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Sword and Sorceress I by Marion Zimmer Bradley, editor

Cover art by Victoria Poyser

Published by DAW Books

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

This volume is the very first in the long-running Sword and Sorceress series. When it first came out, there were almost no works of heroic fantasy dealing with strong women protagonists who carried the story rather than being little more than pawns in someone else's game. Thus Ms. Bradley's introductory essay focuses almost entirely upon the limited role of female characters in typical male-oriented sword and sorcery fiction and the difficulties facing authors wishing to break free of those constraints, especially traps such a the rape-revenge trope, of which she got so many done with such lack of characterization that they all started blending into one another (the one exception she purchased for this very volume).

The first story in the anthology, Phyllis Ann Karr's "The Garnet and the Glory," concerns her established characters Frostflower and Thorn. However, they have been snatched by magic from the familiar Tanglelands of the novels Frostflower and Thorn and Frostflower and Windborne. The Oldhills are the realm of Dathru, a sinister sorcerer whose rich attire hides the source of his power. But defeating him still leaves them with the problem of getting back home, which suggests that further stories of their adventures across worlds may be forthcoming.

In "Severed Heads" Glen Cook gives us that one rape-revenge story that stands out from the carbon-copy treatments of that trope. It's the story of Narriman, a young woman in a society that resembles pre-Islamic Arabia. One day a mysterious stranger comes to her village and marks her out. This man is a shaghun of the Jebal, one of a mysterious order of sorcerers about which much is rumored but little known.

Although Narriman's father takes her to another village, it is no protection. Several years later another shaghun appears in their new home to ravish her. Bad enough that he violates her body, but he also rapes her mind, bending her will so she has no choice but to want his attentions. Shamed, she tries to hide what has happened until it becomes obvious that she is with child.

Her father enlists the aid of a friend to hide her away for long enough that a false past can be created for her as a widow with a half-orphan son. She's just getting over her humiliation when the shaghun comes riding out of the Jebal yet again and takes her son with her.

Unable to bear it any longer, Narriman sets forth into the Jebal to rescue her son and revenge herself upon the man who's wronged her twice. However, she finds that revenge may not be so satisfying in its accomplishment as imagining it may seem.

In "Taking Heart" Stephen L Burns gives the story of Clea the thief, and the surprising reversal of fortune she brings about on a male rival. Sometimes a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, and the thief who can't be bothered to do his homework can end up in a very bad way.

Emma Bull's "The Rending Dark" takes us to a world that looks like fantasy, but a closer examination gives us evidence that Kit and Marya's people are the survivors of a catastrophe that destroyed a previous technological civilization. The story concerns the nature of evil and how it can be reconciled with an active deity.

In "Gimmile's Songs" Charles R. Saunders takes us to the African kingdom of Abomey to introduce us to Dossouye and her trained war-bull Gbo. Along the banks of the Kambi River she encounters Gimmile, a bela or singer who tells her a story of jealousy and injustice. But there's something strange about his account, something that doesn't quite add up. It's interesting to see the twist on the Phantom Hitchhiker trope, especially since it's unexpected in a fantasy setting.

Charles de Lint's "The Valley of the Troll" gives us another ongoing character, Thorn Hawkwood. Along with his swordswoman companion Aynber he's on the trail of a highwayman who's been preying on travelers in the area. However, not all perils are human in origin.

In "Imperatrix" Deborah Wheeler takes a look at the old problem of who will watch the watchmen. How can a society ensure that those who wield power will not be corrupted by it and take to using it for their selfish benefit? The Weires, vast creatures of terrible appearance, are part of this imagined society's solution.

Jennifer Roberson's "Blood of Sorcery" is the first story of the Cheysuli, her magical shapechangers. As has been the case with a number of other writers, her appearance in the pages of Sword and Sorceress proved to be a stepping-stone to a lasting professional career, and she has since written a number of novels about the shapeshifting Cheysuli. This story concerns Keely of Homana, born and raised a princess, but captured by a man who would use her powers to his advantage. However, she did not intend to be used or used up by anybody.

In "With Four Lean Hounds" Pat Murphy, a frequent contributor to Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover anthologies, gives us the story of Tarsia the thief. When an exploit goes badly wrong, she ends up encountering the wind goddess, who is accompanied by the titular hounds.

Anodea Judith's "House in the Forest" is the story of Subana, a healer who is called upon to put to rights a most extraordinary patient. Blasphemers have attacked the shrine of a goddess, grievously wounding her -- but true belief can mend a multitude of hurts, if only one can find it in one's heart.

In "Sword of Yraine" Diana L. Paxson gives us the story of a young woman who must choose which goddess she shall dedicate her life to as part of her coming-of-age ceremony. Yet she is called to the path of a warrior -- but who ever heard of a woman dedicating herself to a god rather than a goddess? But not all goddesses are creatures of the hearth and domestic pursuits.

Michael Ward's "Daton and the Dead Things" takes a new look on the story of the cyclops, the humanoid monster with a single eye from Greek legend. In it we see the trope of the body part that is separate from the body of the monster, yet remains connected to it in a magical or metaphysical way, rather like some of the stories of placing one's soul in a separate vessel for safekeeping. However, like the ancient Greek cyclops of the story of Odysseus, this one isn't overly well endowed in the wits department.

In "Gate of the Damned" Janet Fox gives us Scorpia, a woman warrior in a society vaguely resembling classical Greece. Her mission takes her to the titular place, where she confronts the mysterious Ylissa, a rather sinister deity.

Robin W. Bailey's "Child of Orcus" is set in a magical version of the historical Roman Empire shortly after the time of the notorious Caligula, who actually did sentence women to fight in the arena. Diana won her freedom in such contests, but now she must fight in a battle for far more than her life, as she confronts Orcus, god of death and the underworld.

In the Darkover anthologies Marion Zimmer Bradley developed the habit of closing each volume with a very short, humorous story, and she continues it in this series with Dorothy J. Heydt's "Things Come in Threes." It's the first story of the Greek sorceress Cynthia,, and is as much a joke as a story, playing on the rock-scissors-paper game.

Overall, it's an auspicious beginning to one of the longest-running fantasy anthologies in the business, and even after almost three decades, the stories still read well.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction: The Heroic Image of Women: Woman as Wizard and Warrior by Marion Zimmer Bradley
  • "The Garner and the Glory" by Phyllis Ann Karr
  • "Severed Heads" by Glen Cook
  • "Taking Heart" by Stephen L Burns
  • "The Rending Dark" by Emma Bull
  • "Gimmile's Songs" by Charles R. Saunders
  • "The Valley of the Troll" by Charles de Lint
  • "Imperatrix" by Deborah Wheeler
  • "Blood of Sorcery" by Jennifer Roberson
  • "With Four Lean Hounds" by Pat Murphy
  • "House in the Forest" by Anodea Judith
  • "Sword of Yraine" by Diana L Paxson
  • "Daton and the Dead Things" by Michael Ward
  • "Gate of the Damned" by Janet Fox
  • "Chidl of Orcus" by Robin W. Bailey
  • "Things Come in Threes" by Dorothy J Heydt

Review posted August 20, 2012.

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