Saturday, January 25, 2014

Another older review, this time of a good fantasy collection from Richard Lee Byers. I'm transferring over all my reviews to this blog, if anyone was wondering.

I'd like to start out by saying that "The Plague Knight and Other Stories" was a highly enjoyable page-turner. The stories are classic adventure tales, playing out within a fantasy setting. The character that opens up the collection is Martin Rivers, a knight adventurer, seeking riches, glory, and a patron. He stars in the first three tales, "The Plague Knight", "Kingsfire", and "Castle of Maidens". In the titular story, Martin has been participating in a tournament held by Count Ulrich. His fortunes have been good, and things seem to be looking up for our knight-errant; that is until a spectral plague descends upon the environs, and quickly begins infecting and killing off the populace. Martin quickly shows that he has morals that bely his outward interest in fame and fortune; despite the strenuous and highly level-headed objections from his retainer Geoffrey, he decides to stay on and try to rid the province of the cause of the plague. This is despite being informed that the plague is magical in nature, and that a demon from Hell is the most likely cause. At first trying to push his decision off on the fact that he is trying to find a rich patron, he soon admits that he feels duty-bound, as a knight, to stop the pestilence from spreading. Geoffrey, succinctly implies that Martin doesn't have the brains of a rabbit, but stays on despite his opinion. We are eventually shown the true character of the Count, the actions that brought about the cursing of the land, and Martin's rather outside the box effort to end the curse. A very good story to open the collection. "Kingsfire" is the second story, and opens with Martin questing for Richard Lionheart's lost sword, Kingsfire. He come across a group of brigands falling upon and "elf", and rushes to his aid. He finds that the supposed elf is not what he seems, but throws in with him to complete his quest. I'm not going to say much about this story, other than that I loved it. The inner fan boy almost swooned with joy after reading it, and I don't want to spoil that experience for anyone else. Suffice it to say, I sent a rather gushy message to Mr. Byers, which I should probably be ashamed of, but I stand by it. Why don't we move on, so I can maintain a shred of dignity. The last story featuring Martin is "Castle of Maidens", which is actually my favorite of the three, despite loving all of them. The overall feeling of intrigue and madness, coupled with some good old black sorcery are the main contributing factors for this. Martin and the Bishop of Padua are envoys dealing with the Sultan Ibrahim, negotiating for nothing less than the Holy Grail. All is not as it seems, and a rousing adventure commences, full of backstabbing, sorcery, and an entirely suitable end-game. A very fine tale to close out Martin's involvement in this collection. I must say that I would enjoy reading a collection of nothing but Martin Rivers. A very good character. Next we move on to the next person featured in this collection, Master Selden, a retired mercenary who has become a fencing-master in the city of Balathex. "The Salamander", begins in a rather confusing manner, as we are thrown quickly into the action, without knowing the names or the purpose of the players. However this is quickly rectified, as we are introduced to Selden and the various characters, and the problem driving the story not too long after the opening. Balathex is laboring under a war, both overt and subtle between various political factions. Selden, being both one of the most sought out fencing-masters, and being a very astute fellow when it comes to deducing all things mysterious, has been brought in by the Snow Lynx faction to solve a rather tough nut of a problem. The leader of the Snow Lynxes has been coming under attack through apparently magical means, but no one has been able to suss out the culprit. Despite rival factions within the Snow Lynx clan, several setbacks and dead-ends, Selden manages to finally discover the true enemy. As an opening salvo, this does nicely in introducing the reader to the characters and the environs in which they live. The next story, "Death in Keenspur House" continues the theme of Selden being the person to call when you have a particularly thorny problem. After the first tale, there has been a move towards compromise and the end of the feud between the political factions controlling Balathex is within sight. However, there has been a death, and theft, within one of the most prominent of the houses, prior to the wedding that will finally end the feud between the factions. Despite the suspicions of his clients, and his own failed guesses, he eventually comes upon the instigator of the plot, who is not what he expected at all. This is my second favorite of Selden's adventures. In "The Cheat", we see a story that hits closer to home, for Selden; there is a new maestro in Balathex, and somehow his students are winning at every turn, and the bodies are starting to pile up. Selden decides to expose this man as a cheat, and exact revenge for a dead student killed in a duel. This story introduces a particularly loathsome character named Olissimal, who takes his pleasure from watching duels to the death. Despite this, he is a expert upon fighting styles, and Selden is compelled to curry his favor to gain insight into his knowledge. This transaction is loathsome to Selden, and despite gaining very needed knowledge about his true enemy, does not in any way end well for our hero. After being stonewalled in many attempts, Selden finally discovers what he is looking for. Except, how can he win against it? This is a very satisfying tale. "Light and Dark" closes out Selden's participation in this collection, and is my favorite of his adventures. Selden arrives back in Balathex, after a long sojourn, to find his friend Tregan Keenspur in very dire straits. To help him he must cross into another dimension, and fight his way to an enemy that they had both thought dead. The malaise extends to not just Tregan, but to the entire ruling class of Balathex. If Selden doesn't succeed, everything he has worked for will come to nothing. His adventures in the other dimension are very thrilling, and his allies very odd. Plus, he must not harm anyone he comes in contact with, except the mastermind of the plot. An excellent way to end Selden's adventures in this collection. The second to the last story "Acorns" has Richard playing in another author's universe, and is spot on. I won't go into the characters involved, as I don't want to spoil the surprise, but this is really good stuff. Totally in keeping with the original author's vision, with a original twist from Mr. Byers. Wonderful, in my opinion. The last tale is "St. Paul's Churchyard, New Year's Day". A re-telling of what might have happened when Arthur became King Arthur, and first met Merlin. Not what you would expect, and a very good way to close the collection out. Very nice, despite being short, but this story definitely works. I would recommend this to anyone who loves a rousing adventure tale, and I really hope to see more of these characters in the future.

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