The Return of the Sword is an anthology from Cyberwizard Productions, edited by Jason M. Waltz. Mr. Waltz deserves accolades for selecting such a large number of quality stories for a single publication. This rivals (and even surpasses) some entries in Andrew Offutt’s Swords Against Darkness series, of which I’m also fond. I’ll offer brief comments about each story in this action-packed tome.
“Altar of the Moon,” by Stacey Berg: I enjoyed this smoothly written tale of confrontation, hinting at even more good things to come.
“The Wyrd of War,” by Bill Ward: One of my favorites in the anthology. I liked the evocative language, and the grim, epic nature of the plot.
“The Last Scream of Carnage,” by Phil Emery: A good, solid sword and sorcery yarn, with a shady lead character. I must admit that the experimental aspects of its telling added little for me; however, neither did they serve as stumbling blocks for this reader.
“The Battle of Raven Kill,” by Jeff Draper: A good offering about making a stand. Fast-paced adventure!
“What Heroes Leave Behind,” by Nicholas Ian Hawkins: A fighting man wrestles with his greatest adversary—old age. I liked this one.
“Fatefist at Torkas Nahl,” by David Pitchford: Another sprawling epic packed into short fiction length. Imagine Cecil B. DeMille helming a heroic fantasy. I’m leaning toward this one as the anthology’s top story; it’s a difficult decision, though. It’s a matter of drawing comparisons between “good” and “better.”
“Deep in the Land of the Ice and Snow,” by Ty Johnston: Well-paced slashery. I especially enjoyed the fitting title, and the thoughtful conclusion.
“Mountain Scarab,” by Jeff Stewart: My second-favorite story of this distinguished bunch. Greed, swordplay, treachery, humor—this one has it all.
“Lair of the Cherufe,” by Angeline Hawkes: This is the first time I’ve read one of Ms. Hawkes’ stories, and I wasn’t disappointed. So much action, your head will spin!
“To Be A Man,” by Robert Rhodes: I’m not a fan of stories with strong sexual content; never have been. That aside, the tale is well-told, with moments of humor, throughout.
“Storytelling,” by E.E. Knight: An informative article about the process of constructing stories that people actually like to read. Filled with useful advice, no matter which genre you call your playground.
“The Red Worm’s Way,” by James Enge: I loved the first sentence of this story. Now that’s how you hook ‘em and reel ‘em in! The villains were unusual and memorable, as well.
“To Destroy All Flesh,” by Michael Ehart: Further compelling adventures of Ninshi, from The Servant of the Manthycore. If you like heroic fantasy—and I’m assuming you do, if you’re giving this review the time of day—then I highly recommend Mr. Ehart’s book. Bloodshed and pathos, my friends.
“Guardian of Rage,” by Thomas MacKay: Heere there be swords and darkness and cramped spaces, and a beastie straight out of Lovecraft’s nightmares. Even Conan couldn’t ask for more.
“Claimed by Birthright,” by Christopher Heath: An interesting story about a dueling barbarian and sorcerer. Very well-done, Mr. Heath!
“The Hand that Holds the Crown,” by Nathan Meyer: Great battle descriptions. In fact, practically the entire story is one big brawl. I liked the attention to detail.
“The Dawn Tree,” by S.C. Bryce: That settles it; I must delve into the Flashing Swords archives and read some other Dermanassian tales. This was an unusual story written with style.
“An Uneasy Truce in Ulam-Bator,” by Allen B. Lloyd and William Clunie: Lots of fun adventure, here. I hope to see more from this duo—the characters, and the authors.
“The Mask Oath,” by Steve Goble: In the top five best stories in this collection. I look forward to more revelations about the Faceless Sons. The main character’s inner life--as well as the perils he endures--makes for captivating reading.
“Valley of Bones,” by Bruce Durham: I’ve never been let down by one of Mr. Durham’s tales, having read several in the pages of Flashing Swords. He has a talent for telling stories at a dizzying pace. This one is no exception. Herein is a look at warfare from the common man’s perspective.
“Red Hands,” by Harold Lamb: Any editor who recognizes Mr. Lamb’s talent is O.K. in my book. Years ago, I delved into his biographies of Alexander and Genghis Khan, as well as his Crusades histories, unaware that he also excelled in the art of writing fantastic short fiction. Thanks to Howard Andrew Jones, I have his complete Cossack tales. I’ve never read a mediocre Lamb story, and I envy those of you coming to his writings for the first time. A nice way to round out the book.
I found value in every story in this anthology. Some ranked higher than others, but all brought something to the sword-master’s table.
Do yourself a favor and procure a copy for your bookshelf, today. Otherwise, I’ll tell Solomon Kane that you’re a werewolf. Do you have any idea what he does to those poor critters?