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Saturday, May 24, 2008

“The Hounds of Ash and Other Tales of Fool Wolf”

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Read Fantasy Book Critic’s INTERVIEW with Greg Keyes

AUTHOR INFORMATION: A full-time writer of fantasy and science fiction, Greg Keyes’ bibliography includes “The Waterborn”, “The Blackgod”, The Age of Unreason tretralogy, Star Wars/Babylon 5 media tie-in novels, and The Kingdoms of Thorn & Bone series. Greg has also received degrees in anthropology from Mississippi State and the University of Georgia, is a certified fencing instructor, and an avid cook.

PLOT SUMMARY: Once considered a promising gaan—or shaman—by his Mang tribe, Fool Wolf is now a thief, gambler and womanizer wandering far from his native land in search of a way to rid himself of Chugaachik, a powerful goddess that shares his flesh and is a threat to all he loves…

In this collection of short stories set in the same world as Greg Keyes' Children of the Changeling (The Waterborn, The Blackgod), Fool Wolf embarks on one harrowing adventure after another in search of answers and solutions to his problem. Along the way, he will help put his father’s spirit to rest; battle giants, sorcerers, and gods; bring down cities; discover treasure of the greatest beauty; find himself at the center of a plot to resurrect an ancient evil; and uncover dark secrets that will shape his destiny…

CLASSIFICATION: Full of adventure, swordplay, magic, and mythology, “The Hounds of Ash and Other Tales of Fool Wolf” embodies the spirit and characteristics of classic sword & sorcery fantasy with nods to Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian and Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melniboné, while I was reminded of Glen Cook’s Black Company novels. Readers can also expect plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor and clever deception.

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 192 pages divided over seven short stories—“The Hounds of Ash” is basically one story broken up into three ‘Parts’—which first appeared in the now defunct
Dragon print magazine. There’s no framing device, but the stories occur in chronological order and are loosely connected, particularly “The Hounds of Ash”. Narration is in the third person via the protagonist Fool Wolf.

May/June 2008 marks the North American publication of “The Hounds of Ash and Other Tales of Fool Wolf” via
EDGE Science Fiction & Fantasy Publishing. Cover art is provided by Julie Dillon.

ANALYSIS: Opening the short story collection is “Wakes the Narrow Forest”, which finds Fool Wolf haunted by the ghost of his father who was recently killed by a giant. To put his father’s spirit to rest, Fool Wolf must travel to the land of the giants to steal back a horse. There, Fool Wolf joins forces with a giant whose father, the Elder, is the one they seek… Probably the weakest short story in the collection, but nevertheless entertaining, “Wakes the Narrow Forest” basically acts as an introduction to the type of individual Fool Wolf is—concerned more with his well-being than others, Fool Wolf will lie, cheat and do whatever it takes to ensure his survival—a land where mankind coexists with gods & goddesses, and the tone of the book which blends together sword & sorcery action, sarcastic humor and trickery. It also gives us a glimpse into the predicament that Fool Wolf is dealing with—whenever Chugaachik’s power is unleashed, Fool Wolf relinquishes control of his body to the goddess for a short time who will torture, defile and slaughter any nearby innocents. That was how Fool Wolf lost his first love…

In “The Skin Witch”, Fool Wolf’s quest for a cure to his Chugaachik problem brings him to the ancient city of Nhol and a sorcerer, Lepp Gaz, who can supposedly help him. The problem is that Fool Wolf has been contracted to kill Lepp, which is illegalized in Nhol and has drawn the wrath of the Jik, deadly priest-assassins… Convoluted, full of surprising twists, and featuring a powerful villain and dark blood magic, “The Skin Witch” is one of the best short stories in the collection and one of my personal favorites :)

In “The Fallen God”, Fool Wolf awakes as a prisoner in Rumq Qaj, a city of buildings—‘so tall that no light touched the narrow streets’—built from the spirits of gods and the blood of humans. In order to gain his freedom from both his captors and Chugaachik, Fool Wolf agrees to slay a demon for the Architects. Of course the ‘demon’ in question is actually Uzhdon, the Opal of Nah, a slayer of evil and champion of good. Like Fool Wolf, he possesses a totem god inside him, but also wields a godsword that prevents him from dying, unless he is bested in a fair match… The shortest short story in the collection, “The Fallen God” is also one of the funniest, especially the interaction between Fool Wolf and Uzhdon. Like the others, expect plenty of twists and turns.

A case of mistaken identity in “The Fallen God” sets Fool Wolf on a treasure hunt from the Land of Nine Princes to Ranga Lehau, home of the Python King and a great treasure. There, Fool Wolf is marooned without food, tormented by Inah, “the most beautiful woman he had ever laid eyes upon”, and caught in a deadly power play… Action, romance, humor, magic, “The Fallen God” has a little bit of everything :)

Saving the best for last is “The Hounds of Ash” which is broken up into three Parts: “The Sleeping Tide”, “The Opal of Nah” and “The Hounds of Ash”. Building upon the other short stories in the collection, “The Hounds of Ash” finds Fool Wolf, Inah, Uzhdon, Lepp Gaz and others caught up in a tangled mystery—spanning from the floating city of Pethvang to Nah and the Strictured Land—involving terrible dreams, spirit hounds and ancient gods… Jam-packed with surprising plot twists, shocking revelations, epic confrontations, biting humor, and a kick-ass ending that will make your jaw drop, “The Hounds of Ash” is traditional sword & sorcery at its finest…

CONCLUSION: In the Author Introduction at the beginning of “The Hounds of Ash and Other Tales of Fool Wolf”, Greg Keyes claims that it was ‘a real treat’ writing the Fool Wolf stories. Well it’s safe to say that reading this collection is an even bigger treat, especially if you’re a fan of Greg Keyes or old-school fantasy. For me, I loved everything about “The Hounds of Ash and Other Tales of Fool Wolf”. I loved the character of Fool Wolf, his me-first attitude, his intelligence—which is much deadlier than his fighting abilities—his sarcasm, and the complex relationship between him and Chugaachik. I loved the setting with its rich mythology and supernatural elements. And I loved the way the stories were written, with their pulpy blend of adventure and humor, the energetic pacing, and the unexpected plot twists. In fact, as much as I love Greg Keyes’ The Kingdoms of Thorn & Bone, I have to say that I loved “The Hounds of Ash and Other Tales of Fool Wolf” even more and fervently hope that the adventures of Fool Wolf will continue…

4 comments:

ThRiNiDiR said...

This one sounds delicious and the cover is absolutely stunning.

thrinidir

weariedjuggler said...

I'm hearing a lot more about short stories these days...Sounds super entertaining!

WeariedJuggler

Janessa said...

I just finished reading it too - it is a wonderful book. Not only is Greg experienced with all his other series etc, but what really intrigues me is that Greg Keyes has a background in anthropology, and a lot of knowledge of shamanism etc, which he really weaves into this book. I agree with Thrinidir - the cover is absolutely stunning - but what is inside is even better! :-)

Robert said...

Yeah, I love the cover art too Uros, but as Janessa says, what's inside is even better :)

Weariedjuggler, I haven't read very much short fiction, but just from the anthologies and collections that I have read recently, I don't think short fiction gets enough attention. Because some of the short stories out there are even better than what you get out of a novel...

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