Millhaven Press is a new publisher on the fantasy scene, but they already have quite a few anthologies to their credit. Savage Lands is the second volume in their Fierce Tales series, and contains five novellas. There’s no introduction and no editor listed, so let’s get right to the stories.
The collection starts off on the wrong foot with Michael Colangelo’s ludicrous “The Wizard of Xogg.” Two Norsemen are hired by a wizard named Karl to return a scepter that was stolen from Viola, Princess of Xogg. Considering the casual tone, sloppy prose, and overall implausibility of this story, I get the impression that Colangelo doesn’t take writing seriously at all. This reads like a transcription of a (very bizarre) children’s bedtime story that was made up on the spur of the moment. At least you can’t say it was predictable.
Thankfully, things pick up a bit with J. Manfred Weichsel’s Burroughs-inspired story, “We May Not Have Fire, But We Sure as Hell Have Fury.” While Vietnam vet George French is on an assassination mission in Guatemala, he gets double crossed. French ends up getting thrown into a volcano. The volcano is some kind of portal, and he awakes in a jungle filled with carnivorous vegetation and hostile snake men. He learns that he is in the distant future and these snake men, the Darskans, rule over the Americans, who are now weak and docile. French is determined to instill the revolutionary spirit into his fellow Americans. There’s some political commentary regarding immigration and failing democracies, but I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be taken at face value. The prose is on the rough side, which is surprising, because the other stories by Weichsel I’ve read were fairly well polished. Nevertheless, the story was entertaining and held my attention all the way to the end.
Next up is “Dreams of Gold” by Jeffery L. Blehar. An exiled man from the Plains seeks passage on Captain Jaffe’s ship to Letarkkan. A goblinoid race known as the Shrevkin are after the Plainsman because he stole a treasure map from them. The Shrevkin set fire to Jaffee’s ship, so he and the Plainsman flee from the city, led by a helpful urchin named Symon. The three follow the stolen map, which they believe leads to a legendary treasure hoard of a Sultan from the Forgotten Times. At 70 pages, this story takes up nearly a third of the book. It definitely would have benefited from some trimming.
Now we get to the good stuff. In Misha Burnett’s “Nox Invictus,” a company of Roman legionnaires stationed in England is slaughtered under mysterious circumstances. Captain Marius interrogates a local, who claims the act was committed by “people of the night.” Marius’ interpreters have difficulty understanding his outlandish claims. “A dark land. Not under the ground, but… behind the air? In another land where there is no sun.” Marius and his men follow a trail to a cave containing a small tunnel. When they pass through, they discover there was far more truth to the villager’s statements than they thought. This was an excellent story. The “dark land” reminds me in some ways of C.L. Moore’s “Black God’s Kiss.” The inhabitants aren’t as bizarre as those in Moore’s story, but they are certainly strange—and deadly.
The final tale is “The Wizard and the Tower Keep” by D.R. Lackner. The story is based on lyrics by Lackner’s epic metal band Legendry. A man from Earth is transported to another world with few memories of his past life. He does not even remember his name. He recovers a powerful artifact known as the Eye of the Kings from the dungeons of Evermorn. The tyrannical wizard Vael desires it so he can gain unfathomable power. Lackner is the only author in the book who attempts exotic prose like the greats of Weird Tales wrote, and the story is much better for it.
I hope Millhaven becomes more selective in the future. If the first three stories in Fierce Tales were as good as the last two, it would be a must-read for fans of sword and sorcery.