For this week, I’m going to do things differently. Rather than review a single work, I’ll look at three stories set in the same universe. One of the reasons I decided to focus my blogging efforts for Amazing Stories ™ on indie and small press published works is to help you find new authors of whom you may have not heard.
One of the authors I’ve come to enjoy is Joshua P. Simon. Mr. Simon writes military fantasy. If you’re a fan of Glen Cook’s Black Company, then his Blood and Tears Trilogy should appeal to you. These are full bodied fantasies with multiple plots and lots of characters from multiple races and empires scheming and fighting. The first two volumes are available (and reviewed here and here, in case you’re interested) with the conclusion forthcoming.
In addition, there are three other stories set in this universe, featuring some of the characters from the novels. These are a great introduction to Mr. Simon’s world if you haven’t read his work, and a good way visit with old friends, so to speak, while you wait for the next book.
All of these stories are stand-alone. While the third (and most recent) does make reference to the novels, it can be read without having read them. This latter tale does have a major spoiler for the for novel, so if you think you might read the trilogy, you might want to wait on this one.
Here’s the basic set up as the first novel, Rise and Fall, opens. On a continent in the northern hemisphere of this world, in a society that’s pretty much a western European setting, a rogue mage has gotten his hands on a relic of great power, one long believed to have been destroyed centuries ago. He pretty much kills any mage with strong and developed powers. He also kills the king.
No one, other than the king’s young daughter, is very upset about that last part. His former majesty wasn’t exactly the type of monarch to be confused with a good ruler. Now a young girl who never expected to take the throne has to learn how rule before one of the scheming nobles makes a grab for the kingdom.
The new queen has an older brother by the name of Jonrell. While still a teenager, Jonrell ran away from home and ended up joining a notorious company of mercenaries, the Hell Patrol. Jonrell was accompanied by his best friend, Cassus, the son of a minor nobleman. Jonrell has risen to become the commander of the Hell Patrol. Jonrell decides to return home upon learning of his father’s death, but Cassus isn’t ready to face what he ran away from, so they part ways. On good terms.
Meanwhile, on a continent in the southern hemisphere, a Tobin is the second son of the leader of the Blue Island Clan. He and his older brother Kaz don’t get along. In fact, Kaz is a pretty ruthless guy. Years before the novel opens, Kaz wounded Tobin so that Tobin is now permanently lame. Tobin rescues a shaman while on a mission. And that shaman is about to totally change not just Tobin’s life, but the whole world.
Various electronic editions
“Warleader” tells how Kaz ended up wounding Tobin. This short story introduces Tobin, Kaz, their father, and some other characters who will play important roles in the novels. You don’t have to have read any of the other works in this series to enjoy this one. This is a harsh tale of sibling rivalry, parental favoritism, and coming of age in a society that is anything but European.
That’s one of the strengths of this series. While the familiar tropes of castles and such are very much in play, Simon doesn’t restrict himself to one society. We see a different world through in the parts of the books that focus on Tobin. The values, philosophy, and ethnicity serve as a strong contrast to the events taking place in the north.
Don’t let the price on this one fool you into thinking it’s not worth your time. I suspect this story is free because Mr. Simon is using it as a loss leader. It’s professionally written and entertaining.
Walk Through Fire
Various electronic editions
We shift our attention to the northern hemisphere in Walk Through Fire. This tells the story of how Jonrell became the commander of the Hell Patrol. There’s a prologue in which Jonrell and Cassus are recruited into the mercenary company. Frankly, I found it a bit rushed and hard to swallow. Cassus and Jonrell get into a tavern brawl with a copuple of members of the Hell Patrol, kick their butts, and are then invited to join. But the prologue is there simply for backstory. The main story takes place a couple of years later, about a decade before Rise and Fall opens.
By this time Jonrell is a respected captain. The Hell Patrol has just finished a successful campaign helping a king expand and secure his lands and are ready to head to Slum Isle for some well deserved R&R. Unfortunately, there are those in the regular army who were displaced in the command structure when Ronav, the commander of the Hell Patrol, was placed in charge of the armed forces. They’re quite resentful,
And they mean to act on their resentment. Along with some who don’t approve of the king’s plan now that the war is over.
I’m not giving away too much when I say the Hell Patrol are goiug to be betrayed. That’s pretty much a given from the initial setup. Where the strength of this story lies is in the character development. We see several new members of the Hell Patrol distinguish themselves in combat, members who will play pivotal roles in the novels. Simon spends as much time on the relationships between Jonrell and Ronav, Ronav and the company’s mage Krytien, Jonrell and the former assassin Kroke, and Jonrell and a young girl named Yanasi.
I don’t mean to imply that Walk Through Fire is all warm and fuzzy. It’s not. In fact at times it’s quite brutal. But it’s good solid military fantasy.
“Hero of Slaves”
Various ebook formats
This is the one you shouldn’t read until you’ve read Rise and Fall, as there’s a twist at the end of the novel that’s given away in this story. The subtitle for this one says it’s a novella, but I don’t think it’s long enough to qualify for that. Not that it matters. This is still a good story.
Early in Rise and Fall, when Jonrell announces he’s going home and taking the Hell Patrol with him, his friend Cassus decides to escort a group of freed Byzernian slaves home. Here we find out what happened after Cassus and the Hell Patrol parted ways. Cassus has taken it upon himself to destroy the slave trade. The Byzernians are an inherently peaceful people. So peaceful that they’re quick to fall prey to anyone who’s looking to acquire a few slaves who won’t fight back.
That’s starting to change, though, as some Byzernians realize there are times when you have to fight to prevent more violence. When Cassus is captured by an old enemy from his Hell Patrol days who has set up a lucrative slave running operation, well, things are about to get interesting.
This one has some interesting implications for the forthcoming conclusion of the Blood and Tears Trilogy.
All three of these stories can be read as stand-alones, but if you’ve read the novels, they have an additional level of depth. And if you like military fantasy and haven’t read any of Joshua Simon’s work, these would be a good place to start.