On My Wishlist #2


On My Wishlist is a fun weekly event hosted by Book Chick City and runs every Saturday. It’s where I list all the books I desperately want but haven’t actually bought yet. They can be old, new or forthcoming. If you want to know more click here.

So what’s on my wishlist this week?

Sherlock Holmes is back, and he’s being chased by two assassins. Surely I’m not serious.

I try very hard not to be serious too often, and Shirley is my mother.

Sherlock Holmes and the Swedish Enigma
Barry Grant
April 1, 2012
Severn House
Before the BBC brought us a 21st Sherlock Holmes in the form of Benedict Cumberbatch, Barry Grant tried a totally different approach in The Strange Return of Sherlock Holmes. He postulated that Holmes fast-froze when he fell over Reichenbach Falls, only to be medically thawed in the 21st century, and brought back to rather astonished and astonishing life in the present day. Strange Return, and the second book in the series, Sherlock Holmes and the Shakespeare Letter, were actually quite good. The latest in the series, Sherlock Holmes and the Swedish Enigma, comes out in April. I’m curious to see if the author can keep this thing going.

I’ve just realized something. This Holmes has a Watson, of course. His name is James Wilson. Just like in the TV series House. And Gregory House is a modern-day Holmes, brilliance, irascibility, addictions and all. The homage is homaged.

The Outcast Blade
Jon Courtenay Grimwood
March 26, 2012
Little, Brown
Alternate History, Fantasy

Last year I read (and recommended) a brilliant sad, mysterious alternate history version of Venice with assassins, vampires, witches and werewolves controlling courtly politics and performing deadly deeds in the dark of night. Serenissima, the city of Venice, was every bit as much of a character in The Fallen Blade as any of the human or supernatural characters who walked her streets. The second act of The Assassini has finally appeared. I want to sink my teeth into The Outcast Blade and savor every page.

Broken Blade
Kelly McCullough
November 1, 2011
Dark Fantasy

Speaking of blades, I just read a terrific review of Kelly McCullough’s Broken Blade over at Flames Rising. I loved her WebMage series, but this is her first fantasy noir. Let me say again, I really loved her WebMage series, which mixes cyberpunk with urban fantasy with more than a touch of mythology. If any of that appeals, WebMage is the first book. But Broken Blade with its assassin-hero looks much more like dark fantasy or sword and sorcery. Both of which I like to begin with. And I like McCullough’s style. Sounds like a winning combination to me.


Honor Among Thieves

Honor Among Thieves by David Chandler did not have a happy ending. It shouldn’t have. It had the absolutely correct ending. I sat stunned for several minutes after I finished, just gathering myself. Ness was a little more real to me than my own kitchen. Or wherever-the-hell-I-was when I finished. I was emotionally scraped raw by that point. I didn’t want to leave, but it was time for the book to end, for me to leave Ness, and well, anything else would be spoilers.

There is no honor among thieves. That’s what people say. That’s why that phrase has become such a truism, because such honor does not exist. Except that occasionally it does. There is another cliché that may apply here, the one about the exception proving the rule.

Honor Among Thieves is the final book in the Ancient Blades trilogy. In the first book, Den of Thieves, our thief and hero, Malden, snuck into the Free City of Ness like, well, like a thief in the night. In the second book, appropriately titled A Thief in the Night, Malden and his companions, the Knight-Errant Sir Croy, the witch Cythera, the dwarf Slag and the Barbarian Mörget, investigated the demon-lair under the mountains that protected the country of Skrae from the barbarians of the East. Unfortunately, in order to defeat the demon, they blew up the mountain. The whole mountain. Leaving civilized Skrae, including Malden’s home city, ripe for a good old barbarian scourging.

The companions believe that Mörget was trapped and killed in the explosion. He’s actually leading the barbarian horde. Sir Croy is serving the crown, because that’s what Knights always do, whether they think the crown is stupid or crazy or ill-advised or whatever. That leaves Malden and Cythera.

The thief and the witch return to Ness to discover that the rats have deserted the sinking ship. The rich have all left the city. The reasonably well-off or reasonably healthy and idealistic form an “Army of Free Men” under the Burgess, the leading noble. And that leaves the dregs of society. The only healthy people left are the thieves and the prostitutes. Malden’s people. And Cutbill, the head of the underground but extremely influential Thieves’ Guild has left town and left it all to Malden.  As presents go, Malden would rather find the Nessian equivalent of coal in his stocking. He doesn’t want to be in charge. But he knows he has to be.

And when it comes to the choice between saving their city or letting the barbarians run them over and kill them, the supposed dregs of society will band together, and there is honor to be found among thieves.

Escape Rating A: If you love sword and sorcery fantasy, run, don’t walk, to get yourself a copy of Den of Thieves and start reading the Ancient Blades. This is a series where you need to read the whole thing, and you won’t be sorry you did.  This is new-school type sword and sorcery, so the gods don’t intervene the way they used to in Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser‘s day. These gods are made in the images of men. I think that just makes their worship more powerful, but also much darker. There are no good choices here, just shades of grey. Anyone who likes Steven Brust’s Jhereg series but wishes it had an actual ending will love Ancient Blades. I know I did.

A Thief in the Night

Sword and sorcery may be the lowest form of fantasy. When it’s a book like A Thief in the Night, by David Chandler, that’s a really, really great thing. Bad boys doing bad things for all the wrong reasons. Sounds like fun because it IS fun!

A Thief in the Night is the second book of The Ancient Blades. If you’re curious about book one, Den of Thieves, read this first. Book three, Honor Among Thieves, will be published in late November, 2011, and I’m very grateful to the publisher and Net Galley for letting me have a review copy. I’d hate to be waiting until after Thanksgiving to see how it all turns out. I dislike “middle-book syndrome” on general principles. Enough said.

When last we left our heroes (I’ve always wanted to write that), they had just removed an evil sorcerer and his corrupted knight from the Free City of Ness. Permanently and with extreme prejudice. Malden, the thief of the title, had also learned more than was good for him about the way the city really works. In Malden’s case, if a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, a lot of knowledge is downright life-threatening.

Sir Croy, the Ancient Blade, won the freedom of his lady-love, Cythera the witch’s daughter. At the beginning of Thief in the Night, Croy believes they will finally be married. There are a few problems with his plan. Their betrothal signing is interrupted by a bar-room brawl. Started by a Northern Barbarian. One who holds yet another Ancient Blade. Said Barbarian wants Croy to help him hunt down a demon. Croy loves demon hunting even more than he loves Cythera, so Croy leaves the betrothal unsigned to start outfitting the demon hunt. Cythera is just fine with the interruption, because that’s the other problem. Croy thinks she’ll be a good little knight’s wife once their married, and she’s not so sure about that. And anyway, she’s in love with Malden. Oops.

About that demon. The demon is holed up in the Vincularium. For those who read Tolkien, think of it as the Mines of Moria, only with a worse backstory. The dwarves  buried a secret in the Vincularium, one they’ll do anything to keep buried. The humans buried one there too. History is written by the victors, or so it is said. In Malden’s world, where we say, “dead as a doornail”, they say, “dead as an elf”. The Vincularium is where the elves died. All the elves. Betrayed by their dwarven allies and killed by the humans.

But the Ancient Blades are sworn to kill demons. So Croy is going. His new friend Morget the barbarian is going. Cythera says she’s going. No one has signed those betrothal papers yet, so she’s still a free woman. And Malden, our thief–he wasn’t going. No profit in it. But…about those secrets. Someone in Ness wants him dead. Painfully. Sacrificed to the Bloodgod.  Going to the Vincularium suddenly looks like the less painful option. Or at least a delay of the painful option. Delaying death is always good.

Escape Rating A: One of the things I love about sword and sorcery is the way that it turns high fantasy tropes upside down. The central character here is Malden, the thief. He is not a hero, and he doesn’t want to be. He’s a survivor. Croy is a typical hero, and he’s naive to a fault. Malden’s voice is much more fun to listen to, he’s sharper and smarter. Also more of a smart-ass.

Cythera is also a survivor. She was a virtual prisoner for many years. Croy represents safety and security, marrying him is the safe option. He will protect her. But he is incapable of understanding her.  And yes, Malden loves her too.

I enjoyed watching every one of the starting assumptions get knocked down. The demon isn’t exactly a demon. The dwarves aren’t just clever artificers and merchants–they are prevented from being warriors by treaty, and only as long as it suits them.  The elves weren’t the villains that humans have always been taught. “Dead as an elf” isn’t actually correct, either. Dealing with the fallout from that is going to be fun in the next book.



Den of Thieves

Den of Thieves by David Chandler is the first title in The Ancient Blades trilogy. It is also a thoroughly delicious tale in the old school known as sword and sorcery.

As in all the best sword and sorcery stories, our hero is not exactly a hero. To be specific, Malden is a thief. He’s the bastard son of a whore, and thieving was the only profession open to him that allowed him to make a living. But Malden is good at it. And, important for any sword and sorcery hero, or should I say anti-hero, Malden is a survivor.

Malden finds himself on the wrong side of the head of the Thieves’ Guild of Ness. How does he do that? By being a little too good at being a thief, and burgling a house under the Guild’s protection…successfully. But entry into the Guild’s membership costs more than Malden will earn in a lifetime. So, he looks for a way to earn a lifetime’s worth of gold, fast.

In the best, or is that worst, sword and sorcery tradition, Malden gets in over his head. He gets involved in a scheme to steal the crown of the head of state, the Burgrave. His commission comes from a sorceress and a knight carrying an “Ancient Blade” that is called Acidtongue for very good reasons.

But the crown is not just a crown. And the knight is no longer truly a knight. And the sorceress, well she really is a witch, but witches aren’t exactly witches as we know them.

But there is a sorcerer involved, and he wants to bring down the city. And there is another knight involved, an idealistic knight who still believes in his vows, and he wants to rescue the witch. And Malden, he discovers that the hard part isn’t stealing the crown. The really hard part is stealing it back–while playing “keep away” from demons.

Escape Rating A: Sword and sorcery is fun if you like your laughter with a side of gallows humor. Den of Thieves is no exception. Malden is always one step ahead of his doom. Sometimes only a half step, but still ahead. His best hope is win another day. To survive. And he does. Or, at least so far.

Malden’s story continues in A Thief in the Night, which is due out in September. Malden is so good at getting himself into trouble, I can’t wait to see what he does next!