SpecMusicMuse Review—Thunder on the Battlefield, Volume Two: Sorcery, Edited by James R. Tuck
Sword & Sorcery is hard to get right, for it is a subgenre defined more by what it isn’t than what it is. While it shares some similarities to its cousins, Epic Fantasy and Heroic Fantasy, the scale is usually nowhere near as epic and the heroes are nowhere near as heroic. In fact, it’s the protagonists that make it so hard to write, for traditionally they tend to be very flawed but not so flawed as to be unlikeable. That’s a precarious balance to keep—a balance that every writer in Thunder on the Battlefield, Volume Two: Sorcery, the second volume in a two-volume anthology, nails with masterful skill.
While the trials and ordeals are well-plotted and challenging, and the settings are grim and gritty, it’s the characters, more than anything, that stand out. You’ll fall in love with the reckless determination of Hunter Mann, in Selah Janel’s “The Ruins of St. Louis.” Fans of D. A. Adams’s Brotherhood of Dwarves series will follow a beloved character’s struggle to escape slavery in “Across the Wilds.” “Black Ice” by S.H. Roddey introduces a warrior woman you’d want to keep on your good side and a Halfling who puts the hero into “sidekick.” And fans of Gorias La Gaul will love Steven L. Shrewsbury’s “The Whore of Jericho.”
But by far the most interesting character is the crusader, Valgard, in “The Two Fires” by Steven S. Long. Rarely in S&S do you encounter a protagonist who wields magic, and an incorrupt priest at that! Few S&S writers can break the classic tropes and get away with it, but Long manages to make it work with ease.
If the first volume is even half as good as this one, and I have no doubt that it is since both volumes share the same editor, then Thunder on the Battlefield is an addition to the subgenre that would make Robert E. Howard’s spirit proud.
Best to read while listening to: soundtracks to Conan the Barbarian and Heavy Metal. Also toss in a little Iron Maiden while you’re at it.