most of the early characters were based on guys I was in the service with. The behavior patterns are pretty much what you'd expect if you were an enlisted man in a small unit.
The Black Company series has been translated in over 20 different languages. There are ten books published in the series with two more books promised by the author as yet unpublished.


Back Cover Description

Some feel the Lady, newly risen from centuries in thrall, stands between humankind and evil. Some feel she is evil itself. The hard-bitten men of the Black Company take their pay and do what they must, burying their doubts with their dead. Until the prophesy: The White Rose has been reborn, somewhere, to embody good once more. There must be a way for the Black Company to find her... So begins one of the greatest fantasy epics of our age—Glen Cook's Chronicles of the Black Company.



Brannigan's Review

I wanted to love this book. I had read and heard from so many people how ground-breaking and amazing it is. I'm not normally a fan of the darker fantasy books, but I can appreciate what it's done for military-fantasy books, so I wanted to try it. Sadly, it just wasn't a fun read for me. After the long journey to get my hands on the right book (see my Retro Review of Valnir's Bane for the full story), I had high hopes.

The Black Company reads like an After Actions Report. I didn't serve in the military, but I've researched my Grandfather's war record I've had the opportunity to read some official military reports, and they make battles and engagements with the enemy sound routine and dull. Unfortunately for me, Glen Cook did the same thing with his story of a company of anti-hero mercenaries. The story sounds amazing—being paid to fight for a group of undead wizards as they try to resurrect a long-dead civilization, while a rebel army lead by a council of wizards tries to stop them. But what I got was a dull recounting of one battle after another with no real description or emotional impact. I never felt invested in who won the battles.

It's written in the first person narrative as Croaker, serving as the POV character. Croaker, is the company's doctor and historian. I'm already not a fan of first person narrative as I like to spend a little time in each of the characters' heads, but you would think if Cook was going to have the reader spend all of their time in one character's head, he would explore that character fully. At the end of the book, I could care less about Croaker and learned very little about him. Raven was the only character Cook created that I might have liked if I would have had the opportunity to spend more time with him.

The plot of the story didn't really grab my attention until halfway through the book when we find out that the Taken (the undead wizards) are not all loyal to the Lady or her designs. We also start to see that a minor character that was introduced earlier in the book might actually hold more importance than anyone realized. Thankfully for me the second half of book was more enjoyable to read, but it did not in anyway redeem my over all opinion of the book as a whole. I will not be reading any other books in the series.

The Black Company is a book that did not live up to the hype surrounding it. I will say it sounds like an amazing book, but it falls very flat for me. There is a lot of violence since it's about a company of mercenaries. There is also implied and briefly mentioned sexual abuse, and frequent use of bad language, for these reasons I would only recommend this book to adults. This is definitely a book to skip unless you love reading military nonfiction as well as fantasy.

Retro Reviews: Valnir's Bane by Nathan Long



Retro Reviews: Valnir's Bane by Nathan Long


Valnir's Bane
Author: Nathan Long
Series:  Warhammer: Black Hearts
Original Publisher and Date:  Games Workshop, December 16, 2004
Still in Print:  No
Formats and Length: Mass Market Paperback, 256 pages
Availability:  You can find it used online
ISBN:  9781844161669

Retro Reviews: Valnir's Bane by Nathan Long
Brief History

Nathan Long started writing at the age of 12 and spent several years writing screenplays for TV and films. He's written 15 novels in the Warhammer shared world so far, and Valnir's Bane was his first book published in 2004. His first original book written out of the shared world is Jane Carver of Waar, a parody/ode to Edgar Rice Burroughs. He's also written a few video games.

The Black Hearts series is a reflection of Long's love of the old classic film heroes, everyday men who went through incredible events, and, just as often as they were heroic, they also showed their fear or weaknesses. He has mentioned that he likens Valnir's Bane to the Dirty Dozen in the world of Warhammer.


Back Cover Description

Fantasy heroes come in all shapes and sizes, but few are less able to fit the classic image than the Blackhearts. In a terrific twist on the classic war story, this disreputable band of convicts is released from the dungeons and given a grim choice: volunteer for a suicide mission or die by the noose. They do the former, of course, but when they learn their quest is to venture deep into the lands of the enemy and retrieve an ancient relic that could turn the tide of the war, they begin to seriously regret their choice. With broad characters and violent action, this riotous novel introduces the Blackhearts in just the first of a planned series of adventures.



Brannigan's Review

I have two confessions to make. First, I actually bought this book by mistake. Back before I had a smartphone to take notes on, I read an article talking about a great fantasy series called The Black Company, and while I was perusing a bookstore I remembered the article, but only that the word black was in the title. I saw this book, saw Blackhearts, and thought, this is it. Once I got home, I found out I had purchased the wrong book, but the back cover description sounded good so I wasn't too upset. Later, I found The Black Company by Glen Cook. My second confession is I have only ever read one Warhammer book before, and, to be honest, I wasn't impressed. I have also never played their role-playing games, so I have no real background in the Warhammer world. For these two reasons, I left this book on my bookshelf unread for several years. Once again, the Retro Review has come to make amends in my life. For my second Retro Review this month, I will finally read Glen Cook's The Black Company, as it inspired this whole serendipitous event.

Reading Valnir's Bane felt like watching one of your favorite childhood or teen movies on a day you had nothing better to do. I know we all had those films. I can't tell you how many times I watched Die Hard on an old VHS tape as a kid. I loved that film. Valnir's Bane is like that almost immediately: you like the characters, their interaction with each other, and their disdain for authority and rules. The 'heroes' (I use that term lightly because no one but the villains of the book would ever consider themselves heroes) are all very real. Well, let me stop myself, most of them feel real. For the most part, all of the characters are fleshed out as they attempt to fulfill their mission. At the beginning, it takes some time to figure out who everyone is. There are nine prisoners and a leader/guard. Out of the 10, only five make it to the end. Reiner Hetzau, a pistolier, is the primary character and closest thing to a true hero. I say closest because for the first half of the book he's only concerned with protecting his own hide and using the others as bodyguards. He's also a gambler, womanizer and disgraced noble.

Now, I wouldn't consider these characters anti-heroes in today's sense of the word. In today's fantasy fiction with the sub-genre of dark and grim fantasy that's out there, you would expect these guys to be much much worse than they are to be labeled anti-heroes. I'm more apt to call the Blackheart group reluctant heroes. I actually prefer a reluctant hero over an anti-hero because I feel good about rooting for someone even if they try to deny the good inside themselves.

The pacing of the book is perfect for its length. It has an episodic feel as one trial after another hurtles the group toward the climax, where fighting against every opportunity to be heroic until they realize if they don't save the world, no one else will. Long has a talent for putting his characters through hell. I kept thinking that sooner or later these guys have to catch a break, but for the most part they never do. Still, you're kind of glad they don't because they come up with some entertaining ways out of those messes.

For being a book in a shared world, I didn't feel like I was missing anything. Long provided enough information to get a feel for the world and the different warring factions. And, for a book this size, Long did a great job spending time with the characters that mattered.

Valnir's Bane is a comfort book, immensely satisfying, with a quick pace. After reading the first book in the trilogy, I look forward to reading the other two books to spend some more quality time with heroes I could relate to. There are a few minor moments of descriptive violence and implied sexual abuse off camera, to borrow a film term, and little if any bad language, for these reasons I have no problem recommending this book to teens or adults. This is definitely a book to borrow from a friend or the library. I personally will be keeping my copy for future reads, but due to the fact you have to hunt for the book, maybe wait to read it before grabbing your own copy.

Retro Reviews: Flashing Swords! #1 by Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance, Poul Anderson, and Lin Carter


Retro Reviews: Flashing Swords! #1 by Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance, Poul Anderson, and Lin Carter


Flashing Swords! #1
Authors:  Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance, Poul Anderson, and Lin Carter
Editor:  Lin Carter
Original Publisher and Date:  Dell, 1973
Still in Print:  No
Current Formats and Length:  Paperback, 267 pages
Availability:  You can find it used online.
ISBN:  9780440026407

Retro Reviews: Flashing Swords! #1 by Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance, Poul Anderson, and Lin Carter
Brief History

Poul Anderson - November 25, 1926-July 31, 2001. Poul Anderson was born in America, but, after his father's death, spent several years in Denmark until the outbreak of World War II. He attended the University of Minnesota. Poul published his first story Tomorrow's Children in 1947.

Lin Carter - June 9, 1930-February 7, 1988. Lin Carter served in the Korean War and attended Columbia University. He worked as a copywriter before starting his creative writing career. The Wizard of Lemuria, his first book, was published in 1965.

Fritz Leiber - December 24, 1910-September 5, 1992. Fritz Leiber attended the University of Chicago. For a time, he worked as a preacher and actor. His first published story, Conjure Wife, was published in 1943.

Jack Vance - August 28, 1916-May 26, 2013. Jack Vance attended the University of California in Berkley. He had many odd jobs throughout his life. Due to poor vision, he was unable to serve in World War II, but memorized the eye chart to be able to join the Merchant Marines. His first published story was The World-Thinker in 1945.

Flashing Swords! Anthology was created by eight authors who were fans of the fantasy sub-genre Sword&Sorcery and decided to create the club: Swordsmen and Sorcerers' Guild of America. They contributed previously unpublished short stories for the anthology. When they submitted the collection to their publisher, the publisher said it would be too large to publish, so they put half the stories in the first volume and the other half in Flashing Swords! #2. The anthology series ended after five volumes.


Back Cover Description

Introductory Essay: Of Swordsmen & Sorcerers by Lin Carter

“The still less than momentary qualm which Death experienced at this point was far deeper and stronger than that which he had felt in the case of Lithquil. Fafhrd and the Mouser had served him well and in vastly more varied fashion the the Mad Duke.”
The Sadness of the Executioner by Fritz Leiber

“Morreion made a furious motion; as his hand swept the air, it left a trail of sparks. 'Magic derives from personal force! My passion alone will defeat the archveults! I glory in the forthcoming confrontation. Ah, but they will regret their deeds!'”
Morreion by Jack Vance

“Stunned, beaten, naked, with hardly a tool or weapon among them, the merfolk followed their lord. Tauno hung, fists clenched on harpoon, until they were out of sight. The last stones of the royal hall toppled, and Liri was a ruin.”
The Merman's Children by Poul Anderson

“Three goblins were entangled in the webs. They kicked and struggled furiously, spittling like cats, but only managed to become more tightly and completely enmeshed in the sticky green stuff. The six other goblins came flying, howling, at him.”
The Higher Heresies of Oolimar by Lin Carter




Brannigan's Review

One day, while browsing my local used bookstore, I found a bundle of four books entitled Flashing Swords! #1-4. The first two covers were by Frank Frazetta, and I was familiar with about half the authors and liked their work and style, so I decided to give it a try. I like discovering old authors from my chosen genre's past. Out of the four authors in volume #1, I was familiar with Fritz Leiber and Jack Vance, but had only actually read Fritz Leiber before. I read several stories in the Songs of the Dying Earth edited by George R.R. Martin, which is a tribute to Jack Vance's world. I had no exposure to Lin Carter or Poul Anderson.

Lin Carter's introductory essay “Of Swordsmen and Sorcerers” was a fascinating read for the historical background he gave in the sub-genre and the roles each of the authors played in it. I knew that the sub-genre was born out of Robert E. Howard's work, but I did not know that the term 'Sword & Sorcery' was coined by Fritz Leiber. Below, in my quote section, you will find Carter's definition of the sub-genre.

Fritz Leiber's “The Sadness of the Executioner” is a Fafhrd and the Mouser tale, but the duo are not the starts of the tale. Death takes the center stage as he seeks to fulfill his quota for the current quarter. Running out of time and needing two heroes to fulfill that particular quota he decides to send a couple enraged people to kill the pair. Unfortunately, the pair of anti-heroes are not so easy to kill, leaving Death with no choice but to quickly kill two other heroes to fulfill his quota. I've always enjoyed reading Leiber's stories and I enjoyed this story. It was my favorite of the collection. I only wish it had been longer (it's the shortest story in the book). If you've never read a Fafhrd and the Mouser tale, I would not start with this one, as I've mentioned they play a minor part in the story. I would however recommend you try Leiber for a fun, easy quick read.

Jack Vance's “Morreion” takes place in his famous The Dying Earth world. As the sun is ready to die, and with it Earth, magic has once again returned. The landscape has changed and is nothing like the Earth we know and love. Vance is an unique writer. His writing style is, in my opinion, very modern. He's like the grandfather of our modern 'weird' sub-genre. He makes up races, places, and creatures that are unlike your regular fantasy troupes and gives them names that don't lend themselves to description and does minimal physical descriptions and little to no background information. This can leave the reader a little lost or confused. That said, he's a very lyrical writer and he makes you want to read his story in hopes you'll come to understand it how he intended. This story involves wizards and trying to steal IOUN stones from Morreion. They end up taking the stones from Morreion, but then begin to fight over who gets to keep the stones. I look at Vance as the type of author you read and study if you want to get a Ph.D. in fantasy reading, or you're bored with low-brow fantasy authors, which I find a little ironic, as most people have a certain prejudice of Sword & Sorcery fantasy as low-brow writing.

Poul Anderson's “The Merman's Children” is based on a medieval ballad of Agnete and Her Lover. The story is about a human female who falls in love with a Merman and ends up living underwater and giving birth to several children who are able to live above or below the surface. Then, one day the mother decides she misses her life above ground and by resurfacing unknowingly sets a course of destruction and trials for the Merfolk and her children below. The story itself was entertaining, and I liked the originality of it, but it was a slow read. It didn't inspire me to seek after more of Anderson's books, which is the point of an anthology.

Lin Carter's “The Higher Heresies of Oolimar” is a little too much like a ode to Conan or Hercules. When a non-fantasy reader thinks of Sword & Sorcery this is the type of hero they would imagine. It stars Amalric, an immortal super human with side kick wizard named Ubonidus. Amalric is given a quest by a sphere, that I assume is a communication device between him and the higher gods, to go and destroy a man named Thun and his evil city of death-conquerors. However, along the way to this quest, Amalric and Ubonidus have a detour in the city of Oolimar. This was obviously set up to be a introduction to a novel or the beginning of a series of short stories, as the main quest never takes place. It's an easy story to read, but I didn't really enjoy it or find anything in the characters or world that made me want to see if Amalric ever defeats Thun.

Now that I've read all of the stories, how do they hold up today, 41 years later? The first volume is weak. Even the authors I like, I didn't like these particular stories enough to suggest any of you go hunt this book down. I found it enlightening to learn more about the sub-genre itself and would recommend the introduction to anyone who would like to learn more about Sword & Sorcery. I'd highly recommend any fan of fantasy to check out or borrow a Fritz Leiber or Jack Vance book. I find them very entertaining. For Anderson and Carter, I wouldn't bother reading their work unless you're a fan and a completest. There is violence and sexual situations in the stories, but nothing graphic, so I would recommend the book for older teenagers and adults.


Favorite Quote

“We call a story Sword & Sorcery when it is an action tale, derived from the traditions of the pulp magazine adventure story, set in a land, age or world of the author's invention-a milieu in which magic actually works and the gods are real-a story, moreover, which pits a stalwart warrior in direct conflict with the forces of supernatural evil.”
Lin Carter in Flashing Swords! #1

Retro Reviews: The Swan's War Trilogy by Sean Russell



Retro Reviews: The Swan's War Trilogy by Sean Russell



Retro Reviews: The Swan's War Trilogy by Sean Russell
The One Kingdom
Author:  Sean Russell
Series:  Swan's War Trilogy 1
Original Publisher and Date:  Harper Voyager, January 1, 2001
Still in Print:  HarperCollins, eBook.
Formats and Length:  Hardcover, Paperback, Mass Market, eBook 544 pages (Hardcover 480 pages)
Availability:  eBook and used copies available online. I've also seen print copies at several used book stores in the past.
ISBN: 9780380974894 (Hardcover); 9780061862533 (eBook)

The cataclysm began more than a century earlier, when the King of Ayr died before naming an heir to the throne, and damned his realm to chaos. The cold-blooded conspiracies of the Renne and the Wills—each family desirous of the prize of rule—would sunder the one kingdom, and spawn generations of hatred and discord.

Now Toren Renne, leader of his great and troubled house, dreams of peace—a valiant desire that has spawned hostility among his kinsmen, and vicious internal plots against his life. In the opposing domain, Elise Wills's desire for freedom is to be crushed, as an unwanted marriage to an ambitious and sinister lord looms large. As always, these machinations of nobles are affecting the everyday lives of the common folk—and feeding a bonfire of animosity that has now trapped an unsuspecting young Valeman Tam and two fortune-hunting friends from the North in its high, killing flames.

But the closer Toren comes to achieving his great goal of uniting two enemy houses, the more treachery flowers. Nobles and mystics alike conspire to keep the realm divided, knowing that only in times of strife can their power grow.

And perhaps the source of an unending misery lies before an old king's passing, beyond the scope of history, somewhere lost in a fog of myth and magic roiling about an ancient enchanter named Wyrr—who bequeathed to his children terrible gifts that would poison their lives...and their deaths. It is a cursed past and malevolent sorcery that truly hold the land, its people, and its would-be rulers bound. And before the already savaged kingdom can become one again, all Ayr will drown in a sea of blood.


Retro Reviews: The Swan's War Trilogy by Sean Russell
The Isle of Battle
Author:  Sean Russell
Series:  Swan's War Trilogy 2
Original Publisher and Date:  Harper Voyager, July 23, 2002
Still in Print:  HarperCollins, eBook
Formats and Length:  Hardcover, Paperback, Mass Market, eBook 468 pages (Hardcover 480 pages)
Availability:  eBook and used copies available online. I've also seen print copies at several used book stores in the past.
ISBN: 9780380974900 (Hardcover); 9780061861017 (eBook)

Treachery and deceit run rampant throughout a devastated land, spawning dark alliances in the terrible war ignited by the enmity of two families. But unbeknownst to all, there are others who truly control the beleaguered kingdom's destiny—combatants emerging from eons of restless sleep to renew the bloody terror of a battle older than time.


Retro Reviews: The Swan's War Trilogy by Sean Russell
The Shadow Roads
Author:  Sean Russell
Series:  Swan's War Trilogy 3
Original Publisher and Date:  Harper Voyager October 12, 2004
Still in Print:  HarperCollins, eBook
Formats and Length:  Hardcover, Paperback, Mass Market, eBook 464 pages (Hardcover 448 pages)
Availability:  eBook and used copies available online. I've also seen print copies at several used book stores in the past.
ISBN:  9780380974917 (Hardcover); 9780061859755 (eBook)

The savage war between two mighty families has ravaged the kingdom both wish to rule—spawning treachery within the ranks of the Renné and Wills, drawing the brave, the innocent, and the malevolent alike into the bloody conflict. But a far more terrible consequence has arisen from the carnage—for Death himself has been roused from his dread domain . . . and is preparing to walk the world again.


Brief History

Sean Russell was born Jan. 1, 1952 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. By the age of 10, he knew he wanted to be a writer. He published his first novel, The Initiate Brother, in 1991, an Asian influenced fantasy. He has since written 16 books under the fantasy, mystery and historical fiction genres. Stephen R. Donaldson, has said, "[he] has proven himself a master of intelligent fantasy -- subtle, exciting, well-crafted." He has written under the names: Sean Russell, Sean Thomas Russell, S. Thomas Russell, T.F. Banks (with Ian Dennis).




Brannigan's Review

A co-worker recommend this series to me seven years ago. I attempted to read the first book shortly after that but got caught up in another book and never finished The One Kingdom. Being the dedicated reader I am, I recently returned to the series and I'm glad I did. Sean Russell is a very talented writer, especially when it comes to world-building and character development, which is his his focus in the three books—building a wonderful world that sucks the reader in and then taking time to explore it with some great characters. Russell is also wonderful at writing some great female characters. All of the characters develop and change and no one is left untouched by the end of the series. There's enough variety that anyone can find a character to relate to. I've read that he always wanted to stay away from High Fantasy as he never wanted to appear to be a Tolkien wannabe, but then he came up with a story that had to be told. I, for one, am glad he did. The Swans' War trilogy is a worthy addition to the High Fantasy sub-genre.

The One Kingdom is a great start to the series. The story pace is quick and exciting. At the beginning, we meet three young cousins (Toren, Fynnol, Baore) who seek a little adventure as they plan to travel down a river near their Northern home to the more populated south to buy horses and come back home men of the world. They quickly become entangled in a struggle between three long-dead siblings and two royal houses at war over a crown. The pace slows down a lot in the middle of the book where we're introduced to many supporting characters needed to tell an epic story. Normally, I hate it when a story slows down in pacing, but not this time since there's a lot of world-building and character development. Its the middle of the book that makes the end really matter, as you read as fast as you can to see how it comes to an end. There's a cliff-hanger ending, but thankfully the full series is out, so no waiting.

In The Isle of Battle, the majority of the characters spend their time in one location, which normally would worry me, but its in the second book that we really see the majority of the character development taking place. The second book for me is the most internal book of the series, where we see the effects of the conflicts changing all of our characters. The pace of this book is slow, but, in my opinion, it matches the struggles of the characters and the environment they find themselves in, so I actually enjoyed it. Russell is very skilled at using the terrain to influence the pacing of his story. I don't know if it's intentional or not, but I really felt it creeping into the pacing and the characters as they interacted with it. Book one was a meandering river book, with several different side paths. Book two takes place in a swamp and you really feel the characters struggling to make their way through it, both physically and internally as they struggle with how they are dealing with the war around them. The third book is all about the mountains and plains with highs and lows the characters face as the story comes to a crashing end.

The Shadow Roads concludes the story and doesn't feel the need to give a storybook ending to the tale. One of my favorite quotes from the series is found in the last book and I've included it below. I feel it explains how Russell ends The Swan's War trilogy. It might not be the most satisfying ending to some readers, and my initial response was to be a little bothered by it as well, but the more I thought about the quote and reality I actually enjoyed the ending more. We don't always know why things happen the way they do, and we don't always get an explanation why, and neither do the characters. Now, that's not to say we are left completely in the dark, I feel the readers get enough information to make their own conclusions.

The Swans' War trilogy will not be for every lover of fantasy. For those of you who like stories with elves, dwarves and such, you won't find them here. Neither will you find goblins, dragons, and other monsters roaming the wilderness. Russell uses humans as both the heroes and villains very skillfully. The second quote I have below shows how he sees mankind. The magic system in the world is very basic and limited to just a few people in world, so, for those of you who like a good wizard battle or interesting magic system, you'll need to look elsewhere. Lastly, as I've mentioned above, the pacing can be slow at times, so for those you who like a quick, action-packed read, be warned.

I really enjoyed The Swans' War trilogy and I hope Sean Russell returns to fantasy soon. I recommend that lovers of High Fantasy add these books to their collections and for any other fantasy-lover, look for the books on your friend's shelves or at your local library. I have no problem recommending these books to adult or teen readers. There is mild violence and little to no strong language and only the slightest adult situation.


Favorite Quotes from the Books

“There isn’t one story. There are myriad tales to be told, all different and puzzling. It is vain to ask them to makes sense. Just tell the tales. They will speak for themselves.” Cynddl in The Shadow Roads.

“We are not a peaceful people. It is the great tragedy of our race. War is in our blood.” Toren in The Shadow Roads.


Retro Reviews: Tainted Blood by Nathan LongRetro Reviews: Courageous by Jack CampbellRetro Reviews: The Broken Lance by Nathan LongRetro Reviews: The Vanisher by Kenneth RobesonRetro Reviews: The Batman Murders by Craig Shaw GardnerRetro Reviews: Magician: Apprentice by Raymond E. FeistRetro Reviews: The Black Company by Glen CookRetro Reviews: Valnir's Bane by Nathan LongRetro Reviews: Flashing Swords! #1 by Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance, Poul Anderson, and Lin CarterRetro Reviews: The Swan's War Trilogy by Sean Russell

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