I was talking to a fellow writer the other day about whether or not there is a market for a ‘thinking man’s fantasy.’ We were specifically talking about that sub-genre, Sword and Sorcery, the genre made famous by the likes of Conan the Barbarian, and oft-mocked as being ‘thud and blunder’ rather than ‘blood and thunder.’ Now, I liked some of the Conan books. They may be straight-forward hack and slash, but sometimes that’s what you want. So is there a market for more thinking and less gore?
I think it’s safe to say there is. Well, there is to me, anyway. Also, I sometimes like thinking about my hack-and-slash reading. How about a book that combines all that into one really well-written and fun read?
Larry Correia’s latest fills the bill. Son of the Black Sword opens a new saga, one that I was delighted to discover near the end of the book that I had called from the foreshadowing at the beginning of the book. I’m not sure I should spoil it, but I’ll suffice to say that Correia’s book is closer to the sub-genre made famous by, say, Poul Anderson’s Three Heart and Three Lions than Robert Howard. Although he’s really close to that, too. With the exception that Ashok, Correia’s hero, is no barbarian. He is, on the other hand, an inhumanly good killing machine.
I talk a lot about likable heroes, and my readers may wonder what I’m at, recommending a book which features a man who lives only to follow orders, even if those orders include atrocities most people would question vigorously before running the officer who gave them through as the best end for a bad lot. Ashok never flinches. And I still liked him. Well, maybe he’s not the guy I’d sit down and have coffee with. But he’s a hero, even if he’s not really sure about that role. And I will tell my readers that it takes him most of the book to grow into that role.
Son of the Black Sword is a book of redemption. Of how a man who has literally been molded for one role all his life breaks free, and comes to see that not all whole men are intact. Correia’s deft world-building slowly unfolds a civilization marked by its ageless war with the daemons who come from the sea, and are all too corporeal. The book opens with Ashok fighting off two of them, defending a village full of people who are not allowed to defend themselves. In the battle his life is saved by an unlikely intercessor. And the story proceeds, first going back, then forth, in time. But the transitions between forward progress are well-defined and easy to keep up with where you are in time and space.
By telling the story in this manner, Correia slowly reveals the man Ashok, and the history of the world he is a product of. The side characters are also developed in this way, and some of them are much nicer people than Ashok is. I was particularly fond of the scene where the two librarians were exchanging insults. I’d really love to see more of the hammer-wielding protector – I liked him. The good thingis, I know there will be more. This is just the opening of a series, but don’t worry – it has an ending, it’s not a cliffhanger. Actually, the only thing I’m going to worry about is when I can make time to re-read this book. And the rest of the MHI series, because it’s been a while.
I had put off reading this book, because I knew it would pull me in and not let me back out until I was done, and Correia didn’t disappoint – he never does. I love his storytelling, and it just keeps getting better and better. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.