Monday, August 15, 2016

Book Review: Swords Of Steel II (2016)

Released earlier this year by a small independent publisher out of Illinois by the name of DMR Books, we have the second chapter of this fascinating fantasy compilation. But before you go yanking my tongue and calling me a sellout, this isn't just any old fantasy comp – it has several poems and short stories (some truly stretch the very meaning of the word “short”) from a couple of guys that I think you might know at least a little something about. Guys like Bal-Sagoth's Byron A. Roberts, Slough Feg's Mike Scalzi, Manilla Road's E.C. Hellwell, Scott Waldrop of Twisted Tower Dire, Jeffrey Black of Scythia, Jaron Evil of Archspire and many more. But let's not forget the inclusion of one of the more non-metallic members of the crew here, David C. Smith. For those of you familiar with that name, you'll know immediately that he penned the Red Sonja novels which are still being crafted in the form of comic books. I should know, I just bought some of those books today during a Dynamite sale.

In any case, the reader is greeted to nearly two-hundred pages of varied and intricate material that won't only excite your fancy for fantasy (okay, perhaps I'm going a little too far on the salesman pitch here, but seriously, these are some fine works) but will also make you think. One story in particular that really grabbed hold of me and made me consider Slough Feg's Mike Scalzi in an entirely new light was “That Than Which Can Be No More Terrible.” After reading that story alone, I nearly shuddered and thought about something I thought I had put into the drawer and sealed off long-ago. It makes for an interesting philosophical debate, which makes things very interesting as it is something called “philosophical fiction.” Or in other words, fiction that draws from researched sources, rather than one's imagination and influences alone. I'll just put it this way – there are very few fiction novels in my collection where the author actually mentions sources at the bottom. You'd expect such a thing in a research paper, but the topic at hand is certainly fictitious... or is it? You decide.

Additionally we have Byron Roberts' tale “A Voyage On Benighted Seas” which is a continuation of his tale accounted in the first volume of the compilation. From those who've read the intricate lyrical matter that composed a Bal-Sagoth record, one would note that several stories were told, albeit few were finished. Sometimes new songs would tell the stories began in older ones. Bal-Sagoth were also one of the only metal acts I've ever heard to use narration as part of the performance. Rather than hiring some narrator as many power/traditional acts do, Byron narrated the records himself and brought a sense of true epic quality (in the truest sense of the word, not it's overused cousin) to these releases, which were unlike anything that I had ever heard before and still haven't heard anything even remotely close to in several years since the hexology completed. Just as you might expect from the lyrics, Roberts has a way with words the translates magnificently onto the printed page. It feels very much like the mixture of Howard and Lovecraft that Bal-Sagoth offered, bringing that whole Weird Tales vibe to another level entirely. In this tale we're introduced to Captain Caleb Blackthorne, in what I would consider a fantastical swashbuckler. Throughout the tale, ancient spirits are rattled, old gods are awakened and great battle ensues, leading into one final portion to be featured in the next compilation of tales. Though the first tale is merely summarized in order for new readers to catch up to speed, it might be better to just purchase the still in print first volume of the compilation if you're really finding yourself sucked into Blackthorne's world.

But not all of these tales are thrown completely into the realms of high fantasy as you might expect – as there are also quite a few tales in which to chill the bones as well. These tales were crafted by the likes of Jaron Evil (Darke Manor) as well as Scott Waldrop (Mystery Believer) and feature more supernatural and in particular, “ghost-like” elements. Forgive me, as I've merely glanced over these (but found the writing of a proficient level in both cases) as reading digital books wreaks havoc on my eyes (not comics, but books in general) and I prefer the good old paperback/hardcover book (trees be damned) to ebooks and PDF's. This review merely scratches the surface of the novel, but I feel that there is more than enough content to delight fans of pulp fiction works in a way that almost feels like a return of the iconic Weird Tales series, which I mentioned earlier in this review. It even comes along with a massive essay (David C. Smith's contribution) which now sees print for the first time in English. Though that's not all, as the book even features a foreword by heavy metal legend and Virgin Steele frontman David DeFeis!

So if by chance you missed out on this one, be sure to pick up a good old physical copy of the novel - both of them, if you can – and sit down with your favorite heavy metal albums as you read these positively epic tales of fright and fantasy. If you live in the states, you'll find that the books aren't all that expensive either, which has always been a detriment for me when buying new books. (Just thought I'd throw that in.)

As a matter of fact, this one is on sale for a mere eight dollars right now. (August 14th - 21st 2016)

(Paperback, 182 Pages)

Final Observation: Definitely worth a read for fans of high fantasy, pulp fiction and heavy metal. Proficiently well-written by highly educated individuals in their craft. You might need to use a dictionary in some areas, but isn't that a good thing? New words are fantastic! (Well... most new words.)

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