23 April 2012

In the tradition of...

First off, let me warn you that this isn’t a review. It’s a vaguely-focussed semi-rant on “fat” fantasy books and as such it may come across as being unfair and biased. Please don’t take it to heart – this is me getting things off my chest, and I’ll be fine tomorrow.

I have in front of me a copy of The Shadowmage Trilogy by Matthew Sprange (Abaddon Books £10.99), an omnibus edition of three novels (Shadowmage, Night’s Haunting and Legacy’s Price; originally published in 2008, 2009 and 2012). It forms part of the Twilight of Kerberus series, apparently a shared-world sequence of at least seven novels. Other writers include Mike Wild, David McIntee and Jonathan Oliver (also the overall editor).

In his editorial to this volume, Oliver states that the Twilight of Kerberus series was conceived as a celebration of the stories by Fritz Leiber, Robert E Howard and Clark Ashton Smith rather than of Lord of the Rings or George R R Martin’s magnum opus. Oh, how I applaud that. No disrespect to Tolkein or Martin or other such scribes; I’ve nothing against their books other than that they seem to me to be too – well – long. Leiber and Howard and Smith (and others of the same ilk such as Jack Vance, C L Moore, etc) wrote, to quote Oliver, “punchy fantasy adventures”, mostly of the short story form.

And that’s why I hesitate to read The Shadowmage Trilogy. This book collects the three novels listed above to create a single story arc of 600 pages (admittedly, some modern fantasy novels attain that number of pages per volume, so let’s be thankful this book doesn’t contain 1800 pages!). My point is this: I wish writers would emulate not just the characters and settings of the masters of such yarns, but also their succinctness of storytelling. I don’t want or need much in the way of world building. I require just hints of the unknown realms in which the characters inhabit. My imagination supplies the rest.

OK, I am being unfair, I know. The trilogy may be exceptional, the writing of a high quality. That’s why I’m not passing judgment on Matthew Sprange’s series. Mine is a personal comment on the way fantasy novels seem to expand, to become fatter than necessary (to my mind) – and poor Mr Sprange just happens to be the author of the book to hand. I hope he forgives me.

And finally, a quick comment on the book’s production: please use a larger font. I’m not sure what the point size is in The Shadowmage Trilogy, but it strains my eyes.

© Peter Coleborn

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