As the year draws to a close, it’s customary to reflect on the past twelve months in some way. 2018 isn’t quite over yet, but I thought I would take a look at a few of the best books I read this year, both new releases and old ones I’d never read before.
Red Sonja series by David C. Smith and Richard L. Tierney
I usually avoid reading stories written by authors who didn’t create the character, but since Robert E. Howard never actually wrote a Red Sonja story (more on that later), I thought I’d give these a shot. I’m glad I did. Each of the six novels is a stand-alone story, so if you happen to find, say, When Hell Laughs or Star of Doom at a used book store, you can read it and enjoy it without having read the previous ones. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but all six are solid and worth your time. Unfortunately the series is out of print in English, but a German translation was recently released.
Echoes of Valor III edited by Karl Edward Wagner
I’d been hunting this anthology for a long time because it contained three Nictzin Dyalhis stories. Eventually I got fed up and decided to publish a complete collection of all of Dyalhis’ fantasy and science fiction myself. Two weeks after The Sapphire Goddess was released, I found a copy of Echoes of Valor III. Go figure! I’m still glad I got it, as there’s a lengthy essay by Sam Moskowitz which I wish I’d read before I wrote the introduction to Goddess. There are eight stories total in Echoes III, and all of them are good, but the only one I hadn’t read before was “Wolves of Darkness” by Jack Williamson. It’s an excellent werewolf horror story which has nothing to do with his excellent werewolf horror novel Darker Than You Think. Another notable story is Robert E. Howard’s historical adventure “The Shadow of the Vulture,” the only story featuring the original Red Sonia, a 16th century Russian swordswoman. The book also contains both of Henry Kuttner’s tales of Prince Raynor and a caveman story by Manly Wade Wellman, “Hok Goes To Atlantis.” Every single story in Echoes III is in print at the moment, so it’s not necessary to go out of your way to search for it.
The Snake-Man’s Bane by Howie K. Bentley
A great collection of sword and sorcery stories, some of which feature the demon god Thorn, others the werewolf barbarian Argantyr. I reviewed it earlier this year.
Lin Carter’s Simrana Cycle edited by Robert M. Price
I’ve never been a big fan of Carter’s writing, but sometimes he gets the job done right. This is a pretty cool collection which contains all of his Lord Dunsany-inspired Simrana tales, but that’s just a start. Various authors including Adrian Cole and Robert M. Price contributed new stories in the setting, and there’s a helping of Dunsany originals as well. The final tale is a rare (and damn good) one by Henry Kuttner, “The Jest of Droom-Avista.”
Berserker: The Horned Warrior by Chris Carlsen
Chris Carlsen is a pen name for Robert Holdstock, who for some reason considered the Berserker trilogy hack work. I consider it one of the best S&S series I’ve ever read and far superior to the overrated Mythago Wood. In the first book, Shadow of the Wolf, Odin bestows a curse on a young Norseman, Harald Swiftaxe. Death cannot break the curse, for each time Harald perishes, he is reborn, not in the future, but in a past age. Originally published only in the UK, this sex and violence-laden trilogy was recently released as an omnibus edition.