Joe Bonadonna’s Amazon review of The Golden Sword, #2 in the Silistra Quartet:
Joe Bonadonna’s Amazon review of The Golden Sword, #2 in the Silistra Quartet:
Bestselling author Andrew P. Weston reviews Janet Morris’ The Carnelian Throne, 4th and final novel in The Silistra Quartet.
The Carnelian Throne by Janet E. Morris
5 of 5 stars
The Carnelian Throne (Silistra, #4)
by Janet E. Morris (Goodreads Author)
Andrew Weston’s review Mar 31, 2017
it was amazing
At the conclusion of “Wind From the Abyss,” the most esoterically enchanting chapter of the Silistra Quartet, Sereth–a master Slayer turned renegade, Chayin–cahndor of Nemar, and Estri–former well keepress of Astria, overcame almost insurmountable odds to form a triune thought to represent a vision of supreme authority as foretold in ancient prophecy.
And prophecy is everything, for Owkahen – the time-coming-to-be – continues to set the tone and tempo as events flow toward a culmination that will determine the verity of what was augured in ages past.
The “Carnelian Throne” begins with our protagonists exploring a forbidden continent. A land where technological and intellectual arrogance has forged upheaval, man is subservient and the result of thousands of years of genetic manipulation has reaped incredible and deathly ramifications.
It is into this cauldron of uncertainty that Sereth, Chayin and Estri venture, unwittingly triggering a series of events that soon overtake them…or do they?
Closer examination reveals a startling juxtaposition is manifesting all around them. Epoch-spanning cycles are maturing. The wheels of circumstance have almost turned full circle and creatures of disparate genesis are brought together at a time and place that tends to support the supposition that destiny is being shaped by a biology long in the making.
Yes, witness at last the summation of catalysis genetics as they reach a pivotal nexus in a black glass chamber bathed in amber light.
If, like me, you’ve been eagerly awaiting the final installment of this epic adventure, I can assure you, you won’t be disappointed. The Carnelian Throne is artfully written, employing engrossing characters and a skillfully crafted plot that involves you from the very beginning and keeps you enthralled to the final page.
My honest opinion?
This is a truly engaging adventure. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it’s one saga I’ll keep coming back to again and again.
New, definitive Author’s Cut editions from Perseid Press include e-book, deluxe trade paper, and hardback.
Get all four volumes: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B06XFHJVRG?ref=series_rw_dp_labf
Title: The Carnelian Throne
Author: Janet Morris
Genre: allegorical fiction, science fiction, fantasy, political fiction
Main character description (short).
In a far and dystopian future, three rulers seeking to make truth of prophecy explore the “shores of which none are empowered to speak,” a forbidden continent where humanity no longer rules.
Brief Excerpt 250 words:
“Gate!” he bellowed over the storm, his dripping lips at my ear. The deluge had made us sparing of words. Under leathers soaked to thrice their weight, I shivered in spasms. Arms clutched to my sides, I stared into the rain. The driven sheets slashed me for my audacity. Lightning flared, illuminating the riverbank white. A moment later, the bright noise cracked through my head. The hillock trembled.
Over the gate danced the lightning. Its crackling fingers quested down thick-crossed slabs of iron, seared flesh. Emblazoned as they tumbled were those six-legged amphibians, their streamered tails lashing, scaled, fangful heads thrown back in dismay. I saw their afterimage: beryl and cinnabar, aglow upon the storm. Then their charred remains splashed into oblivion, spun away on the fast current.
“Down!” One man shouted, the other shoved me, and as I staggered to kneel in the sedges, the god that washed this land shook it, grumbling. I crouched on my hands and knees on the bucking sod, between them. Little protection could they offer up against shaking earth and searing sky, not even for themselves, without divorcing themselves from the reality they had come here to explore. And that they would not do.
Somewhere far off the weather struck earth again. We knelt on a fast-declining shore. On our right and left, steeps ascended, cresting in a plume of dense rain forest. In that moment of illumination the whole river valley and the gate set into the river stood bared of shadow. Six times the height of a man was that gate.
Why should readers buy this book (50 words max)?
The Carnelian Throne makes you think as it explores the revenge of nature upon humanity once we have despoiled land and sea, and what our manipulation of genetics may mean for the future as the three foretold seek truth in prophecy where men no longer rule.
Kindle On Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XDC8Y4K/
Hardcover on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Carnelian-Throne-Silistra-Quartet/dp/099775835X/
Trade paper on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Carnelian-Throne-Silistra-Quartet/dp/0997758341/
The Silistra Quartet on Black Gate Magazine: https://www.blackgate.com/2016/03/19/vintage-treasures-the-silistra-quartet-by-janet-morris/
About the Author: Best selling author Janet Morris began writing in 1976 and has since published more than 30 novels. She wrote the bestselling Silistra Quartet in the 1970s, including High Couch of Silistra, The Golden Sword, Wind from the Abyss, and The Carnelian Throne. This quartet had more than four million copies in Bantam print alone, and was translated into German, French, Italian, Russian and other languages. In the 1980s, Baen Books released a second edition of this landmark series. This third edition is the Author’s Cut edition, newly revised by the author for Perseid Press. Most of her fiction work has been in the fantasy and science fiction genres, although she has also written historical and other novels. Morris has written, contributed to, or edited several book-length works of nonfiction, as well as papers and articles on nonlethal weapons, developmental military technology and other defense and national security topics.
Dreamers in Hell (Heroes in Hell, Volume 15)
Created by Janet Morris, edited by Janet and Chris Morris, and written “with the diabolical assistance of their damnedest writers.”
Perseid Press (478 pages, June 13, 2013, $23.95 in trade paperback)
It is a place of swords and spears, revolvers and automatic weapons, sorcery and science, catapults and cannon, bows and arrows, computers and demons. It is a place where there is no Hope for the damned, merely the suggestion of it.
Welcome to Hell, where Perdition rules. Whether a soul believes in Hell or not, Hell believes in damnation of the mortal soul. Anyone can end up in Hell, no matter what religion, no matter what faith. You may not believe in Hell, but Hell believes in you.
In Hell, all things are possible. In Hell, many of the damned believe they have been wrongly sent there, while others accept their fate and try to make the best of a bad situation. In Hell’s Mortuary, the Undertaker giveth and taketh away, revives and reassigns the damned — again and again — so they can continue their dance with the Devil. Yes, welcome to Hell — where rogues and heroes and fools quest for a way out, and Satan plots to storm the Gates of Heaven.
Ah, but wait… the powers that be in Heaven have decided that Hell has become too comfortable. Infernity is in trouble. El Diablo is lying down on the job.
Heaven has sent Erra, Babylonian god of plague and mayhem, and his 7 Sibitti (his Auditors, his Enforcers, his personified weapons), to further punish the innocent as well as the guilty, and they do so with great glee. They are Hell’s judge, jury, and executioners. Satan can’t even run Hell the way he wants to run it. Paradise mocks him. Will Erra replace Satan? Make things worse for everyone in all levels and versions of Hell — past, present and future?
Dreamers in Hell is the 14th volume in this best-selling series, which has seen stories nominated and winning Hugo and Nebula awards. It is also the most ambitious book to date in this highly successful and most brilliant shared-universe of all. So let’s get started, shall we?
Chris Morris gets things off to a grand start with Fools in Hell. Satan plans a great festival to celebrate the rebuilding and reopening of the Hellexandrian Library. (Guy Fawkes, in an earlier tale, had destroyed the Library, as well as the Hall of Injustice in his attempt to assassinate Satan.) Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe write a play for Satan, who enlists their aid in yet another of his nefarious schemes. And who knows what wicked games, what sinister machinations lurk in the mind of His Satanic Majesty, aka HSM?
“Leave me in hell then! But leave my hell alone!” Satan screams to “Above,” in Janet Morris’ wonderful Alms for Oblivion. There is too much overcrowding in Hell for Satan’s liking. So he sets into motion plans to prove that Humankind is unworthy of Hell or redemption, and deserves only oblivion. Rid Hell of Humankind, and the Netherworlds won’t be plagued by Erra and his 7 Auditors from Above running amok throughout Satan’s rightful domain.
In Nancy Asire’s clever little The Unholy Hole, Caesar’s magnificent villa is totally destroyed, leaving but a massive hole in the ground upon which it stood. No survivors can be found. Are the dastardly Erra and his 7 Auditors behind this attack? Or is it someone or something else? Napoleon and Wellington are recalled to active duty by El Diablo himself. Attila the Hun and Sulla’s “legions” join them. Countess Marie Walewska, who chose to spend eternity in Hell to be with Napoleon, arms herself and joins in the fun.
Next up is Yelle Hughes’s intriguing Essence Helliance. The King Infernal visits Medea of Colchis, the first wife of Jason of Thessaly, who works in Hell’s Mortuary. Old Scratch needs the essence and souls of the damned who have no chance for redemption. This, he tells her, is for a project he is working on. A headstrong, disrespectful, and somewhat mad woman, Medea is in charge of this “essence and soul distillery.” But is there more to Satan’s power play? Can anyone even guess at what his infernal end game may be? (I’ve been sworn to secrecy.)
Next is Sara M. Harvey’s lovely and sad, Barefoot, On Brimstone. Isadora Duncan awakens from a dream of dance-performance, green grass, and her children — only to find that she is alone, still in Hell, and the infamous scarf that had strangled her is still around her neck. But then she meets Pharzuph and Naamah, a pair of fallen angels. It seems she has been summoned to Sin Francisco, to see Joshua Abraham Norton, who had once declared himself Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, and they are to be her escorts. But what she asks of him only one personage can give, and so she must go dance for the Prince of Darkness.
Shakespeare’s Ophelia, delicate and moody little flower that she is, finds herself once again in the hands of the Undertaker, in Shebat Legion’s wicked little vignette, Ophie and the Undertaker.Having twice attempted suicide, poor Ophie refuses to accept her fate in Hell and the fact that there is no escape. No matter how much the Undertaker takes from her, tenacious and stubborn Ophelia always finds herself crawling—or squirming—back to him.
In John Manning’s delicious Just Desserts, Jimmy Hoffa is union president of all Hell’s damned souls. Satan has ordered him to provide labor for the reopening of the Hellexandrian Library. Infamous Nazis Heinrich Himmler and Joseph Mengele, with a few friends, are hired as cooks under the supervision of Jewish gangster, Izzy Bernstein. Meanwhile, Matthew Hopkins thinks he’s found a way for him and fellow witchfinder John Stearne to get out of Hell and escape to Heaven, where they belong. Needless to say, everyone gets what they deserve.
Hell, I Must Be Going, is Michael A. Ventrella’s comedy-skit ode to the Marx Brothers, wherein Rufus T. Firefly and Ciccolini Ravelli, his assistant, are in charge of keeping track of all assignments in Hell. Enter one Margaret Dunwoody, who has come to question who they reallyare and what they are doing. Seems they’ve conned their way into positions where they can search for a missing brother who, for obvious reasons — is not in Hell. Hail, hail, Helldonia, land of the Knave and Unfree.
INFERNAL NOTICE: Weapons are not allowed at the grand reopening of the Hellexandrian Library. In Head Games, Bill Snider’s sly look at psychoanalysis in Hell, Fionn mac Cumhaill, accompanied by his friend Caliban, leaves his sentient spear Areadbhar at the door. Then, during an interview with Sigmund Freud, the spear begins talking to Fionn, though only Fionn can hear it. Old Siggy finds Fionn’s attachment to the spear quite “telling,” and begins to explain how the weapon is an extension of Fionn’s… well, I’m sure you can guess. Throw in the Staff of Merlin, which can talk to the Fionn’s spear, a guest appearance by Merlin himself, and one harridan named Sycorax, who is the mother of Caliban — and hellzapoppin!
Next up is Tom Barczak’s heroic tragedy, Blood and Ash. Beowulf is still in the process of accepting his death when he encounters Boudica, Queen of the Iceni. Then they meet up with Joan of Arc, who has come to lead them out of Hell. All three are sorely wounded and badly burned, as you might imagine. The trio meets up with former writer turned tinkerer, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who gives Joan a Vorpal Blade that he calls ‘Alice.’ Before they can escape down the rabbit hole, along comes Erra and his 7 Sibitti Auditors. The unexpected happens, a sacrifice is made, and we discover that even in Hell, there is such a thing as Hope.
Hellexandria the Great is next at bat. Sarah Hulcy hits a home run as she tells us of Demetrius, the Chief Librarian, Makalani his assistant, and Caesarion and Brutus, the sons of Julius Caesar. Brutus and Caesarion are drafted as volunteers to act as guides for the guests at the upcoming gala in honor of the reopening of the Hall of Injustice and the Hellexandrian Library. During the boys’ training period, they hear of the destruction of their Dad’s villa by suspects unknown, and everyone is naturally on edge. (Could that all be part of Satan’s grand scheme to storm the gates of Heaven? At this point—anything is possible!) But everyone survives the big party, even though the witchfinders attempt to assassinate His Satanic Majesty.
David L. Burkhead’s The Knife-Edged Bridge is a tale of friendship and loyalty. It stars William Simpson, veteran of Second Manassas, Jim Bridger, scout and trapper, and Perseus, Son of Zeus. In olden times, this bridge was known as the Bridge to Paradise. But now… who knows where it leads? For them, it will hopefully lead out of Hell. But along the way, Bridger is horribly mangled and tortured, and Perseus goes missing. Setting out to rescue his mates, Simpson finds himself in a disturbing level of Hell he’s never seen before, where his friends are being tortured by demons, rather than having been sent back to the Undertaker for reassignment. Simpson rescues his friends, as well as Archimedes, who claims he should be in Hades or Tartaros, but not in Hell. So they all set out to find Erra and his 7 Auditors, hoping to get Archimedes’s punishment amended—and fearing that they might make it worse.
Our next item on the menu is Deborah Koren’s The Wager. It’s an interesting mash-up of the western and boxing genres, with a dash of Damon Runyon thrown in for seasoning. It stars Bat Masterson, the eternal gambler, and Wyatt Earp, who has become the manager of a boxer named Big Ed. Enter one Grayson, an atheist and former writer who refuses to accept that he’s dead and in Hell. Earp bets Masterson that he can’t convince Grayson that he is indeed dead and damned. As for what’s at stake, you’ll just have to read the story and find out for yourselves.
Bettina S. Meister’s More Light is a very poignant, complex, and introspective yarn. Certain passages read like the inner monologue of poet and sorcerer, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who believes he has been wrongly sent to Hell. He suffers the daily humiliation of a poet’s soul. His sufferings of old age are daily presences in his life in Hell. He is tormented by memories of his mother, his wife, and his children. But even in the Realm of the Damned, one can find a friend, and he does — Karl Wilhelm Jerusalem, whose suicidal death Goethe had immortalized in his novel, “The Sorrows of Young Werther.” Arrogantly thinking that he can play with the powers of Hell, Goethe sets out to plead his case in hope of gaining salvation.
In the Shadow of Paradise is Jason Cordova’s excellent, first-person account of Juan Ponce de Leon y Figueroa’s common-sense approach to survival in Hell, set in Lost Angeles. The 7 Sibitti have destroyed Hellywood, and through a landscape of death and devastation, Figueroa travels to find a map showing the way out of Hell, using the waters of the Fountain of Youth underneath the Mortuary. And then he meets Marie Antoinette, who has somehow acquired the map. With her is her attendant, Henrietta, who is in possession of box that contains a Prophecy Head Doll that speaks with the voice of Rasputin. Meanwhile, two Angels from Above discuss whether or not there is such a thing as ultimate salvation, and whether or not even the damned can be redeemed.
Zero Sum Game is Richard Groller’s sci-fi seasoned take on what happens when Nikolai Tesla realizes what has been missing from his theoretical constructs. Tesla is Director of Infernal Research Projects. George Washington Goethals, once Chief Engineer in charge of building the Panama Canal, is Tesla’s assistant and ally. Thomas Edison is the comptroller of the Dept. of Infernal Energy. And Hero of Alexandria is the arbiter of the War of the Currents that is still being waged by Tesla and Edison. Tesla needs funding and is obsessed with besting Edison. Goethals has a penchant for skirting regulations. During the course of Tesla’s experiments, a worker demon is killed, and then a stress wave in the fabric of Space and Time causes one-third of New Hell to disappear. Could Thomas Edison be the saboteur? Tune in and find out!
“All of Hell is a stage and the damned are merely players in Satan’s endless and infernal game.” So says Jack William Finley in his philosophical And the Truth Shall Set You Free, which stars Constantine the Great, one-time emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Constantine can’t come to terms with the reality of his new existence in Hell, but he has a plan: “In the land of the Prince of Lies he would weave a greater lie than all that came before, a lie that would set them all free.” He assembles the finest minds in Hell, including Kierkegaard, Voltaire, and Schrodinger, to help him concoct this magnificent lie. Satan then orders gangster Frank Nitti to team up with Jack the Ripper, and they are sent to keep an eye on this intellectual rabble. When in Rome, do as the Romans. But when in Hell, do not attempt to emulate the Devil.
The next entry is Michael H. Hanson’s The ITTT (pronounced eye-triple-tea) — The Institute of Terrified and Tortured Technicians. Sergei Korolev, former father of the Soviet Space Program and now, in Hell, President-Elect of The ITTT, is the keynote speaker at an upcoming conference, which revolves around the ongoing feud between Edison and Tesla. Edison is a crafty bureaucrat who lords it over the various infernal-internal technology departs, and steals every idea he can get his hands on. Also in this clever little tale, we see more of the irony and punishments of Hell: genetic engineers are plagued with physical deformities, and chemical engineers are constantly sprayed in their faces by all manner of toxic elements, for example. But what’s really at stake here is Tesla’s new space tunnel, Hell’s own escape hatch.
Petra E. Jorns continues the tragic tale of Siegfried and Kriemhild in her mythic Siegfried’s Blade.Kriemhild awakens in Hell, suffering the pain of loss and guilt. Wandering over a field of bones, she hears a skull speak to her in a familiar voice. “You have murdered us.” It is the voice of Gunther, her brother, who had plotted Siegfried’s death with Hagen. Kriemhild sets out to find Siegfried, only to encounter Brunhild, her enemy, whose own vanity had led to Siegfried’s death, and they accuse and blame each other for that. Further along, Kriemhild meets Hagen, who now carries Balmung, Siegfried’s accursed sword. Hagen: whom she had allowed to murder her brother Gunther, and thus quench her thirst for vengeance. Haunted by memories of Siegfried, confronted by old ghosts and tortured by her own guilt, Kriemhild stumbles on, over the bodies of her brothers and all those she had brought to death thru her vengeance — and ultimately discovers the truth of her personal and private Hell.
Stairway to Heaven is Ed McKeown’s wonderful tale of Emile Du Chatelet — physician, mathematician, and author—who seeks audience with Belial, Crown Prince of Hell. One-third of New Hell City has disappeared, and its citizens have not reappeared at the Undertaker’s for reassignment. According to Emile, Tesla could not control his Dirac Power Source — which is actually the underlying principle that binds the Universe together. She proposes a great mechanism by which they can rip open the dimension of Hell and march out to freedom — perhaps to Heaven itself. Emile, who claims she has done nothing to warrant her place in Hell, wants revolution. She wants to invade Heaven and face God in battle, but she needs Tesla’s help, and he’s still locked inside the Fortress of Despair — J. Edgar Hoover’s prison. Belial agrees to support her, and with the aid of a female demon named Smoke, the cowboy Frank Hopkins, and Achilles piloting a Blackhawk helicopter, they storm the prison in a battle worthy of a James Bond flick. Emile’s speech to the damned is thought-provoking, eloquent, and perfectly logical. What she asks of Belial, however, is a thing heretofore unknown in Hell.
Knocking On Heaven’s Gates is Larry Atchley’s excellent and epic novella, starring Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan on Earth. Seems he’s been blown to pieces in the failed attempt to steal from Guy Fawkes the Spear of Longinus, aka the Spear of Destiny—the spear that had pierced Christ’s side. LaVey wakes up in the Mortuary after experiencing a dream of light at the end of the tunnel, a heavenly dream of love and joy. Now he wants to experience those feelings again, if he can. After the Undertaker reconstitutes his body, LaVey sets out to file his report with Satan. Meanwhile, Tesla’s latest invention has backfired and a third of New Hell has gone missing. Hell now really looks like a painting by Bosch or Brueghel. LaVey realizes that Hell is truly going to Hell in a hand basket.
Cut to Guy Fawkes, who was captured and is now in prison, but still in possession of the Spear of Destiny. But the Spear is embedded in his body, a result of an explosion during the failed attempt to take it away from him, and legend has it that whoever has the Spear is invincible and invulnerable. So no one can take it away from him. Enter Emile du Chatelet, who comes to free him and enlist his aid in her plot to storm the Gates of Heaven. Will her plan succeed or is it doomed to failure? And what is Satan’s purpose for secretly supporting but not taking part in the storming of Heaven’s pearly gates?
Meanwhile, Satan wants LaVey to play keyboards and entertain the army of damned souls about to attack Heaven. But LaVey is suffering from Post-Traumatic Death Disorder and does not feel he can perform at his best until he recovers from his emotional trauma and his troubling dream. Just as self-serving in Hell as he was in life, LaVey wonders if he can become a better person, to be loved and to find redemption. After his first session with Williams James, Psychologist, Spiritualist, and Pragmatist, the big day has come for LaVey. He is ordered by demons to play the new and improved Liszt pipe organ while the army of the damned assaults the Gates of Heaven and battles a host of Angels. Ah, but things in Hell are not always what one thinks they might be, and LaVey realizes that everything in Hell has its price — even playing the pipe organ, to which he and a number of other lost souls are physically attached.
Now we come to the final chapter, folks, and a most fitting pay-off it is, too. Janet Morris returns us to Chris Marlowe and Will Shakespeare as they perform, perhaps for all eternity, their play, Hell Bent, which is also the title of this eloquent and theatrical comic-tragedy. The two playwrights play lovers in a hellish parody of their own plays, which they have written to order, per His Satanic Majesty’s Request. Will plays the male lead, Marlowe the female. In every performance, Marlowe must kill Shakespeare — I mean, really kill him. But the Bard does not return to the Undertaker for reassignment, for Satan is there at every performance, there to revive him, once a night and twice on Sadderday. More than a parody, their play is almost a travesty, being made up of scenes and dialogue cannibalized from the plays they wrote in life. Marlowe, in love with Shakespeare, wonders and worries over the Bard’s infatuation with HSM.
“Why should you love him whom the world hates so?” Marlowe’s character asks.
“Because he loves me more than all the world,” Will’s character replies.
As he prepares to plunge the rapier into the heart he loves best, and bring death nightly to the man he treasures most, Marlowe stage-whispers a line from Othello. “Perdition catch my soul, but I do love thee! And when I love thee not, Chaos is come again.”
“Hell is just a frame of mind,” Shakespeare replies through gritted teeth.
That line from Faustus was Marlowe’s downfall — a line that ultimately proved to be false. He had taunted the Devil in life with it, and now he pays in Hell forever.
Over and over again, Marlowe must kill Shakespeare in the final act, only to watch, through jealous eyes and suffering heart, as Satan brings Will back from the dead, showering him with love and favor. However, after long and many arguments, Marlowe convinces Will to trade roles with him, and the Bard in turn convinces Satan to let them do it, because he wishes to learn how it feels to truly kill a man.
Will the Prince of Darkness bring Marlowe back to life after Shakespeare kills him in the final act of their play? Ah, there’s the rub.
Not since Adam and Eve has the Devil had such a pair to play, one against the other.
Oh, what fools these mortals be! Are the damned Satan’s tools, his fools, to think they can wring power from infinity, make themselves powerful enough to overcome their fate? Does the assault on the Gates of Heaven succeed? Does Satan bend Hell itself to accommodate his fools for war? Does he transport one-third of New Hell, trashed by power-hungry idiots and their petty hatreds, into some new dimension of space and time just big enough to accommodate their egos and their fiery deaths? Does the Son of the Morning make his point to Erra and his Seven Sibitti, the Almighty’s pitiless enforcers — that Mankind is demented and foul and not worthy of Heaven’s forgiveness, not worthy of redemption? Will Satan gather his legion of Akkadians and Spartans, Nazis, Americans, Chinese — the greatest armies of the damned — and put on his own play for Heaven? (Or a reality show—“His Satanic Majesty Disciplines His Own,” perhaps?)
In Hell, the Devil rules, the Devil is not mocked, and the Devil always gets his due.
Each story in Dreamers in Hell is top notch. Perhaps I should say each chapter, for this is truly a shared-universe that reads like a novel, rather than an anthology. The stories are all very good, many are great, some are superb. This is a true collaboration of diverse hands that has been shaped and molded into a cohesive whole by Janet and Chris Morris.
The beauty of the Heroes in Hell series is that all genres work in Hell, and no genre has been left undone. You’ll find horror and science fiction here, fantasy and historical drama, satire and action/adventure thrillers — even romance. These metaphysical, visionary “mythical epics” are character-driven, thoughtful, intelligent, and insightful. They examine the nature of Man, and the nature of good and evil.
These are fables and morality tales, examinations into what makes Mankind tick, a look into the soul of humanity. Justice rules in Hell, too, you’ll discover. So does irony: all that was fair on Earth has turned foul in Hell. But all’s fair in Hell when it comes to how the damned are treated, of course. Yet for all its torments and punishment and betrayals and violence, there is friendship and loyalty to be found in Hell, courage and honor, and even love. And above all, Hope persists. For even in Hell, the damned can and do hope for redemption and salvation.
Have some sympathy for the Devil and give Satan his due: check this one out. In fact, I recommend you check out all 14 books in the Heroes in Hell series. Just in case you find yourself in Hell one day, it’s best to be on the good side of the Devil. If he has one, that is.
“Your commander reaches for yonder stars and gods do eye him. And there are more Fates in the wide worlds of men than those whom he has aided.” – from The Fish, the Fighters and the Song Girl.
The Fish, the Fighters and the Song Girl
Janet Morris and Chris Morris
Revised Author’s Cut, published by Perseid Press (386 pages, May 24, 2012, $24.95)
Cover art: Peter Paul Rubens, “The Consequences of War” (detail), 1637-1638
The team of Janet Morris and Chris Morris once again grace us with another excellent collection of Homeric Heroic Fantasy, featuring Tempus, Niko and their Sacred Band of Stepsons. This compilation is comprised of both new stories and earlier tales, herein revised from the original Thieves’ World® series, stories such as “What Women Do Best,” “Power Play,” and “Sanctuary is for Lovers.” Brand-new tales, written especially for this book, include “Shelter from the Storm,” “Lemnian Deed,” “Ravener, Where Art Thou?” and the title story.
All the magic, action, adventure, humor and human drama I’ve come to expect from Janet and Chris Morris are here in spades, and there are enough revelations and plot twists along the way to keep you on your toes.
This collection takes place after the Morris’ masterpiece, The Sacred Band, and gives us more of the history of the Sacred Band as Tempus takes his Stepsons and Thebans north, a world away, into unexplored regions and a mythic country. Though they are courageous, these fighters, they are no strangers to fear. Though they are warriors, hard and tough, they are not immune to love and compassion, to decency and common humanity.
And though the gods at times play their part, there is never a chance that Deus ex machina will overwhelm these wonderful characters and seize control of the stories. In fact, at times it seems that the gods are really no match for the human and mortal characters. As in Greek mythology, which is the heart and soul of all the tales of the Sacred Band, the gods are as weak, as fallible, as jealous, and as imperfect as mortals – and sometimes even more so.
The Fish, the Fighters and the Song Girl is a highly intelligent and extremely complex collection of tales that reads very much like a novel, and is built on a large and strong cast of characters who live and breathe, sweat and bleed. We meet new characters and revisit old, familiar ones.
And while we travel through unknown territory with Tempus, Niko and the Sacred Band, most of these stories are centered in good old Sanctuary®, where war is brewing between the empire of Ranke and the Beysibs of Harka Bey over control of that infamous town of rogues and thieves, whores and priests, mages and mercenaries.
Tempus and the Stepsons, the 3rd Commandos under Sync, and the Rankan Empire all want to rid Sanctuary of the Beysibs, install an interim ruler, and make Sanctuary an independent state. So that’s the background on what’s going on and the hub around which these stories revolve. Now, let me tell you a little about the players involved.
Once again we encounter Molin Torchholder, Vashanka the Storm God’s priest; he’s always trying to curb the actions of the Sacred Band, and this time out strikes a bargain with Tempus for his own secret agenda.
We learn more about the Stepson Straton and his love affair with Ischade the necromant; they set out to rescue Strat’s partner Sync, who’s been totally enthralled and held captive by Roxane, the Nisibisi witch who played such a large role in The Sacred Band and the Beyond Sanctuary Trilogy; her demon-familiar, Snapper Jo, now tends bar at the Vulgar Unicorn® and dreams of being human.
Herein we get tangled up with Zip, the Death Squad guerrilla leader who introduced Sync to Roxane; he also gets romantically involved with Kama, daughter of Tempus, and becomes a player in the war for Sanctuary’s independence. Randal, the shape-shifting, jug-eared mage is here, too, and he’s still allergic to animal forms, especially when he changes into one.
We also meet Cassander the Healer, a gifted horse doctor who buys a live fish, a kite-ray that he needs to heal a young girl named Seriti. (Interesting thing about this fish: it’s used to create a sort of “organic battery,” which is then used for healing and purposes of interrogation. Cassander is like a heroic fantasy version of television’s MacGyver.)
Niko, right-side companion to Tempus, has been immortalized and is now the avatar of Harmonia, the Theban goddess of Balance and Justice. He has his hands full taking care of two children: Arton, who at times can see the future, and Gyskouras (Kouras), who is the god Vashanka’s son, through Tempus who actually fathered him. Jihan, Froth Daughter of the god Stormbringer, shows her maternal side when she and Niko defend the boys against deadly snakes sent by the witch Roxane to slay the lads.
As for Tempus the Sleepless One… as always, he has a full plate. When the two gods – Father Enlil (Lord Storm) and Vashanka the Pillager – vie for space and attention inside the head of an exhausted Tempus, Abarsis the Slaughter Priest, founder and now patron shade of the Sacred Band, comes to his aid and grants him one full night of rest. And Tempus will need that rest, for even more trials and tribulations await him.
Kama, his daughter, is on a covert mission and becomes apprenticed to Hakiem the storyteller, who claims to be neutral in this war, but seems to have all the right connections. New to the Stepsons is Gayle, a foul-mouthed mercenary who can build a string of profanity around a single word; he’s been assigned to protect Kama, even from those who are trying to help her. But then Kama is framed – implicated in, and about to be indicted for, sedition and attempted murder.
Meanwhile, Molin Torchholder wants to save and marry her, and Jihan claims to be in love with young Randal, the Hazard Class and shape-shifting mage. So Tempus decides it’s best to stop the marriage between Randal and Jihan; with Randal’s permission he then sets out to woo Jihan away from the young mage for many reasons of his own, not to mention for the sake of romance. But first Tempus must send out teams of Stepsons to find the traitor who framed Kama for murder and sedition.
There is so much more to this anthology and to these stories, so many levels and layers, and the fun is in the reading and discovering how all the many threads tie together to create a tapestry of great storytelling. As in all Janet and Chris Morris’s stories of Tempus and his Sacred Band, their writing is crisp and spot on. Their use of present-tense to grab the reader with a sense of immediacy and urgency is always well-played and never jarring. There is a balance and simplicity, a beauty and poignancy in their prose that is not overdone, not overplayed; they write with a deep insight into the human soul, with compassion and humanity. Here’s a favorite passage of mine that takes place when the ghost of Abarsis the Slaughter Priest appears to take Niko’s former partner to heaven:
She knew ghosts when she saw them; this one was a spirit of supernal power, a fabled strength, a glossy being of such beauty that tears came to Ischade’s eyes when it sat down beside Niko, ruffling his hair with a fawn-colored hand.
“I am Abarsis,” it smiled in introduction, and she saw the wizard blood there, ancient lineage, and love so strong it made her head hurt; she’d given up such options as this ghost thrived on, long ago.
“We need Janni’s soul in heaven; it’s earned its peace…”
I like that passage a lot. For me it’s writing that aims for the heart, as well as the brain. The philosophy, the credo of the Sacred Band will make you pause to think, but the way the characters are written, whether heroic, villainous or something in between, will make you feel.
One thing I’d like to mention is the women characters. In a review of one of the Sacred Bandbooks, the reviewer brought up the point that the female characters are either witches or goddesses. Now, part of that statement rings true to history, true to a time when women controlled most religions, when women ruled as queens. But women play much more diverse roles in the Sacred Band mythos than witches, goddesses, priestesses, and even whores.First, there is Kama, a Sacred Band warrior as deadly, as proficient in the art of killing as any man. There are the two Lemnians, Breisis and Ditki, who once fought against the Band but have now joined with them.
And then there’s Madame Bomba, a shrewd businesswoman who has her hands in everything, her eyes on everything, and her heart in the right place. These women are all empowered – they are forces to be reckoned with, such as: a witch that even the gods fear; a necromant who feels love and compassion; a goddess who wants to be human; veteran warriors who have not sacrificed femininity and gentility, tenderness and caring.
To talk more in depth about the plots of each story would be to give too much away. I think, I hope that what I have given you here is tease enough and has piqued your interest enough to have you seek out this volume and lose yourself in the wondrously magical and yet all too gritty and real world of the Sacred Band. And for those of you who haven’t read my Black Gate and Amazon reviews of The Sacred Band, Beyond Sanctuary, Beyond the Veil, and Beyond Wizardwall, please check them out. I think you’ll like the realms of wonder created by Janet and Chris Morris.
Life to you all, and everlasting glory.
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.
Askelon 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.
Enter 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.
Ah, 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.”
There 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]:
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.
Dreams 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.
So 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?
And 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.
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