Thursday, August 5, 2010
Demons edited by Jason M. Waltz
Editor Jason Waltz is turning his publishing house, Rogue Blades Entertainment, into a real go to source for strong modern sword and sorcery action fantasy. He runs a couple of lines of anthologies, the first being the yearly RBE Signature anthologies, which so far consist of Return of the Sword and Rage of the Behemoth, which was reviewed here at Luke Reviews not too long ago, receiving a top notch mark. The second line he is introducing is actually one he has recovered from another publisher. Carnifex Press had a line of anthologies entitled Clash of Steel. However, after Carnifex Press had to close its doors, the series wound up in the hands of Waltz, a huge fan. He retooled the series, taking stories from the original volumes and mixing in new ones, and putting these newly redone anthologies back into the market. Thus, Clash of Steel: Demon, edited by Armand Rosamilia, became Demons: A Clash of Steel Anthology, edited by Jason M. Waltz.
After acknowledgements from Waltz, and an introduction from the original series editor Armand Rosamilia, the stories begin:
“The Man with the Webbed Throat” by Steve Moody: When a bloody man enters a chapel, his discussion with the local priest leads to a startling revelation. An interesting thought piece on free will that seems to espouse a number of beliefs deeply held in the S&S genre, but not the best choice to open the anthology with in my opinion, being low on the “clash of steel” the anthology purports to be all about.
“Imprisoned” by Carl Walmsley: Walmsley’s previous tale, “Serpents beneath the Ice” in Rage of the Behemoth, wasn’t my favorite, and neither was this one. A man who keeps demons trapped in his mind loses one, and must fit to get it back. Walmsley’s style doesn’t engage me as much as a number of the other authors here, but the excitement is there for fans of Walmsley’s work.
“Toxic” by Steven L. Shrewsbury: When a woman comes to town with a demon in tow, who do you run to in hopes of being saved? The comedian?! A fun story that was humorous without going too far, and still contained action and a nice bit of ingenuity. A solid addition to the collection.
“Azieran: Bound by Virtue” by Christopher Heath: An engaging tale of a mage who summons a demon to combat another one on its way to kill him. Heath’s world of Azieran (which comes back later in this volume) seems to have some nice possibilities.
“Bodyguard of the Dead” by C.L. Werner: Shintaro Oba returns in this story of immortals and revenge. Werner presents one of the best stories in this volume, and one of the best stories from 2010 I have read so far.
“Kron Darkbow” by Ty Johnston: An engaging story of a man-for-hire seeking a magical artifact, Johnston has given another entertaining addition to the anthology.
“The Vengance of Tibor” by Ron Shiflet: Another solid story, this time of the lengths a man will go to kill the demon that slaughtered his family.
“The Beast of Lyoness” by Christopher Stires: A man with a troubled past sets out to save as city from a monster that is more than willing to fight fair, this one has a satisfying end that likely won’t be what you expected.
“Fifteen Breaths” by Phil Emery: Not what I was expecting in this anthology, but intriguing nonetheless, this story is of a man looking for something to believe in, and the price he pays to prove it. An interesting piece.
“The Pact” by Jonathan Green: A tale of epic war with Hell, this one had a “surprise” ending that I guessed before it appeared, but still was well-written and fun.
“Blood Ties” by Trista Robichaud: A prostitute and a mercenary set out on a unique rescue mission. A very fun tale with characters I would like to read more about.
“Zeerembuk” by Steve Goble: A demon makes the best of a bad situation in this tale from Goble, which is very engaging, with an ending that works perfectly for his story.
“The Fearsome Hunger” by Rob Mancebo: A Celtic-inspired tale of a man far darker than he seems, and an evil that plagues a town. Yet another great story in this volume.
“The Furnace” by Sandro G. Franco: Up there with Werner’s contribution, this is one of the highlights of the collection, doing a great job of presenting solid characters and an engaging plot. A man sent to hunt down a witch finds far more at stake when he enters a world overrun by demons.
“The First League Out From Land” by Brian Dolton: Not the best of the bunch, but still good, this story of a thief who may have bitten off more than she can chew moved a little slow at first for me, but picked up with a solid, if predictable, conclusion.
“The Sacrifice” by Jason Irrgang: A fast-paced tale of a last stand against the armies of Hell, Irrgang’s story is engaging, exciting, and pulled off a conclusion that was neither neat nor clean, thus perfect for the tale. Well done.
“Son of the Rock” by Laura J. Underwood: A story that seems set in a world the author may have further developed elsewhere, this story of a mage and a warrior exploring a mystery hidden in a deserted town was well written and, as so many of the stories here, very engaging.
“Into Shards” by Murray J.D. Leeder: A king haunted by his impending death seeks the help of a witch n this tale from Leeder, which wasn’t my favorite, but even the stories that don’t top this collection are still among the better half of what I’ve read from the year.
“Through the Dark” by Darla J. Bowen: A half-human woman sets out to rescue a kidnapped girl. Bowen paints an engaging setting and a tense plot.
“Joenna’s Ax” by Elaine Isaak: A brilliant story of one woman’s quest for revenge for her son, and her struggle against discrimination. Very well done; I will be looking for more from Isaak, who has other stories set in this world setting.
“The Lesser: A Sword of the Daemor Tale” by Patrick Thomas: Terrorbelle is given a very difficult choice between the lesser of two evils in this very well written tale from Thomas. Look back here for a review of Thomas’ Mystic Investigators, which contains another Terrorbelle story. A very fun story.
“When the Darkness Grows” by Frederick Tor: RBE’s house author gives us another tale of Kaimer, this time as he seeks down a secret cult that threatens all of Skovolis. An ending that, while it didn’t have the surprise effect I think was intended, was still very satisfying capped off another solid effort from “Frederick Tor.”
“Demon Heart” by Bryan Lindenberger: A knight and a wizard find themselves in competition for far more than the pride of a hunt in this story. Lindenberger gives us a very fun tale.
“Azieran: Racked upon the Altar of Eeyuu” by Christopher Heath: In my mind, this tale isn’t as engaging as Heath’s other Azieran tale in this volume, it still is a fun story of one man who sets out to unite the tribes against a future evil, and the toll fate plays on him. This one hits some metaphysical depths that are certainly intriguing, mainly that of the role we play in destiny.
“Born Warriors” by T.W. Williams: The typical “beware making bargains with a [insert bad bargain maker here]” is given the demon treatment. While this one held no surprises, it was well-written.
“Mistaken Identity” by Robert J. Santa: A story with some mixed roles reminiscent of Twelfth Night, this story of a man trapped in a demon’s body has very solid characterization. I would love to read more about these two.
“Box of Bones” by Jonathan Moeller: A great story of a demon hunter/ spoiled drunkard son was very well written, containing great action scenes. Moeller has created a character I think could carry a series (if he doesn’t already), and is a lot of fun to follow.
“By Hellish Means” by Bill Ward: My least favorite of the anthology happen to also be the last, in this tale of a woman setting out to save a world overrun by Hell. I found myself having a hard time getting wrapped up in this one, although it had exciting action scenes and a plot twist that is satisfying if a little expected.
After having viewed a couple of Rogue Blades Entertainment’s anthologies now, and seeing what they have on the horizon, I can say without hesitation that Jason Waltz and RBE are among the most important forces working in Sword & Sorcery today, if not on top of that list. Demons continues the trend of anthologies mixing well-known names with relative newcomers, and rounding out an anthology that is nothing short of stellar. No one agrees or loves every story in an anthology, but no editor has come closer to getting me to that mark than Waltz, and if he pulled it off it wouldn’t surprise me.
You can’t go wrong picking up an RBE book, and Demons is up there with the best. Also be sure to keep tabs on the other upcoming works from RBE, including Assassins, the next Clash of Steel anthology. After reading this one, you won’t want to miss the next one, and you will have a whole handful of new authors to check out. If you like Sword & Sorcery, heroic fantasy, fantasy in general, or fast-paced action stories of any genre, especially those that manage to be intelligent as well, don’t think twice about picking up Demons or any other RBE anthology.