Swords & Heroes. Edited by Lyndon Perry. Tule Fog Press, 2023. 201 pages.
Tule Fog Press is a relative newcomer in the publishing field. A small press that is primarily the work of author and editor Lyndon Perry. Perry is a fan of heroic fantasy and has written a fair amount of it himself, most notably his The Sword of Otrim. Perry is positioned nicely for what currently seems to be a small renaissance in heroic fantasy/sword & sorcery publishing. This anthology brings together twelve short heroic fantasy stories and a couple of interesting nonfiction pieces. One of the stories is mine, but I’ll only briefly mention it and focus mainly on the other pieces in the book.
The foreword is by Jason M. Waltz, a publisher in his own right. He focuses primarily on “sword and sorcery,” which is a subfield in the greater field of heroic fantasy. He offers a couple of surprising insights, including an evaluation of Batman as a sword & sorcery character.
Next up is a preface by Lyndon Perry, which I found interesting because it discussed the origins of the anthology. If you’re in it for the stories alone you can leap over this directly to the first tale. I like this sort of thing, though.
Next up is “Keeper of Souls” by me. As Perry points out, it’s a sort of a buddy tale, but with a twist that I thought was pretty unusual. I won’t say more about it here.
Story two is “The Path One Doesn’t Choose” by Gustavo Bondoni. Bondoni has been tearing it up recently. I’ve seen numerous short story publications by him in all kinds of genres. His character is Yella, who has to deal with a tribe of villains called the “Wanderers,” with some interesting traits. Enjoyable tale.
Story three is “Lord of the Blood” by Michael T. Burk. Ahanu is the hero here, and his opponent is a demon. But there’s a neat twist to this and it has a strong ending. I don’t believe I’ve read anything by Burk before but this was engrossingly written.
Story four is by Teel James Glenn, a name quite a few will likely recognize. I’m familiar with his work and I believe we’ve shared a TOC before. He is also a fellow member of the Horror Writers Association. Glenn’s story is “The Price of Rescue.” It’s a buddy story with Ada (warrior) and Donal (Bard). After helping to defend a traveling coach against attackers, they are the only survivors and are tasked with taking a young girl to a local government official. Things are not what they seem, however. The characters have some nice interactions here.
Story five is “The Vault of Bezalel” by Tom Doolan. I’m also familiar with Doolan’s work and we’ve shared a TOC before as well. I’ve reviewed several of his stories and always find them enjoyable. Here, a young but deposed king named Liam must now make his way in the world. He runs into a childhood friend who offers him a quick quest with a potentially large reward at the end. Doolan is an action writer and there’s quite a bit of action in this interesting story.
Story six is “On Neutral Ground” by Nancy Hansen.” Serilda is the hero here, a chieftain of her people who are at war with the “Ivari,” a race that strikes me as similar to the concept of Frost Giants. The human war with the Ivari is a battle to the death, with extinction the fate of the loser. There are elements here of the mythic human war in ancient times against the “fey,” which was mined so beautifully by Poul Anderson in his “Broken Sword.” Very well written.
Story seven is by Tim Hanlon, another name I recognize, although I don’t believe he’s been writing very long. The title here is “The Swordsman and the Sea Witch.” Harkan the Swordsman takes passage aboard a ship, which is soon attacked by pirates. The pirates win the battle but their ship is sunk, and now the wind dies way, leaving the survivors becalmed, including Harkan. Death soon comes slithering from the waves. The Sea Witch of the story is not the monster, however, but the pirate captain, and she and Harkan must work together to find a way to survive. A very fine tale.
Frank Sawielijew is the author of story eight, which has the longish title of “The Necromancer and the Long-Dead King.” This is certainly a candidate for my favorite story in the collection. It features an unusual main character and pairs her with a combination hero/villain against a true evil. Well written and intriguing.
Story nine is “Lady in Stone” by Cliff Hamrick. I’ve known Cliff a while but this is the first story I’ve read by him. I’m sure it won’t be the last. Jarek is another unusual hero, and the story has touches of mystery to season the action and sorcerous horror. A well done piece.
Story ten is by J. Thomas Howard and is called “O Sapphire, O Kambria.” The setting here is pretty unique and I’m curious to learn more about this world, which seems to be a kind of future earth in which dinosaurs have been brought back and taken over. Shades of Jurassic World, perhaps. Great setting for plenty of interesting tales, I should think. Enjoyed this one.
Story eleven is by David A. Riley and is called “Welgar the Cursed.” Riley is a professional editor and publisher who has done much to revitalize heroic fantasy with his “Sword & Sorceries” series of anthologies. He has also produced plenty of good tales himself. Welgar is “god-ridden,” a trope that has been used to great effect by several writers, including Janet Morris with her Tempus tales. I’ll definitely be seeking out more Welgar tales.
Adrian Cole closes the anthology with his “Ride the Fire Steed.” I remember reading Cole’s awesome Dream Lord trilogy published in the 1970s so to share a TOC with him is a pleasure and an honor. (It’s the second time it’s happened.) And Cole is still knocking stories out of the park. This is an exciting and action filled piece to end the anthology on.
But wait, there’s more: There are some brief bios of the authors, and a really interesting round table discussion about Sword & Sorcery, moderated by Lyndon Perry and involving Adrian Cole, Cora Buhlert, Curtis Ellet, D. M. Ritzlin, an old pal from REHupa named Morgan Holmes, P. Alexander, Richard Fisher, and William Miller. Some fun discussion.
In closing, I much enjoyed this anthology and believe it makes an important contribution to the revival of the heroic fantasy genre that we’ve been experiencing of late. See if you don’t feel the same.