NOTE: Rage of the Behemoth was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Rogue Blades Entertainment.
Sword and Sorcery is a subgenre of fantasy that seems to be on the periphery nowadays. Robert E. Howard helped us to define it, and Fritz Lieber, C.L. Moore, and David Gemmell took what Howard gave us and made it into what we have today, but it seems to have become a shrinking art form. I stumbled upon Black Gate not too long ago, and rejoiced at a magazine that is devoted to adventure fantasy, including a number of Sword and Sorcery pieces, but it also had a number of non-S&S pieces. There is nothing wrong with that, but it still only partially filled the void. So when I discovered Rogue Blades Entertainment, a publisher devoted to Sword and Sorcery, I knew I needed to give this a try.
Rage of the Behemoth is an anthology devoted, as the title implies, to beasts and the men who encounter them. Twenty-one stories of Sword and Sorcery are on the buffet, prefaced by a forward by Mark Finn and an introduction by Black Gate’s John O’Neill. Below are thoughts on each:
“Under Red Skies” by Frederick Tor: A story of Kaimer by RBE’s house author. Kaimer is captured and imprisoned, and only learns the truth of his situation when an egg larger than he is appears in the cell with him. Tor introduces a new series character, starting him off in a fast-paced, well-written story that will have me looking for more Kaimer tales in future anthologies.
“Portrait of a Behemoth” by Richard K. Lyon and Andrew J. Offut: A story of Tiana Highrider, first introduced in the War of Wizards trilogy. This tale is also the first of four in the section on “Depthless Seas.” Tiana, in the middle of a heist of historic proportions, is right in the middle of a war between two wizards, and has to fight to survive, all while making sure she escapes with at least some of the treasure. This is a very fun story. I thought the ending was a little corny, but it was still a good story overall, with plenty of excitement.
“Black Water” by Sean T.M. Stiennon: A tale of Shabak. Shabak sets out to save his kidnapped son, and finds an ancient enemy is behind the abduction. Stiennon has worked into his tale both plenty of action and a complex plotline that works wonderfully. A very rich story.
“Passion of the Stormlord” by Robert A. Mancebo: Asad al Din meets an insane sailor who leaves him with a gift that is very much a double edged blade. Can al Din and his crew survive the wrath of the djinn? A brief, fun tale, although lacking in some of the complexities of the earlier tales.
“The Beast in the Lake” by Kevin Lumley: A story of Crow Thiefmaster. A beast is killing all of a king’s heirs, and Crow sets out to kill this beast and repay a debt of honor he owes the king at the same time. An okay story, but not the most engaging of the volume.
“Serpents beneath the Ice” by Carl Walmsley: The first story in the “Frozen Wastes” section, this PEN Award nominated tale follows a wizard who is seeking to return to his home to conquer the beast that first forced him out. Entertaining, but not a stand-out from the anthology. However, in an anthology such as this, even the non-stand outs are very high quality.
“The Wolf of Winter” by Bill Ward: A bit of a change from some of the earlier stories, this tale is much more introspective, with a man seeking to meet his destiny in the frozen deserts, and exact revenge for the losses he has met with in life. A very solid tale, with a lot of depth.
“Nothing Left of the Man” by Jeff Stewart: A tale of Sigurd Grimbrow, this tale matches engaging characters with a fast-paced plot about a ton besieged by a ferocious bear, and riddled with a dark, violent incident in its past. An excellent story.
“Blood Ice” by Mary Rosenblum: Rosenblum rarely disappoints, and this tale of the Cold Rim continues that trend. A story of an ostracized young man and a royal family in need of his help flies through its plot, exploring a very deep setting with plenty of open areas for further exploration by Rosenblum, and wraps up with a crushing ending that is abundant with bittersweetness. Great story.
“Black Diamond Sands” by Lois Tilton: This first story from the “Scalding Sands” section follows one man who sets out into slavery and toil in the diamond mines to try and save his sister’s life. Further exploration of the world this was set in would have been nice, and plenty of hints are dropped but not much hard information, but it created a mood that worked well with this story.
“The Hunter of Rhim” by Martin Turton: Another story with a dark twist for an ending, this one follows Hunter Jon as he sets out to track and kill a species of monsters that is wiping out humanity. However, his last hunt looks to be more difficulty and more costly than ever before. Intriguing behemoths and a well-wrought environment help this story fly along.
“As from His Lair, the Wild Beast” by Michael Ehart: A tale of the Servant of the Manthycore, as first introduced in the author’s novel The Servant of the Manthycore. A woman and her mother try to escape an army that is searching for them, but do so through a swamp that is the home grounds for an ancient, gigantic beast. An okay tale, although not as engaging as many of the others in this anthology.
“Stalker of the Blood-Red Sands” by A. Kiwi Courters: When a beast in the desert is slaughtering people and threatening villages, a group, led by their new princess, set out to stop it. But can even the might of the Elephantine warriors stop the mythic beast? An entertaining tale, it had strong characterization for some and weak for others, but all-in-all was entertaining.
“Poisonous Redemption” by Kate Martin: The first story from the section on “Mysterious Jungles,” this is a tale of Rica. When Rica sets out to find redemption, it comes at the cost of facing down a ferocious beast hiding in the middle of a dense jungle. But she must kill it in order to reclaim her identity. An average story, not great, but not bad.
“Yaggoth-Voor” by Bruce Durham: The best story in the anthology, a tale of Mortlock the Footman, this one focuses on a wrecked ship, an injured little girl, and a beast that seems to be toying with the crew. Wonderful dialogue, spot-on characterization, and a fast-paced plot, all wrapped up with a style that works perfectly for this type of story, makes this a true gem, and one of the best fantasy shorts I have read this year.
“Runner of the Hidden Ways” by Jason E. Thummel: A story of a man seeking revenge for the death of his people, but finds something far different.
“Beyond the Reach of His Gods” by Brian Ruckley: A tale of Rhuan the Exile. A group seeking treasure finds that, instead of using the guide, it may be the guide using them.
“The Rotten Bones Rattle” by C.L. Werner: The first piece in the section on “Ageless Mountains,” and a tale of Shintaro Oba, follows the Conan-of-Japan style Shintaro Oba as he seeks to fight off ninjas, save his liege, and crush a hidden mining operation.
“Vasily and the Beast Gods” by Daniel R. Robichaud: A tale of Voyvodin, in this one Robichaud brings not one, but two beasts to the fray in a zinger of a tale, mixing evil magic and ferocious action.
“Thunder Canyon” by Jeff Draper: This tale of redemption follows a man seeking near-suicidal revenge, and who finds that what he needs is in fact far different. A bit of a change from the straight up action of the anthology, but not out of place.
“Where the Shadows Fall” by T.N. Williams: A tale of John Humble, and one which I didn’t quite get to (see below).
It should be noted that the last couple stories in “Ageless Mountains” didn’t get quite the focus that the first 19 did, as I was in the middle of moving, and that is always a hectic time. However, giving one a skim, and looking forward to reading the other, I can still make a fair assessment of the whole of the anthology, being only one story shy.
What editor Jason M. Waltz has done in Rage of the Behemoth is what I hope is the beginning of a revolution in heroic adventure fantasy. Rage of the Behemoth is a well-rounded anthology that captures a huge variety of settings, gathers a collection of strong characters, and then explodes with action and tight plots. From the better known authors to those who were new to me (most of them), there wasn’t a true dud in the mix. With a lot of content, both large in quantity and quality, Rage of the Behemoth isn’t just a solid heroic adventure fantasy anthology, but an excellent anthology of fantasy without the sub-genre trappings, and worth a look even for the non-fantasy fans among us. This is one of the best anthologies I have read in a long time. After really enjoying Death & Dishonour out from Black Library, I was wondering how this one would hold up. There is no question that Waltz has created the far superior anthology.
I wondered whether the wide variety of stories following series characters (as noted in the individual story notes) would be problematic and difficult to get into, but far from that, there were no problems, and I will now be looking out for a number of these authors in the future, especially Durham and Stewart and a couple others. Don’t hesitate; go get a copy of this book now, and then keep checking back for the next anthology from Rogue Blades Entertainment and editor Waltz to be released. If it lives up to this one, it is a guaranteed winner.