Mouth of the Dragon, by Thomas Barczak, from Perseid Press

First dragon-sighting of the 2017 season…

What awaits when prophecy turns against the prophet?

What will he see, when the veil of the dragon rises?

To save the ones he loves, Chaelus, vessel of the Giver reborn, pursues the dragon and the fate that prophecy foretold for him. But as the veil of the dragon rises, so does the veil between prophecy and the past, where the Prophecy of Evarun suffers no rivals.

Mouth of the Dragon, Prophecy of the Evarun, (c) February 10, 2017, Perseid Press.

 

mouthdragon-kindle-coverPerseid Press

Pre-order now on Amazon, ships February 10, 2017:  https://www.amazon.com/Mouth-Dragon-Prophecy-Thomas-Barczak-ebook/dp/B01MS37Q2E/

Perseid Press tells your fortune for 2017: You’ll be enthralled by Thomas Barczak’s Mouth of the Dragon, a dark dragon tale for our times.

We asked Tom to tell us about Mouth of the Dragon, without reveal any secrets, and here is what he says:

This dark, epic, and redemptive fantasy challenges everything a hero’s journey can be.

Chaelus, once Roan lord of the House of Malius, now vessel of the Giver reborn, has defeated the Dragon of legend. Now he must rescue his brother and his kingdom, both beyond the Dragon’s Veil.

When the legendary dragon resurges among drums of war, it threatens Chaelus, the human vessel of prophecy who once defeated it, and those loyalists the man holds dear.

Now Chaelus must confront the Dragon a second time, as prophecy has foretold.

With his remaining followers he pursues the Dragon. When he finds it, he finds that the blood of his past has returned to reclaim him.

And even with the power of prophecy at his summons he cannot defend against it.

Tempted to save all he’s lost, abandoned by the prophecy he’s vowed to serve, he falls under the spell of the Dragon, and learns that the dragon you hunt is the dragon within you.

Chaelus must defeat the dragon for all time, but finds he cannot, until he first surrenders himself.

*

Thomas Barczak confesses that he’s an artist, architect, and a writer whose stories tell the tales he’s always dreamed about.

His work also includes the illustrated epic fantasy novel, Veil of the Dragon, and the Kindle serial, Awakening Evarun (Parts I-VI), both set in the Evarun universe. He’s also written a comic fantasy serial for Kindle called Wolfbane (Parts 1-2 of 3). His short fiction includes contributions to Heroika 1 – Dragon Eaters, Nine Heroes, Terror by Gaslight, and What Scares the Boogeyman, as well as stories for two volumes Janet Morris’ award winning Heroes in Hell series, Dreamers in Hell, and Poets in Hell.

Tom swears he writes only because he must. He writes because he needs to tell others the stories he has held so long inside, stories that inspire his paintings and his poetry — stories that have always been with him, even years ago when he’d sit at a table with friends, slaying dragons.

If you’re not tempted there’s no dragon curled around your soul. Pre-order now, or get yours as electronic or deluxe trade paper editions on February 10, 2017. . .

Until then, content yourself with this short excerpt from Perseid’s  Kindle edition of Mouth of the Dragon by Thomas Barczk . . .

The small shadow of a horse and rider broke out of the thin blue veil on the horizon, a mark like a firebrand upon a pristine field of white, like an urgent stroke of prophecy.

Chaelus, the vessel of the Giver reborn, had returnedto them.

Chaelus.

Al-Mariam’s lips, her cheeks, the very flesh beneath her brow kindled at the sight of him, in the very place where Chaelus had touched her only a fortnight before, when he had heldher face and showed her his divinity, the true nature ofwhat hewas;whenhehadtouchedtheverysoulofher.

When he had touched her heart.

She had tried to then, but she could no longer deny her devotion toward him. What plagued her heart, though, was the question of its nature. She had been touched by him, by theeternalspiritoftheGiverthatpossessedhim,butshehad also been touched by something else, something more. She had been touched by the mortal husk that carried it, by the man who so effortlessly and nobly suffered both the burden and the grace of itsbearing.

It was his humanness that kept her near to him, that made her love him.

It was he, Chaelus, not the vessel of the Giver reborn but the resurrected barbarian lord of the House of Malius, who had laid such a claim upon her heart.

Shestoppedherhandasitdrewunconsciouslynearher brow,justabovetheplacewhereChaelus’fleshborethepale mark of the Dragon’scrown.

The shuffling cascade of ice and stone down the slopebehind her announced Al-Toman’s arrival.

Al-Toman’s thick merchant cloak swirled about him. Disguised as a noblewoman’s merchant train returning from Tulon, some of them as merchants, some of them as slaves, the twelve kept their Gossamer Blades hidden beyondthewardedsafetyoftheGarden,theplaceoftheirexile. Obidae, along withAl-Mariam’s orphaned mystical brother, Michalas,spiritualtwintoChaelusandsomehowpartofthe prophecy as well, would also play the part of slaves. Chae- lus, their prophesied protector, would be their temporal one as well, should ever the eyes of bandits or Hunters, the assassinssentbytheTheocracytoexterminatetheirorder,find them.

And, of course, Obidae would be there to help them with this, too.

Al-Toman eyed Obidae and nodded to him.

Obidae, the mastiff barbarian, nodded back.

Al-Toman, unlike most of the Servian Knights, felt no discomfort toward the barbarian chieftain. In fact, a sort of silent friendship had developed between the two in the fort- night that had passed since Obidae and his band ofKhaalish warriors joinedthem.

Al-Toman, like most of the Servian knights, camefrom a foreign land. In Al-Toman’scase, from the Dunnish lands to the east, where the mysticism of the Khaalishite was not so foreign and where both blood and trade had flowed between both peoples ever since the Awakening, a hundred yearsbefore.

Together, the two would also help to serve as ambas- sadors when they arrived in the Khaalishite, so that theGiver, so that Chaelus, could carry the message of his return to themaswell.Hopefully,theycoulddosobeforetheDragon, whichhadalreadydarkenedtheTheocraticStatesalongtheir border, carried itsown.

That was why the Mother had sent them, anyway, if it was true that the souls of the Theocracy were already lost.

“The others are beginning to wonder if…” Al-Tomanbegan.Hefollowedthedirectionofherstare.Hisvoicesoft- ened.“He’shere.”

Al-Mariam heard Al-Toman’svoice change at thesight of Chaelus, in unfeigned reverence at the sight of their, his own,savior.

She heard the call and running footsteps of the other Servian knights climbing the ridge to meet him, to see him.

“He’s late,” she said.

Al-Toman’s mouth waited, open but silent.

Bloodandspittlegatheredaroundthecornerofhislips. Hisheadhungwithaslightbendoverwherethearrowshaft protruded from his throat and through the back of his neck. Therestofhisbodysagged,thengavewaybeneathhim.

Herownvoice,alongwitheverythingelse,fellsuddenlysilent.

More arrows grew out of the snow around her, sprouting like a savage garden. Their fletching was the color of blood. She felt a sharp tug at her cloak and a heavy weight.

She searched in vain for Obidae, for his protection, but only found the muted pleas of fallen knights in the snow around her.

Across the frozen plain, the small shadow of Chaelus seemed to move farther away from her.

The silence cracked at last like a frozen pond around her, exploding in a pain that consumed her, crushing her, bringing her down, dulled only by the mortal sound of her own scream.

*

mouthdragon_bccorrections

Tribulations Herculean and Tragic: Beyond Wizardwall by Janet Morris

see original on Black Gate Adventures in Fantasy Literature:  https://www.blackgate.com/2014/04/08/beyond-wizardwall-by-janet-morris/este Adventures in Fantasy Literatureribulations Herculean and Tragic: Beyond Wizardwall by Jat Morris

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 | Posted by Joe Bonadonna

Beyond Wizardwall

Woe betide the soul who loves too much, wants too much, dares too much.

I finish my reviews of the 5-star, Author’s Cut editions of Janet Morris’s classic of Homeric Heroic Fantasy, the Beyond Sanctuary Trilogy, with the third and final book, Beyond Wizardwall. This was the toughest of the three to review because there is so much that happens and so much ground to cover. This is also the most dramatic, tense and emotionally powerful of the three books. Let me begin with a little recap in Janet’s own words:

Heavy snows had put the war against Mygdonia and its Nisibisi wizards into hiatus. Niko’s commander, Tempus, called the Riddler, had employed magic to bring his mixed cadre of shock troops (Rankan 3rd Commando rangers, Tysian ‘specials,’ hillmen of Free Nisibis, and Niko’s unit of Stepsons) back to Tyse for the winter. Fighting had ended inconclusively, with the Mygdonian warlord Ajami still at large.

They ride into Tyse triumphant and settle in to wait for spring, content with the season’s work. All except Niko. Everything in this excellent novel revolves around Niko (who is also known by his war name, Stealth), for what trials he endures and what tribulations he suffers are Herculean and tragic and form the core of this novel.

In the first chapter, he’s at wits’ end, quitting the Sacred Band after he gets rousted by a pair of arrogant 3rd Commandos, wherein things quickly turn ugly and he kills one of the soldiers. Niko escapes and goes into hiding at Brother Bomba’s whorehouse.

This is where the triad of Niko’s troubles begins. First, there is Askelon, the entelechy of dreams, regent of the seventh sphere and an archmage with delusions of godhood. He rules the sleep of all, from his ephemeral archipelago of dreams, Meridian. Then there is Roxane — shape changer, soul eater, and vampire-like witch, who devours the essence of life from hapless mortals. Finally, we have Enlil, the northern Storm Lord and god of the armies. All three come to haunt Niko.

Beyond Wizardwall Ace paperback-smallAskelon wants Niko for the purity of his soul, who steals his sleep and wants Stealth for an avatar. Roxane the witch, Death’s Queen, wants Niko’s body and a bit of his soul. And Enlil wants Niko as a representative on earth. Pulled in three directions by three powerful beings of higher octaves, Niko is being driven mad, which leads him into a whirlpool of drink and drugs. To make matters worse, Brachis, High Priest of Vashanka (the Rankan storm god who has disappeared), comes to hire Niko to assassinate Abikithis, the emperor of Ranke, for the good of empire, Vashanka, and Niko’s own soul.

Now, still searching for Niko, wanting him for the murder of one of their own, the 3rd Commandos trash Bomba’s bordello, but Niko manages to escape.

Enter Tempus: The Riddler wrestles with his own demons. Demigod and immortal though he is, he bears a curse of his own: those who love him die of it, and those he loves are bound to spurn him. And Niko, being his right-side companion in war and life, may suffer from that curse, as Tempus himself has long suffered from it.

The Riddler’s heart is troubled, for he has deployed Niko before, pushing him and using him to flush out Roxane the witch, but she’s still at large. Now Tempus fears that Roxane has again possessed Niko and is spying through his eyes. He needs to find Niko, not only to set things to rights, but to find out what Brachis the High Priest wants and to save Niko from the 3rdCommandos, the special unit Tempus formed and trained in his younger days.

To top it all off: there is much anger, competition, and jealousy between the Stepsons and the Commandos. Furthermore, Vashanka, the Rankan Storm God who once was Tempus’s patron, has disappeared. Tempus blames himself for the witch stalking Niko and he will finally bargain with Enlil — save Niko, leave Niko be, and take him, the Riddler, instead. Ah, but things are never quite that easy.

Enter Randal: Seventh Level Hazard Mage, who is also part of the Sacred Band, the only wizard with whom they agree to work. When he returns home, he confronts the mysterious suicide of his guild’s murderous First Hazard Mage. After Niko is found and rescued, Tempus orders Randal to keep an eye on Stealth, his one-time, right-side partner, to protect him and keep track of him. But as you can guess, that’s not going to be an easy task, either. And events are soon set into motion that will quickly throw Randal into the very thick of things.

Beyond Wizardwall hardcover-smallEnter Cime: The dangerous, seductive mage-killer, sister of Tempus in spirit, if not by blood. She breaks into the mageguild one night, casts a spell and seduces the First Hazard, and then murders him. She and Tempus will form a joint occupation to rid the world of sorcerers, except for Randal. If it was up to her, Cime would rid the world of gods, too. Despite her distaste for wizards, she will team up with Randal to help track down Roxane who, weakened and ugly and badly injured after the mage-war, wants a magical globe that Randal possesses.

Don’t forget: Roxane also wants Niko and she uses an innocent young boy named Grippa to get at him.

And then there’s Kama, Tempus’s beautiful daughter, a soldier with the 3rd Commandos, who falls in love with a Stepson named Critias, and who seems to have a secret agenda all her own. Needless to say, she manages to cause a few problems. What does she want? Whose side is she on? What does she seek, besides her father’s approval? What part will she play in the events to come? Jihan, the Froth Daughter of the god Stormbringer, also returns to complicate Tempus’s immortal life, and with her is the young boy with wizard’s blood, Shamshi, whose sad fate will eventually play out in The Sacred Band, which I previously reviewed here, for Black Gate.

As Fate and the gods would have it, all too soon things heat up further for Niko when he’s captured by priests and goes on trial in a kangaroo court designed to find him guilty of murder. He is tortured and maimed beyond all mortal endurance, and what he suffers in one tense, emotionally-charged scene will cut to the core of your heart as it cuts to the heart of Tempus the Riddler. And Tempus, near the end of his own wits, finds a way to capture Roxane, only to end up making a bargain with her to gain her help in saving Niko.

This is a novel of passion and love, powerful and character-driven from start to finish. It’s brilliantly conceived and executed, packing more in its 415 pages then the previous two books combined. Just to give you a sample of what else goes on: During a festival of songs, games, and physical prowess, there is a hostage crisis culminating in a surprising decision by Tempus, and what orders he gives to his Sacred Band. While the war between Ranke and Mygdonia is on hold for the winter, assassination is nevertheless in the air, and there’s a military coup in the works to put an old friend of Tempus’s on the Lion Throne of Ranke. But Ranke is doomed unless their missing god Vashanka is found, for without their god no hand at the helm of empire could be steady enough to put her back on course.

The Sacred Band-smallAh, but no strategy of war lasts long after battle is joined and everything seems to be going wrong, especially after Randal the mage decides to go against Tempus’s orders when he is sent to deliver a message to the Rankan mageguild and discovers, to his dismay, the truth about who the chief’s adepts of his guild just happen to be. There is also a very strange and highly unlikely, often pesky, little hornet and the “reveal” of what that creature is will catch you off-guard… and there’s this cool, orange-haired, gray-skinned demon named Snapper Jo who Roxane summons to serve her.

Beyond Wizardwall is a wonderful novel that expertly caps the Beyond Sanctuary Trilogy in a surprising and satisfying conclusion. It’s a novel of complex characters caught up in complicated situations. Once again, Janet Morris gives us a literary classic of Heroic Fantasy. This is a textured novel, layered with themes of brotherhood and loyalty, love and betrayal, of the magic and majesty of horses, of boys growing into manhood, and the tragedy of those who die all too young. This is a novel filled with fine writing, exciting and talented writing. For example, here is Morris describing simply and most eloquently, the archipelago of dreams known as Meridian:

“Here was no life as men knew it, no days piling one upon the last inexorably; but a different life, a different nature, malleable and ruled by the flux of nature. Sometimes Meridian was beautiful, sometimes horrid, for it held every dream and every dreamer from all mankind’s befuddled flock.

These had no tomorrows, no yesterdays, but only dramas, lusts and fears and doubts — and joys, melodies to set its golden streets vibrating with the turning of the spheres. Meridian was one of the four metaphysical compass points of creation; as such, its existence was never wholly in one realm or another, but roving on a cosmic wind that changed with every dream and dreamer.”

Microsoft Word - 09 12 24 Sacred Band Cover white horse white foThere is plenty of action, humor, sex, pathos, magic, and mystery, as well, and the narrative moves as swiftly as a blood-bay stallion at full gallop. This is Heroic Fantasy at its best, the kind I favor, and this Author’s Cut, which has been revised and expanded for this handsome, brand-new Perseid Press edition is a classic of the genre. But above all, Beyond Wizardwall has heart and compassion. Janet Morris writes about people; her characters live and breathe with the kind of vibrancy and solidity I find inspiring and influential to my own work.

For in the end, without human conflict, without emotional drama, without character growth, without heart, all you have is a narrative. And the soul of this novel is this: we feel the humanity and compassion in Niko; we feel the pain in Tempus’ own heart, know how deeply he loves, how he fears that love. We feel his aching and longing, and what torments his soul. And even in the character of Death’s Queen, the soul-eating witch Roxane, we learn that she can love and that she, too, understands compassion. Once again, bravo Janet Morris!

Life to you, and everlasting glory.

Beyond Wizardwall: The Revised Author’s Cut was published by Perseid Press on November 17, 2013. It is 415 pages, priced at $24.99 in trade paperback, or $6.99 for the digital edition. Cover art detail from The Fall of Phaeton by Peter Paul Rubens.

Read my previous reviews of Janet Morris’ novels here [on Black Gate]:

The Sacred Band
Beyond Sanctuary
Beyond the Veil
Beyond Wizardwall

Beyond Sanctuary: Review on Black Gate Adventures in Fantasy Literature of the Revised and Expanded Author’s Cut

see original article by Joe Bonadonna on Black Gate Adventures in Fantasy Literature:  https://www.blackgate.com/2014/02/17/return-to-thieves-world-in-beyond-sanctuary-the-revised-and-expanded-authors-cut-by-janet-morris/

Return to Thieves World in Beyond Sanctuary: The Revised and Expanded Author’s Cut by Janet Morris

Monday, February 17th, 2014 | Posted by Joe Bonadonna

Microsoft Word - 09 12 24 Sacred Band Cover white horse white foLet me start off here with a quote from my Black Gate review of Janet and Chris Morris’s novel, The Sacred Band:

The Sacred Band is much more than great Heroic Fantasy: it is classic literature, filled with sub-plots, a fine cast of well-drawn characters, insight and wisdom and recurring themes of honor, faith, brotherhood and love. This novel spoke to me on a personal level because it’s a story of pure human drama and powerful emotions. While the characters are larger than life, they are also richly-drawn and written with great depth of insight and humanity. What also rings true with the Sacred Band is their military tradition, their ethos. These characters are soldiers, warriors. They are not only mythic heroes, they are also everyday heroes; real people, everyday people who face extraordinary odds and foes… The Sacred Band has the sharp edge of reality, the harshness, the bitterness and the danger of the real world. Love, loyalty, honor — these are the ideals by which these characters live and die. This novel is epic in scope. It is mythic by heritage. It is positively Homeric.

Janet Morris’s Beyond Sanctuary is the first volume in a trilogy that includes Beyond the Veiland Beyond Wizardwall, and the events in this trilogy take place before The Sacred Band, the magnificent novel by Janet and her husband Chris, which I previously reviewed here for Black Gate.

Beyond Sanctuary is a complex novel and truly literary heroic fantasy. It is textured and layered, subtle at times, and yet always powerful. Like the best of all literary fiction, it has emotional depth and human drama, subtext and a philosophy that is expressed through the thoughts, words, and deeds of its characters, and not through narrative lecture and dissertation that slows the pace of narrative thrust.

This is a novel driven by eloquent, intelligent characters with real emotions and real problems, with plots and subplots born of the classical tradition… characters that speak to us, that have something to say. And the action never falters or loses momentum. Each chapter picks up more and more steam right up until the explosive finale of the attack on Wizardwall and the resulting aftermath that ends like the final note in a great opera or symphony on the last page.

Beyond Sanctuary Thieves WorldWar is brewing and the Rankan Empire hopes to flout Mygdonian expansion into their own lands and flout the mages of Wizardwall as well. And thus, Tempus the Black, also called the Riddler, decides that it’s time to join the fight, leave the sinkhole that is Sanctuary, and go up against the sorcerers and witches of Wizardwall. So he and Nicodemus, who is also called Niko, along with Janni, Critias, Straton, and the other Sacred Band of Stepsons, set out in pursuit of two powerful and ruthless foes: Datan the archmage and the Nisibisi witch Roxane.

This is the novel where Tempus first becomes involved with Jihan, daughter of a Froth God, who is in human form for the first time. This is where a young boy named Shamshi, who comes to play a major role later in The Sacred Band, has his mage-blood first awakened by Roxane’s caresses.

This is where young Niko, who is heartsick over having lost two battle-partners, loses his maat, his sense of balance and inner peace. And this is where Roxane first spins her web to attract Niko, to play her games with him… and wants to use Tempus to destroy Datan.

Ah, but Datan has his own plans to use Tempus — to destroy Roxane! No honor among thieves? There is even less honor among mages and witches.

If you are familiar with the classic Thieves World shared-world series, you will encounter many old friends and foes herein: Lastel (aka One-Thumb), Molin Torchholder, Hanse (aka Shadowspawn), Walegrin, Grillo, and so many others. Oh, and you’ll also revisit the Maze and that most infamous den of iniquity, the Vulgar Unicorn.

The gods, too, play a huge role in this novel: Askelon of Meridian, regent of the seventh sphere and entelechy of dreams and shadows; Enlil, Storm God of the Armies, who has snubbed Tempus; Stormbringer, the father of Jihan; and Vashanka, the former patron of Tempus, who has been left behind but not forgotten, and whose shadow, like those of all the gods, hangs over the lives of all the characters, for good or for ill, sometimes helping, sometimes interfering.

The main plot and the various subplots are complex and to go into more detail would only cause me to give away too many surprises and twists and turns. But I can safely say that you won’t be disappointed in the array of fantastic characters, the intrigue and Machiavellian maneuverings of priests and politicians, and the exciting siege of Wizardwall.

Beyond the Veil Janet Morris-smallDemon dogs, were-snakes, soldiers, demons, and the heroes of the Sacred Band — those warriors “of a higher octave of being” — all clash in mighty battle. Cime the Mage Killer, sister of Tempus, lends a hand. Randal, the allergy-prone enchanter and shape-shifter, so young and so eager to prove his worth, comes into his own and earns the respect of Tempus and the Sacred Band. Niko, too, who is still very young and uncertain, hopes not to disgrace himself in front of his elders and fellow members of the Sacred Band.

For me, the theme, the heart of Beyond Sanctuary, is untried youth, of untested boys growing into men, of recruits becoming soldiers, warriors and heroes. It’s a great treat for me to revisit this series, to see the threads and foreshadowing that begin in this first book of the Trilogy and evolve and grow through the next two volumes, and how they all play out, for better or worse, in The Sacred Band.

We see the hand of Fate at work here and the influence of the gods. And what I especially like is how Morris involves the gods, how they influence mortals, take on human form, become human and fallible, but never over-shadow the mortal characters or the story itself. Though not always seen, not always taking an active part, the gods are ever there, their presence always felt; this is all superbly choreographed in the classic tradition of Greek mythology.

Beyond Sanctuary is a wonderful novel, and this edition is a brand-new, revised and expanded Author’s Cut. This is a lucid, lyrical, and powerful story of love and war, loss and betrayal, life and death. Death is the price we pay for war. Grief is the price we pay for love.

Indeed. I’ve already started reading the second book in the Trilogy, Beyond the Veil. I urge you to start here, with Beyond Sanctuary, and don’t stop reading. Ever.

Beyond Sanctuary: Author’s Cut Edition by Janet Morris, Book One in The Beyond Sanctuary Trilogy, was published by Perseid Press on November 12, 2013. It is 398 pages, priced at $24.99 in trade paperback and $4.99 for the digital edition.

Read my other reviews of Janet Morris and Chris Morris’ novels here:

The Sacred Band
Beyond Sanctuary
Beyond the Veil
Beyond Wizardwall

Black Gate Adventures in Fantasy Literature review of The Sacred Band by Janet Morris and Chris Morris

See original post on Black Gate here:  https://www.blackgate.com/2014/01/12/heroic-fantasy-with-the-sharp-edge-of-reality-a-review-of-the-sacred-band-by-janet-morris-and-chris-morris/

Heroic Fantasy with the Sharp Edge of Reality: A Review of The Sacred Band by Janet Morris and Chris Morris

Sunday, January 12th, 2014 | Posted by Joe Bonadonna

The Sacred Band-smallThe Sacred Band
Janet Morris and Chris Morris
Perseid Press (547 pages, June 2011, $24.95)

All three hundred of the Sacred Band of Thebes fought at Chaeronea in August of 338 BCE, and two-hundred fifty-four skeletons lie buried there today under a granite lion. Some still argue about the fate of the forty-six whose skeletons were not recovered. Plutarch says that they died together, and Philip of Macedon wept to see it. Another, later, view is that the remainder surrendered, were taken prisoner, or deserted. We tell a different story.

— Janet and Chris Morris, in their Authors’ Notes and Acknowledgments from The Sacred Band

And this is the premise behind this wonderfully rich, complex, dramatic and highly emotional epic of gods, demi-gods and Men. This is the story of how Tempus the Black, Favorite of Enlil, Storm God of the Armies, and the one they call Riddler, challenged the gods to rescue twenty-three pairs of Thebans, forty-six warriors who had been fated to die. And rescue them he did… Charon, Lysis and the other forty-four men of the original Sacred Band of Thebes… by opening a dimensional portal from Chaeronea to Lemuria, where they were taken, trained and made part of the greater Sacred Band.

This is the also the story of Nicodemus, who is called Niko and Stealth, a true weapon of the gods, of his own struggle with becoming the favorite, the avatar of a god, and his intimate relation with the goddess Harmony.

After training and orientation, the Thebans do their best to settle in, to become one with Tempus’s Sacred Band. But it’s difficult for many of them, because memories of the Chaeronean battleplain, memories of seeing friends and comrades die in a battle in which they were fated to die keep intruding on their thoughts.

Sanctuary Thieves' World-smallDreams of Chaeronea haunt their hearts and give pain to their souls. Various versions of the “mantra,” Long spears, thunking into flesh. Men staggering backward, impaled, weeping, are a recurring theme throughout this story, as men dream of Chaeronea and that far-away field of battle. What these survivors remember and what they suffer adds a personal and very poignant touch to this novel, for as we turn the pages we get to know these men, these warriors, these heroes.

Now, Tempus has plans for his new and greater Sacred Band: to return to Sanctuary, that infamous “border town between morality and immortality, its feet in hell and its fingers stretched up to heaven.” Sanctuary: the center of activity in the classic Thieves’ World Series, where I first discovered Tempus, known then as the Hell-Hound.

In Sanctuary once again, Tempus plans to settle old scores and tidy loose ends. But he and the Sacred Band get more than they bargain for when they return to that “place where anything may happen, and sometimes does, when wills are strong and mysteries invoked.” For instance, there’s the warrior Kouras, soon to become a favorite and an avatar of the god Vashanka, who once favored Tempus.

How Kouras deals with becoming one with a Storm God and his love for a girl named Shawme is just one of the many sub-plots that grace this novel, which owes so much to history, mythology and the sheer brilliance, talent and imagination of Janet and Chris Morris.

A young, hot-headed warrior named Shamshi, who has wizard’s blood, gets things going when he murders a harlot one night. Apprehended by the Band, he is stripped naked, sewn inside the hide of an animal, and placed on the altar of Enlil, the Storm God:

If no beast eats him in the night, then we free him in the morning. The lesson’s done. Punishment finished. He’s cleansed by the storm god of any taint. If the god sends a bear or a wolf or a panther to tear him apart, then that is Enlil’s verdict and no one interferes. But if anyone cuts him loose tonight or tries to save him, we hunt down all of them and kill them.

A Man and His God-smallSo Tempus says to his men. Harsh treatment? Not at all. This punishment is most fitting to the crime in the context of the novel and the world in which the Sacred Band lives. But Shamshi has patience, and there is one who walks in dreams and shadows who has his eye on the boy with wizard’s blood. Thus, when Shamshi is freed, he is now bound to his savior in body, mind, heart and soul. He then sets out on the road of vengeance, uses his skills as a warrior and some other talents and gifts and help he has been given, and begins to pick off the Sacred Band, one by one. But his main target, the man he feels has betrayed him, and the one he most wants to kill is Nicodemus: Niko, whose war-name is Stealth.

Now the manhunt begins as Sham preys on the Sacred Band, killing them with single-minded determination and cold-blooded ruthlessness. Night after night, men die. A stable burns one night and horses die in a very tense and moving chapter. Other powers are brought into play as Tempus and the Band balance duty with their personal manhunt. Old friends and comrades come to aid in the hunt: Jihan, daughter of a sea god and Tempus’s lover; Randal the Mage, Ischade the Witch, and even Cime, Evening Star of Lemuria and sister of Tempus, are called in to help.
But there is more behind this manhunt than just tracking down a rapist and a murderer, for the stage is being set for a coming battle, a battle for Meridian, the realm of Askelon, entelechy of dreams and shadows. This battle will test the Sacred Band as it has never been tested before, and they will be hard-pressed because worlds collide in this battle when Askelon brings Meridian to Sanctuary, and the battle becomes a shadow, an echo of the great battle of Chaeronea.

And in this battle, not only the mettle of the Sacred Band will be put to the test, but that of the original Sacred Band of Thebes, as well — those forty-six warriors who had been fated to die but were rescued by Tempus. They will not only be fighting both old and new foes, but old comrades, as well — comrades who died at the hands of the Mesopotamians. Tempus and Niko will be tested in this battle, too. To the limits of their skills and power, strength and endurance they will be tested. Question is: will Enlil the Storm God come to the aid of Tempus, his avatar?

Beyond WizardWall-smallAnd what of Niko? Will the goddess Harmony continue to watch over him? Guard and protect him? Can Askelon, a god himself, be defeated? And what of Shamshi? He’s a great character because, for all that he is evil, he is also one to be pitied. He is a victim of forces and powers beyond his understanding, as well as a perpetrator of heinous acts. He is a pawn in the hands of something greater than himself, a puppet and a tool used by gods and the Fates.

The Sacred Band is much more than great Heroic Fantasy: it is classic literature, filled with sub-plots, a fine cast of well-drawn characters, insight and wisdom and recurring themes of honor, faith, brotherhood and love. This novel spoke to me on a personal level because it’s a story of pure human drama and powerful emotions. While the characters are larger than life, they are also richly-drawn and written with great depth of insight and humanity. What also rings true with the Sacred Band is their military tradition, their ethos. These characters are soldiers, warriors. They are not only mythic heroes, they are also everyday heroes; real people, everyday people who face extraordinary odds and foes. They are true to all who have served in any branch of the military.

This is not sword and sorcery, this is not elves and dwarves and high-concept fantasy… The Sacred Band has the sharp edge of reality, the harshness, the bitterness and the danger of the real world. Love, loyalty, honor — these are the ideals by which these characters live and die. This novel is epic in scope. It is mythic by heritage. It is positively Homeric.

This is a 5-Star novel written by two highly-talented writers who have been around for a very long time, who have not lost their chops and their edge, and have not slowed down. There is so much in this novel to enjoy, so much I haven’t even touched on. All I can say is that this is classic stuff. Buy it. Read it. You’ll see.

As Tempus and the Sacred Band would say, “Life to you, and everlasting glory.”

Read my other reviews of Janet Morris and Chris Morris’ novels on Black Gate.

Publisher’s LINKS:

Audiobook:  https://www.amazon.com/The-Sacred-Band/dp/B00N1YRVH2/

Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/Sacred-Band-Stepsons-Book-ebook/dp/B00AMLKJAI/

Trade paperback: https://www.amazon.com/Sacred-Band-Janet-Morris/dp/0988755009/

YouTube Sacred Band (audio/visual book trailer):  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ICAPn0E7NC0

Barnes & Noble:  http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/sacred-band-janet-morris/1100390034?ean=9780988755000&st=PLA&sid=BNB_DRS_Core+Shopping+Books_00000000&2sid=Google_&sourceId=PLGoP62465

Character Interview: Tempus, called the Riddler, the Black, the Obscure, Favorite of the Storm God

see original post at:  https://libraryoferana.wordpress.com/2014/03/07/character-interview-tempus-fantasy/?platform=hootsuite

 

Character Interview – Tempus – Fantasy

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Tell Us About Yourself

Name (s):  Tempus, called the Riddler, the Black, the Obscure, the Sleepless One, Tempus Thales, Herakleitos, Favorite of the Storm God, the Hero.

Age:  I’ve lived for centuries, in different countries, through different times, different dimensions.

Please tell us a little about yourself:  I am a mercenary of the storm gods, servant of the gods of war.  Sometimes I find my path solitary, but often I have warriors serving with me who also serve celestial purpose.  When I was young, I contested with a sorcerer to save my sister.  From this struggle came my curse and my immortality:  those I love are bound to spurn me; those who love me die of it; I regenerate any wound I take, except wounds of the spirit or the heart.  I’ve been thrust by gods and demiurges and even my sister from one world to another, so time for me is fluid. I was born in a lost place we called Azehur then, a philosopher-prince who loved the glory of truth above all things.  Now I go where the storm god of the armies leads, carrying him in my heart and in my flesh.

Describe your appearance in 10 words or less:  Two meters tall, horseman’s body, eyes that show my age.

Do you have a moral code? If so what is it?  I have one; I wrote one; I live one.  The Sacred Band Ethos serves me most times.   At its core is this truth:  live by the Logos; fight shoulder to shoulder for freedom; honor those who die in battle.  In living I have found that character is destiny.  My character tells me this:  grab reality by the balls and squeeze.

Would you kill for those you love?  Without hesitation, I always do.

Would you die for those you love?  If I could, I would.  But death is denied me.  Once I offered to trade my immortality to save another, to no avail.  I live on, amid the strife on every battlefield, from war to war.  Some say no war I fight can be lost, no cause I champion fail, but that is mythos, not reality.

What would you say are your strengths and weaknesses?  Strengths I have many; governing those strengths is my hardest task.  My weakness resides in loving too much, all my fighters, my partners, and the world the gods have made.  For untold years my weakness was my sister in arms, Cime; then for a time it became Nikodemos, my partner.  Love of life itself, lived with heart and soul, is weakness:  one must want neither too much to live nor too much to die.  Rage is power, yet rage is weakness. Only so much can be borne from men, so much from gods.  My greatest strength is knowing one simple truth:  in change lies all good, all rest.  Glory and wisdom are all around you, in every breath taken, yet no man can discover the limits of soul.

Do you have any relationships you prize above others? I greatly prize my relationship with my Sacred Band of Stepsons, and with one special Stepson, Stealth called Nikodemos.  My relationship with my sister Cime, who was cursed with me so long ago, yet confounds my heart.

Do you like animals? Do you have any pets/animal companions?  Here too are gods:  in every creature free to breathe is proof of heaven. There is no animal that is not more noble in its way than humankind.  Horses are my greatest allies, friends and companions.  In a horse is nature’s greatest impulse, realized.  We breed some special horses in the Sacred Band:  Trôs horses, so fast they run holes in the wind; Aškelonian horses, created by the demiurge, who can run on water; we have even a ghost horse, who cannot die or be hurt whatever men may do.

Do you have a family? Tell us about them.  My Sacred Band of Stepsons is my family.  They mean the most to me.  Niko, my right-side partner, is the best of those, the closest to me.  As for my sister Cime …  some say we have no consanguinity, but we grew up together, fought a sorcerer together, staggered under our curses together; when we were younger and more angry, we wreaked great destruction together – her against sorcerers and me against human folly.  I have a mistress, Jihan, a Froth Daughter sired by Stormbringer, who begat all weather gods.  And I have a few sons and daughters, scattered here and there:  some of those are worth succouring, and so I do.

Can you remember something from your childhood which influences your behaviour? How do you think it influences you? I remember something from my youth, but you would not call those days my childhood, nevertheless, from earliest days I have taken the side of Reason against Unreason. I have spoken above of my encounter with a sorcerer, trying to protect my sister Cime, and the curses that fell upon both our heads because of that. If she hadn’t come to me to save her, would things have gone differently?  Would I have stayed where I was born, assumed my kingship?  Been content to philosophize and teach, but never act?  Probably not.  For war is all, and king of all… and all things come into being out of strife.  Unlike most, I know what gods and heroes are.  My curse and the warlike life I’ve led colors all: the battles I have fought; the dead I carry in my heart, from battlefield to battlefield, war to war. My battle with all sorcerers is not yet over; may never be.  Trying to help Nikodemos takes me back to my own young days of strife and fury.  The best men choose immortal glory in preference to mortal good. In teaching Niko, Cime and I have another chance to know the name of justice, to prove that opposition brings concord as we guide this hero, closer than any blood son to me, toward a worthy future.

Do you have any phobias?  No.

Please give us an interesting and unusual fact about yourself. When I am in battle, I am faster than any other upon the field.  If I am on a Trôs or other such horse, I can transfer my speed to my mount.  And, of course, any wound I take will heal, any limb regrow.

Tell Us About Your World

Please give us a little information about the world in which you live:  Now when I can I ‘live’ with my Stepsons in Lemuria, a seaside island citadel where time does not pass as it does elsewhere.  From there, with Cime’s mystic powers, I can stage any mission, fight in any place or time.  At this moment we are campaigning somewhere in ancient Thrace, Pelasgian times, at the whim of the storm-god Enlil, who shepherds us through all things.  War will be in the mix of it, with the god guiding us.  My Stepsons are skirmisher light cavalry; we fight with edged bronze weapons, primarily, against what hegemonies challenge us or displease the gods.  But a man is a warrior because of mind, not weaponry.  We fight with weapons at hand, against whatever confronts us, and mostly where the ancient gods still war.

Does your world have religion or other spiritual beliefs? Many.

If so do you follow one of them? I believe in admitting that all things are one.

Please describe (briefly) how this affects your behaviour:  Our world, as you call it, all that lies within humanity’s ken, is full of gods.  We are servants of history and its storm-gods, sworn to the gods of war.  Enlil is the foremost of these for my fighters and myself.  The worlds we know are polytheistic, and many wars we fight are actually theomachies – wars between gods or among gods and sorcerous humans, who warp the fates of simpler men.  Once I warred in a nearly godless future, to bring them the means to repopulate their heavens; this we did for people dying from their paucity of belief, prey to the lusts and greed and fears of others no wiser than themselves. As for myself, I am a simple warrior-philosopher; my relations with gods remain pragmatic:  when gods reside in my flesh and in my head, then they control the battle tempo, not I. Is this religion, when gods and fates and worse walk the earth?  Or is it reality?

Do you travel in the course of your adventures? If so where?  I mentioned that I go wherever the gods send me.  I have been in Akkad, in Sumer; I have been in Chaeronea, in Nisibis, in Mygdonia, in Thrace.  I have been in what you call 20th century New York City, and to a future of dying oceans and a place there called Sandia.  I have been to the ends of the earth, to Bandara, to Lemuria, to the City at the Edge of Time, and to Meridian, the archipelago of dream and nightmare.  To Meridian, I suspect the Sacred Band will soon return.

Name and describe a food from your world.  A posset:  spiced wine and cheese or milk and barley, sometimes with nuts and sometimes not; served often with lamb or fish or ox-tail.

Does your world have magic? If so how is it viewed in your world?  We have a surfeit of magic, sorcerers from every time and plane meddling with Fates and gods.  We have wars between wizards and gods.  We have sorcery to rival godhead.  Thus, because people believe more in evil than in good, it does.

What form of politics is dominant in your world? (Democracy, Theocracy, Meritocracy, Monarchy, Kakistocracy etc.)  Our world, I once said, is an everliving fire, with portions of it kindling and portions going out. In age of bronze, we hear Plato’s musings about timocracy and democracy and tyranny, as well as the elusive republic. I have lived in earlier theocracies, oligarchies, and simple hereditary monarchies, often passed down through female lines.  Meritocracy I have seen but little of; Kakistocracy is, to my mind, a condition synonymous with governance by decree of any kind and especially with simple democracy:  people will choose those most like themselves, long before they’ll choose a person one bit better:  the foolish hate the smart and try to destroy them. This truth itself dependably produces bad government.

Does your world have different races of people? If so do they get on with one another?  Prejudice lives in flesh; the black dog hates the white; the roan horse hates the chestnut; in herds, mares of one color stick together.  How different, for humans?  People hate anyone different, and call them prey.

Name a couple of myths and legends particular to your culture/people. The greatest myth is that wisdom is called by the name of Gods.  The legendary Gilgamesh sat beside the dead Enkidu seven days, until a maggot fell from Enkidu’s nose.

What is the technology level for your world/place of residence? What item would you not be able to live without?  Most of all, I need my war horses and the heroes who bestride them or drive them.  The items I need are loyalty, clarity, and justice.  The technology in my world depends on when you ask me:  sometimes we have bronze spears and war axes; sometimes we have iron flights and crossbows; sometimes we have fireballs, and armor forged by men and gods.  I have been where metal flies and chariots need no horses; in those places, man has become the slave of all he owns, afraid of having so much to lose – and thus has nothing.

Does your world have any supernatural/mystical beings? Please tell us about some.  We have a populous cosmos.  We have demons and devils and fiends; we have were-wolves and were-snakes and men and women who can change into any creature at whim.  We have undeads and necromants; we have dragons and rocs and creatures part-man who lie deep in the seas; we have Froth Daughters and Fates and Erinys and sphinxes and naiads, and creatures who lived before the gods were born and spawned them.  We have pantheons of gods, most of whom are jealous and bellicose, and deadly when they walk the earth.  We have gods within and gods without. We Stepsons ourselves are the weapons of the gods, some say.

Within your civilisation what do you think is the most important discovery/invention? That an intelligible light drives all things through all things, under a sun that is new every day.

Name three persons of influence/renown within your society and tell why they are influential (Could be someone like Christ/Mandela/Queen Elizabeth or a renowned figure from a non-human/fantasy world.)  First, Enlil, greatest of the storm gods of heaven.  Next, Harmonia, whom we call Harmony, who is Justice, and sometimes walks among my Sacred Band.  Next comes Maat who tends the Balance. For eons, Aškelon of Meridian, demiurge, ruled over the seventh sphere, realm of dream and shadows, but no longer – but that is another story.  And we have the Logos, by many different names, who some call the will of Fates and some call Thunderbolt.

Please check out further posts in the next few days for Tempus and his Sacred Band.

http://sacredbander.com/

http://www.theperseidpress.com/

https://libraryoferana.wordpress.com/2013/12/29/beyond-sanctuary-heroic-fiction-review/

https://libraryoferana.wordpress.com/2014/01/12/character-interview-number-three-nikodemos-fantasymythic/

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ICAPn0E7NC0

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zTaDPNWAtHk
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B8FqgC4eK6A

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sacred_Band_of_Stepsons
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tempus_(novel)

http://www.ranker.com/list/famous-quotes-about-sacred-band-ethos/reference

Here are book links in chronological order, beginning with Beyond Sanctuary, the Author’s Cut, first book in the Sacred Band of Stepsons Beyond Trilogy.  Beyond Sanctuary  will be free March 7, 8, 9, 2014):

http://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Sanctuary-Sacred-Band-Stepsons-ebook/dp/B00GU0FPDG

http://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Veil-Sacred-Band-Stepsons-ebook/dp/B00GU0FIG0

http://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Wizardwall-Sacred-Band-Stepsons-ebook/dp/B00GU0FH6G

http://www.amazon.com/Tempus-Sacred-Band-Stepsons-Tales-ebook/dp/B00BI175EY

http://www.amazon.com/The-Sacred-Band-Janet-Morris-ebook/dp/B00AMLKJAI

http://www.amazon.com/Fish-Fighters-Song-Girl-Sacred-Stepsons-ebook/dp/B007VQIJFY

Here are Kindle Single links (shorter Sacred Band of Stepsons fiction):

http://www.amazon.com/Man-His-Sacred-Band-Stepsons-ebook/dp/B008MZ1T14

http://www.amazon.com/Wizard-Weather-Sacred-Band-Stepsons-ebook/dp/B00BEJX8MS

http://www.amazon.com/MAGE-BLOOD-Janet-Morris-ebook/dp/B006ZK8PLU

http://www.amazon.com/Wake-Riddler-Sacred-Band-Stepsons-ebook/dp/B0087OSP0S

Here are the Audio book links:

http://www.audible.com/pd/Sci-Fi-Fantasy/A-Man-and-His-God-Audiobook/B00BEJ7LI0

http://www.audible.com/pd/Fiction/Mage-Blood-Audiobook/B00CXVRDWM

http://www.audible.com/pd/Sci-Fi-Fantasy/Wake-of-the-Riddler-Audiobook/B00AU7IQZE

Joe Bonadonna’s capstone review of Beyond Wizardwall for Black Gate

Tribulations Herculean and Tragic: Beyond Wizardwall by Janet Morris

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 | Posted by Joe Bonadonna

Beyond Wizardwall

Woe betide the soul who loves too much, wants too much, dares too much.

I finish my reviews of the 5-star, Author’s Cut editions of Janet Morris’ classic of Homeric Heroic Fantasy, the Beyond Sanctuary Trilogy, with the third and final book, Beyond Wizardwall. This was the toughest of the three to review because there is so much that happens and so much ground to cover. This is also the most dramatic, tense and emotionally powerful of the three books. Let me begin with a little recap in Janet’s own words:

Heavy snows had put the war against Mygdonia and its Nisibisi wizards into hiatus. Niko’s commander, Tempus, called the Riddler, had employed magic to bring his mixed cadre of shock troops (Rankan 3rd Commando rangers, Tysian ‘specials,’ hillmen of Free Nisibis, and Niko’s unit of Stepsons) back to Tyse for the winter. Fighting had ended inconclusively, with the Mygdonian warlord Ajami still at large.

They ride into Tyse triumphant and settle in to wait for spring, content with the season’s work. All except Niko. Everything in this excellent novel revolves around Niko, (who is also known by his war name, Stealth), for what trials he endures and what tribulations he suffers are Herculean and tragic, and form the core of this novel.

In the first chapter he’s at wits’ end, quitting the Sacred Band after he gets rousted by a pair of arrogant 3rd Commandos, wherein things quickly turn ugly and he kills one of the soldiers. Niko escapes and goes into hiding at Brother Bomba’s whorehouse.

This is where the triad of Niko’s troubles begins. First, there is Askelon, the entelechy of dreams, regent of the seventh sphere and an archmage with delusions of godhood. He rules the sleep of all, from his ephemeral archipelago of dreams, Meridian. Then there is Roxane — shape changer, soul eater and vampire-like witch, who devours the essence of life from hapless mortals. Finally, we have Enlil, the northern Storm Lord and god of the armies. All three come to haunt Niko.

Beyond Wizardwall Ace paperback-smallAskelon wants Niko for the purity of his soul, who steals his sleep and wants Stealth for an avatar. Roxane the witch, Death’s Queen, wants Niko’s body and a bit of his soul. And Enlil wants Niko as a representative on earth. Pulled in three directions by three powerful beings of higher octaves, Niko is being driven mad, which leads him into a whirlpool of drink and drugs. To make matters worse, Brachis, High Priest of Vashanka, (the Rankan storm god who has disappeared), comes to hire Niko to assassinate Abikithis, the emperor of Ranke, for the good of empire, Vashanka and Niko’s own soul.

Now, still searching for Niko, wanting him for the murder of one of their own, the 3rd Commandos trash Bomba’s bordello, but Niko manages to escape.

Enter Tempus: The Riddler wrestles with his own demons. Demigod and immortal though he is, he bears a curse of his own: those who love him die of it, and those he loves are bound to spurn him. And Niko, being his right-side companion in war and life, may suffer from that curse, as Tempus himself has long suffered from it.

The Riddler’s heart is troubled, for he has deployed Niko before, pushing him and using him to flush out Roxane the witch, but she’s still at large. Now Tempus fears that Roxane has again possessed Niko and is spying through his eyes. He needs to find Niko, not only to set things to rights, but to find out what Brachis the High Priest wants, and to save Niko from the 3rd Commandos, the special unit Tempus formed and trained in his younger days.

To top it all off: there is much anger, competition and jealousy between the Stepsons and the Commandos. Furthermore, Vashanka, the Rankan Storm God who once was Tempus’ patron, has disappeared. Tempus blames himself for the witch stalking Niko, and he will finally bargain with Enlil — save Niko, leave Niko be, and take him, the Riddler, instead. Ah, but things are never quite that easy.

Enter Randal: Seventh Level Hazard Mage, who is also part of the Sacred Band, the only wizard with whom they agree to work. When he returns home he confronts the mysterious suicide of his guild’s murderous First Hazard Mage. After Niko is found and rescued, Tempus orders Randal to keep an eye on Stealth, his one-time, right-side partner, to protect him and keep track of him. But as you can guess, that’s not going to be an easy task, either. And events are soon set into motion that will quickly throw Randal into the very thick of things.

Beyond Wizardwall hardcover-smallEnter Cime: The dangerous, seductive mage-killer, sister of Tempus in spirit, if not by blood. She breaks into the mageguild one night, casts a spell and seduces the First Hazard, and then murders him. She and Tempus will form a joint occupation to rid the world of sorcerers, except for Randal. If it was up to her, Cime would rid the world of gods, too. Despite her distaste for wizards, she will team up with Randal to help track down Roxane who, weakened and ugly and badly injured after the mage-war, wants a magical globe that Randal possesses.

Don’t forget: Roxane also wants Niko, and she uses an innocent young boy named Grippa to get at him.

And then there’s Kama, Tempus’ beautiful daughter, a soldier with the 3rd Commandos, who falls in love with a Stepson named Critias, and who seems to have a secret agenda all her own. Needless to say, she manages to cause a few problems. What does she want? Whose side is she on? What does she seek, besides her father’s approval? What part will she play in the events to come? Jihan, the Froth Daughter of the god Stormbringer, also returns to complicate Tempus’ immortal life, and with her is the young boy with wizard’s blood, Shamshi, whose sad fate will eventually play out in The Sacred Band,which I previously reviewed here, for Black Gate.

As Fate and the gods would have it, all-too soon things heat up further for Niko when he’s captured by priests and goes on trial in a kangaroo court designed to find him guilty of murder. He is tortured and maimed beyond all mortal endurance, and what he suffers in one tense, emotionally-charged scene will cut to the core of your heart as it cuts to the heart of Tempus the Riddler. And Tempus, near the end of his own wits, finds a way to capture Roxane, only to end up making a bargain with her, to gain her help in saving Niko.

This is a novel of passion and love, powerful and character-driven from start to finish. It’s brilliantly conceived and executed, packing more in its 415 pages then the previous two books combined. Just to give you a sample of what else goes on: During a festival of songs, games and physical prowess, there is a hostage crisis culminating in a surprising decision by Tempus, and what orders he gives to his Sacred Band. While the war between Ranke and Mygdonia is on hold for the winter, assassination is nevertheless in the air, and there’s a military coup in the works to put an old friend of Tempus’ on the Lion Throne of Ranke. But Ranke is doomed unless their missing god Vashanka is found, for without their god no hand at the helm of empire could be steady enough to put her back on course.

The Sacred Band-smallAh, but no strategy of war lasts long after battle is joined, and everything seems to be going wrong, especially after Randal the mage decides to go against Tempus’ orders when he is sent to deliver a message to the Rankan mageguild and discovers, to his dismay, the truth about who the chiefs adepts of his guild just happen to be. There is also a very strange and highly unlikely, often pesky little hornet, and the “reveal” of what that creature is will catch you off-guard… and there’s this cool, orange-haired, gray-skinned demon named Snapper Jo who Roxane summons to serve her.

Beyond Wizardwall is a wonderful novel that expertly caps the Beyond Sanctuary Trilogy in a surprising and satisfying conclusion. It’s a novel of complex characters caught up in complicated situations. Once again, Janet Morris gives us a literary classic of Heroic Fantasy. This is a textured novel, layered with themes of brotherhood and loyalty, love and betrayal, of the magic and majesty of horses, of boys growing into manhood, and the tragedy of those who die all too young. This is a novel filled with fine writing, exciting and talented writing. For example, here is Morris describing simply and most eloquently, the archipelago of dreams known as Meridian:

“Here was no life as men knew it, no days piling one upon the last inexorably; but a different life, a different nature, malleable and ruled by the flux of nature. Sometimes Meridian was beautiful, sometimes horrid, for it held every dream and every dreamer from all mankind’s befuddled flock.

These had no tomorrows, no yesterdays, but only dramas, lusts and fears and doubts — and joys, melodies to set its golden streets vibrating with the turning of the spheres. Meridian was one of the four metaphysical compass points of creation; as such, its existence was never wholly in one realm or another, but roving on a cosmic wind that changed with every dream and dreamer.”

Microsoft Word - 09 12 24 Sacred Band Cover white horse white foThere is plenty of action, humor, sex, pathos, magic and mystery, as well, and the narrative moves as swiftly as a blood-bay stallion at full gallop. This is Heroic Fantasy at its best, the kind I favor, and this Author’s Cut, which has been revised and expanded for this handsome, brand-new Perseid Press edition is a classic of the genre. But above all, Beyond Wizardwall has heart and compassion. Janet Morris writes about people; her characters live and breathe with the kind of vibrancy and solidity I find inspiring and influential to my own work.

For in the end, without human conflict, without emotional drama, without character growth, without heart,all you have is a narrative. And the soul of this novel is this: we feel the humanity and compassion in Niko; we feel the pain in Tempus’ own heart, know how deeply he loves, how he fears that love. We feel his aching and longing, and what torments his soul. And even in the character of Death’s Queen, the soul-eating witch Roxane, we learn that she can love and that she, too, understands compassion. Once again, bravo Janet Morris!

Life to you, and everlasting glory.

Beyond Wizardwall: The Revised Author’s Cut was published by Perseid Press on November 17, 2013. It is 415 pages, priced at $24.99 in trade paperback, or $6.99 for the digital edition. Cover art detail from The Fall of Phaeton by Peter Paul Rubens.

Read my previous reviews of Janet Morris’ novels here:

The Sacred Band
Beyond Sanctuary
Beyond the Veil
Bey

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