Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Blackguards: Tales of Assassins, Mercenaries, and Rogues by J.M. Martin (editor)

Rating

Review

*** This review originally appeared on Out of this World Reviews. ***

Blackguards by J.M. Martin (editor) is a collection of short works by a plethora of notable authors. As the title of the collection suggests, the stories center around an assortment of rogues, thieves, assassins, and generally unsavory individuals. Some are roguish on the exterior with some shred of decency beneath; others are just bad characters with no hope (or desire) for redemption. The origin of Blackguards can be traced back to Kickstarter, where a successful funding campaign resulted in the gathering of such authors as Cat Rambo, Michael J. Sullivan, Paul S. Kemp, Django Wexler, Joseph R. Lallo, Shawn Speakman, and many others.

“I’ve a tale about a prisoner what let a rat eat him bit by bit. He thought the most of him could escape that way, though he never figgered how to get his bones out…” – Seeds by Carol Berg

For all that, Blackguards gets off on a shaky foot. The forward, by notable author Glen Cook, is, to put it lightly, confusing. But, OK, it’s just the forward and not part of the collection itself. The introduction from the editor, J.M. Martin, is a bit more grounded and at least makes sense as he outlines his early fascination with rogues and how that culminated into the present collection. Good. Now I’m ready to jump in and immerse myself in some truly dastardly characters and stories. The first tale, Mainon by Jean Rabe, left me a little unfulfilled, especially as the reading experience came to a screeching start as I encountered this gem:

the waiter brought desert

Desert? Really? How about “the waiter brought dessert.” Talk about killing the reading experience. But, moving on, the story itself never grabbed me and I found the ending unfulfilling. No matter. It’s only one story and there were many more to explore. Besides, in any collection like this there are bound to be some gems and some duds.

The next story, Irindai by Bradley P. Beaulieu, is beautifully written and actually got off to a great start. But, again, it seemed to fizzle at about at its midway point. Needless to say, two stories in with an egregious error to boot, and I was not feeling good about this book.

Fortunately Cat Rambo’s The Subtler Art got my reading experience back on track. From that point onward I liked almost every story. Notable amongst those, I’d list A Better Man by Paul S. Kemp, which features Kemp’s sword and sorcery duo Egil and Nix; The First Kill by Django Wexler; Better To Live Than To Die by John Gwynne; The Secret by Mark Lawrence; and many others. As noted above, in any collection like these you’re going to have a mixed bag. That’s not to say any of the stories were just outright horrible. Only that a few didn’t appeal to me. They may very well resonate with you, or you may find ones I really enjoyed to lack anything notable for you.

In all, though, Blackguards is a wonderful collection of roguish tales. It’s a solid four rockets, or would have been I should say, if not for the numerous typos. I’m fairly forgiving of these kinds of errors. One, two, even three I can tolerate. But Blackguards piled one proofreading error on top of another. In addition to the above mentioned use of ‘desert,’ here’s a few more:

But let Laureen think I’m some was a clumsy, yellow-haired twit.
She wore charms, talismans of made of bone and feathers and other items
trying to sense of the tingle of a ward
Ieve if it had been magical
Her last few moment of consciousness flickered through her

Unfortunately, there are more. In our current publishing arena, where self-published works are skewered over an open flame for such missteps, I cannot in good conscience expect anything less from supposed professionally published works. Blackguards gets 4 rockets, but I’m marking it down 1 rocket due to the extreme number of proofreading errors.

Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien

Rating

Review

*** This review originally appeared on Out of this World Reviews. ***

Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien is a charming collection of the letters Mr. Tolkien wrote to his children each year for Christmas as they were growing up. Each story is told from the perspective of Father Christmas himself, but there are other characters that sometimes take the spotlight and write to the children, including most notably a polar bear who seems to find himself in a bit of trouble with Father Christmas from time to time and has his own adventures worth sharing with Tolkien’s children.

The letters are actually meticulously crafted demonstrations of art and calligraphy. While the former seems intended for a young audience, with dancing bears and a variety of colors, the typography is something to behold all by itself. When one considers the same meticulousness that went into certain other works of the author, it’s no wonder he put such thought and care into the lettering of these whimsical narrations.

One recommendation: If you buy the Kindle edition of this book, do yourself a favor and read it on a color device such as a Fire tablet or iPad. A black and white, E Ink Kindle does not do the art, colors, and typography justice, and that’s what you’ll want to see most here. The stories told in each letter are charming in their own right, but they’re not the main attraction (though they do provide some amusement).

 

Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien is a fun, almost nostalgic-like glimpse into the lives of the Tolkiens. It’s the sort of book one can share with the children each and every year much like Mr. Tolkien did with his own children. I’m giving it a solid three rockets and hope you enjoy it.