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Book Review: Blackguards: Tales of Assassins, Mercenaries, and Rogues

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


Coin is their master, and their trade, more often than not, is blood. These are BLACKGUARDS.

Whether by coin or by blood...YOU WILL PAY.

Swift from the shadows, comes an 'edgy' anthology, edited by J.M. MARTIN, featuring sundry tales of roguish types—assassins, mercenaries, thieves—many of whom are already established in well-known fantasy series. 

Fantasy is a very broad genre and when I truly think about it, my heart has always had that special place reserved for those EPic Fantasy stories featuring well rogues, assassins and the like. It's with these characatures or elements whatever you want to call them that you can write such a good story. They feature well in funny, humorous stories as well as those that have a much darker and grimmer undertone, or what is often seen is the combination of both. I am of the opinion that this latter option is the best path. Last year when I heard that Ragnarok was running a kickstarter for Blackguards I got excited, there was a definite list of names and of more potential names if certain goals would be achieved. Now the initial list of authors was well, more than impressive, but those that could have their story added made it even more so. In the everyone got their story in the anthology, no acutally I should say Anthology, because just take a look at the names. Blackguards: Tales of Assassins, Mercenaries, and Rogues is a collection of story with the some of the best fantasy authors out there. 

As shown in the list below:

  • Jean Rabe – Mainon
  • Bradley P. Beaulieu – Irindai 
  • Cat Rambo - The Subtler Art 
  • Carol Berg – Seeds 
  • Kenny Soward - Jancy's Justice
  • Michael J. Sullivan - Professional Integrity 
  • Richard Lee Byers - Troll Trouble 
  • Paul S. Kemp - A Better Man 
  • Django Wexler - First Kill 
  • Mark Smylie – Manhunt
  • John Gwynne - Better to Live than to Die 
  • Mark Lawrence - The Secret 
  • Laura Resnick – Friendship 
  • Clay Sanger - The First Kiss   
  • Shawn Speakman - The White Rose Thief 
  • Peter O'Rullian - A Length of Cherrywood 
  • Tim Marquitz - A Taste of Agony
  • James A. Moore - What Gods Demand
  • David Dalgish - Take You Home
  • Joseph R. Lallo - Seeking the Shadow
  • Jon Sprunk - Sun and Steel
  • S.R. Cambridge - The Betyár and the Magus 
  • Snorri Kristjansson - A Kingdom and a Horse
  • James Enge - Thieves at the Gate
  • Lian Hearn - His Kikuta Hands
  • Anthony Ryan - The Lord Collector
  • Anton Strout - Scream
This list has a whopping twenty-seven (27) original stories. What I always do with anthology review is highlight some of the stories, so as not to make the review to lengthy. 

Bradley P. Beaulieu - Irindai 
I actually just read Bradley Beaulieu's Twelve Kings, the first full book in the Shattered Sands series. If you read that review you know that I quite liked that book. With Irindai Bradley Beaulieu returns to the main character Ceda. Ceda got a lot of attention in the first book, and does receive it again in Irindai, getting so much information in such a short time didn't acutally bother me. Mainly because the world that is shown in the Shattered Sands series is just awesome. In Irindai, Ceda is stalking a young boy called Brama who has taken something that doesn't belong to him, and she wants to put things right. If you know about Ceda, you know that she cant quite stand her own man, she is an very skilled pit-fighter. Anyway Ceda is out to get what is hers but here she stumbles into something bigger, the package that was stolen from her, was poisoned and some people would like to have a word with her. Ceda now finds herself in a precarious game...  What I liked in Irindai was the same as in Twelve Kings the way that Bradley Beaulieu tells the compelete story. An interesting plot, great characters and a lush and very inviting surrounding. 

Cat Rambo - The Subtler Art

I had never heard of Cat Rambo before reading her story The Subtler Art, I looked her up and found that she has been shortlisted for quite a few awards (Nebula and WFA incl!). Her story in Blackguards is The Subtler Art is a very alluring story, featuring the city of Serendib (shortened from Serendipity?). As the introduction states, The Subtler Art features a middle-aged couple the Dark and Tericatus. Who don't really stay at home to cook and eat because neither of them can do it that well. So they are looking for a place to eat and while they are moving about the Serendib, they fall into a discussion as what the most subtle way is to kill a person, the Dark being an assassins knows all about this way but Tericatus wants to show her that with magic it can even be more subtler and thus follow two examples. One one Tericatus and the other of the Dark. Both if I would say so myself subtle, so in the end they can only discuss who has the second most subtle art. What I liked from the start about The Subtler Art is the less is more kind of storytelling, there are a lot of things that you have to accept and saying this about the character the Dark and Tericatus, it adds a whole lot of mystery around their characters, even more so given the fact that the Dark at least is retired, what have they done in their earlier years? Do they have a reputation? What is their true power? Cat Rambo mentioned that there might be a full length book in the offing. Well I certainly hope so!

Michael J. Sullivan - Professional Integrity

Ever since reading the first prequel book of Riyria, Michael J. Sullivan caught and held on my attention. Having read other of his short stories I knew that Professional Integrity had to be another blast to read and trust me when I say that it was. Once again the focus is on Royce and Hadrian who find themselves called upon for a job. Though they have done loads of different jobs already, today they will be proposed to do something completely new. They area called upon a young women who asks Royce and Hadrian to kidnap herself. She wants to use this tactic to persuade a young man to look for her and in that way seduce him. Royce and Hadrian of course refuse to take on this job but then the young women mentions that her father always locks her in, and that she thus cannot sneak away. Her father says its for her own safety, and gives no other reason. So Royce and Hadrian are now convinced that they should have a word with her father. And then there is also the sighting of that creature. Once again Michael J. Sullivan has created a very solid story to the Riyria universe with Profession Integrity. It doesn't matter in which situation you place Royce and Hadrian but they work together so well and it is impossible not to make a cracking story featuring these two guys. Solid stuff. 

Paul S. Kemp - A Better Man

I am not familiar with the Egil and Nix series of Paul S. Kemp but recently read Lords of the Sith of him. Egil and Nix are a bit comparable with that of Michael J. Sullivans Royce and Hadrian. Just a short personal note I think these two stories would have been better if there was more separation than one story in between. As I said Egil and Nix are also two adventures and in many ways think a like but also disalike. In A Better Man, Egil and Nix are basically bored right out of their minds with nothings to do. Then they hear the rumor that a notorious person known as The Night Blade is in town. Luckily for them a women, Sairsa, comes to town who offers them a job, even though they have nothing to do they start to complain so what. Must be their nature. Sairsa works for the Ochre Order and asks if they want to help her out to protect a wizard who is finalizing making a pact with another wizard. They accept the job as Sairsa is a damsel in distress. From her the story takes on a wild ride full of banter with Egil and Nix. As this was my first introduction with these two I was surprised. They are really really good. There is a great energy between the characters that is shown in full colour, the foulmouthing, short and snide replies to each other and in the end when push comes to shove, they can rely on each other blindly! Definitely have to check out the full length books of this duo.

Mark Lawrence - The Secret
Who doesn't know Mark Lawrence? When it comes down to fantasy, he is one of the biggest name that has taken the genre by force. I am a big fan of both his series to date, The Broken Empire and The Red Queen's War. I read some earlier stories set in the The Broken Empire series and luckily he has included yet another one in this anthology. This time around the focus is on Sim, one of Jorg's Brotherhood friends. Sim is the assassin of the lot and even his own friends in the Brotherhood fear him to a certain degree. There is a very unique was to how the story is told. It is told through the eyes of two person who are involved with what brother Sim is doing. Saying more would just spoil everything but the ending is very shocking. Within the story there is I think the best sentence that would describe how though it must be to be true assassin. "The perfect assassin needs to be able to kill the thing he loves. Or, rather, to understand the emotion, but not let it stay his hand." Definitely another winning story from Mark Lawrence, and hopefully we will soon see many stories featuring the characters from The Red Queen's War, I think Jalan can create some very cool adventures!

Tim Marquitz - A Taste of Agony
Now this is a story that took me by surprise. I know that Tim Marquitz has written a lot of fiction already, from Epic Fantasy to Urban and western inspired stories. A Taste of Agony is a taste of Tim Marquitz' upcoming fantasy series called Tales of the Prodigy. When I started reading this story I directly felt at home in the proposed world, dark and violent place. Here you meet the protagonist, Gryl, who is fighting against a Thrak berserker, big brutish creatures. Of course Gryl has enough skill, as he has been trained to become a Prodigy by the powerful Avan seers when he was just a young boy. After the encounter with the Thrak he get introduced to a group of knights who actually could use his help a lot. With the offer of food and some pay Gryl does accept the job albeit with heavy reluctance. During his stay with the Knights, Gryl does make some shocking discoveries, the first and foremost of that of a Knight with a young boy. To be honest, this was written in a very confronting manner. Tim Marquitz tackles power abuse and shows just how wrong it is. Luckily for me Gryl responded with the same aversion I had... Of course there is another challenge that Gryl has to overcome with help of his new found partial friends, but the ending is something that will stay with me for a long time. Plus it also put a mark on the upcoming series featuing Gryl. I already have high hopes for that one. 

James A. Moore - What Gods Demand
If you have have been following this blog you know that I am a big fan of the Seven Forges series of James A Moore, I think I covered every short fiction and book that has been published. I was thrilled when I saw that he was adding another story to the growing series. So far the stories have been mainly focusing on the Sa'ba Taalor in their native area. In What Gods Demand, James A Moore takes a closer look to one of the proposed agents of them in the human cities. Here you follow the story of Swech, a women who has infiltrated the ranks. If you know something of the Sa'ba Taalor you know that they are highly religous and Swech in particular worships Wrommish and Paedle. As you can imagine Swech is tasked by her gods to eliminate some persons of important. Here it once again comes to show that the women Sa'ba Taalor are also a definite force to be reckoned with. It's a great story that shows the impending doom that awaits the fate of many that is to come in the third book of the Seven Forges series. 

Snorri Kristjansson - A Kingdom and a Horse
Snorri Kristjansson is best know for his recently finished Valhalla series. A Viking inspired story and where the Gods don't stay quite as well. A Kingdom and a Horse offers a completely different perspective, it doesn't focus on the cast that we saw in the original trilogy. Instead Snorri Kristjansson takes his story overseas. To England. The Vikings have just made landfall and a few have decided to look they can discover on the island. Captain Sigurd and his trusty friends Sven and Thormund. During their quest they stumble upon a village and since they talk foreign and well look foreign. As they come closer and closer they decide to have some fun with the villagers and steel a horse. Now this leads down to an adventure of their own. The three characters are a whole lot of fun to read about even if the story is a short one. 

I only highlighted a few stories that you can find in Blackguards but trust me when I say that this anthology contains a lot of good stories. Every fantasy reader that picks up this anthology will know some of its writers and will perhaps like me also discover many new ones. Since the majority of the stories to take place in already established universes they are also readily inviting to pick up those series. 

The story layout was done in a way that in many cases the diversity was maintained but my note with Michael J. Sullivans and Paul S. Kemp's story do still stand. They are different stories but both feature two rowdy male protagonists. 

In short Blackguards is an tour de force anthology. You might think that the theme of the anthology might produce a quite narrow type of story but this a wrong assumption. Each author has written a different type of story with his own big and bold idea's. If you are a fantasy fan, make sure you don't forget to pick Blackguards up. 


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