At almost 500 pages and more than 180,000 words, NEITHER BEG NOR YIELD: STORIES WITH S&S ATTITUDE, from Rogue Blades Entertainment, is the biggest Sword and Sorcery anthology ever published. I’ll be going through it for the next few weeks, a few stories at a time, because with my age-diminished attention span, that’s the best way for me to tackle a big book like this.
First of all, I like the cover by M.D. Jackson, and the interior illustrations
he provides are really top-notch. I like them a lot. The same
can be said for “It’s Not Gentle”, the introduction by editor and publisher
Jason M. Waltz, which does as good a job of nailing down the appeal of Sword
and Sorcery as I’ve ever come across.
The first story is “Hunters and Prey” by C.L. Werner, which is set in feudal Japan. Now, I don’t mind admitting that I’m not fond of stories set in Japan, so I might have been inclined not to care much for this one. But Werner is an excellent writer and I enjoyed this yarn quite a bit. I mean, you’ve got an outlaw samurai (Shintaro Oba, one of Werner’s series characters), a disgraced samurai turned bounty hunter, and a spider-demon that lives in the caves inside a mountain. Put those three elements together and of course it’s going to be a good story! I haven’t read much by Werner and I need to read more. His work is very good.
Several years ago I read a collection of Kormak novellas by William King and really enjoyed it. I planned to read more, but somehow (remember that attention span I mentioned above?), that good intention slipped away from me. So I was happy to see a Kormak story in this book, and it's a special one indeed, an origin story of sorts that looks back over Kormak’s life and career as a Guardian, charged with seeking out evil and destroying it. “Prince of Dragons” has a nice elegiac feel to it, along with some good action and a strong protagonist. Once again I say I have to read more of Kormak’s adventures. Maybe this time I’ll actually do it.
“Suspension in Silver” by Eric Turowski features another series character I hadn’t encountered before, the giant, monster-hunting biker known as Irons. “Wait a minute,” you say. “The hero of a sword and sorcery story is a biker? Is he transported to some other realm or what?” Well, you may not have said that, but I thought it when I started reading this one. I’m sort of a purist when it comes to sword and sorcery, and I just wasn’t sure about a story set in what’s basically our world, although it does have werewolves roaming around in Fargo, North Dakota. But again, the excellent, action-packed writing won me over. If sword and sorcery is largely a matter of attitude, the position this anthology takes, then “Suspension in Silver” does indeed qualify. I’m still on the fence about that, to be honest, but is this a good story? Absolutely. I enjoyed it and would gladly read more about Irons.
John C. Hocking is one of my all-time favorite sword and sorcery authors. In “Soldier, Seeker, Slayer”, he introduces a new character, a mutilated former soldier named Creon whose right hand has been replaced by a mystical weapon. Hocking drops us down in the middle of things with very little world-building or explanations of what’s going on, but that’s all right. It becomes obvious pretty quickly that Creon doesn’t really know what’s going on, either. His mind is a jumble of memories—perhaps false—and uncertainty, but he knows he has a job to do and he’s going to do it. Hocking gradually gives us, and Creon, enough information to figure things out on the way to a very satisfying ending. This is an excellent story all the way around, as you’d expect from Hocking.
With these four stories, NEITHER BEG NOR YIELD gets off to a very strong start. I’ll be back in due time with reviews of the next few entries. The e-book edition is available now on Amazon, with print editions in the works.