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Swords & Sorcery Fantasy

Swords and sorcery is what most people think of when they think of "fantasy:" a medieval or earlier culture, with heroes and monsters and quests and all that goes along with those things. Sometimes the focus is on the swords, sometimes on the sorcery, but they're always both there. Swords and sorcery is about the oldest form of fantasy. It makes up a big chunk of the fantasy market, and most of it is pretty weak. Because it's been around so long, and so many different writers have tried their hands at it, it's become something of a cliche, almost a joke. But on rare occasions, a very talented writer can take this tired old genre and do something new and different and worth reading with it.

The Adventures of Hawk & Fisher

Take Simon Green, for example. Between 1990 and 1992, he published six short novels under the collective title "The Adventures of Hawk & Fisher." Hawk and Fisher are lovers who are also partners in the City Guard for the port city of Haven, which happens to be about as corrupt as any city in the known world. Captains Hawk and Fisher are an anomaly in Haven's Guard: they're completely honest, and equally completely ruthless in their pursuit of justice. These are really cop stories in a fantasy milieu, and pretty good ones at that. A few years later the Hawk & Fisher stories were reissued as two omnibus paperbacks, and that's the form I have them in. I also have several other novels that Green has written in the same universe.

  • BLUE MOON RISING
    Author: Green, Simon R.
    Copyright:1999
    Publisher: Roc
    ISBN: 0-451-45095-7
    A conventional swords-and-sorcery fantasy starring Prince Rupert of the Forest Kingdom. Rupert is an expendable second prince of the Forest Kingdom whose father the King has sent him on a mission that by all rights should kill him: to find and slay a dragon. His quest leads him through the mysterious and deadly Darkwood. He finds a dragon, and even a princess to rescue. But the dragon proves uninterested in fighting, and Rupert decides he'd rather have the dragon as a friend than an enemy. Which turns out to be a good thing. Because the Darkwood is suddenly spreading, and the legendary Blue Moon is coming, and the whole Forest Kingdom is facing a lot more trouble than it can handle. This is the story behind the various references to 'the Blue Moon' and 'the Wild Magic' in the Hawk & Fisher stories and in DOWN AMONG THE DEAD MEN.
  • GUARDS OF HAVEN
    Author: Green, Simon R.
    Copyright:1999
    Publisher: Roc
    ISBN: 0-451-45755-2
    The second omnibus of Hawk and Fisher stories:
    • In Wolf in the Fold, Hawk and Fisher are assigned to ferret out a spy who has gone to ground in an estate owned by one of Haven's oldest noble families. Their assignment is made considerably more complicated by the fact that they have to work undercover . . . and it just so happens that impersonating a noble is a capital offense. And they also run into a murder mystery that involves an old family secret. Among other things, this story is a very nicely done conversion/adaptation of an old Scottish ghost story.
    • In Guard Against Dishonor, Hawk and Fisher break up a distribution network for a new and incredibly dangerous drug, then find themselves in deep trouble with their superiors because they did a lot of incidental damage in the process. Hawk is sent to find the hidden drug, while Fisher is assigned to guard some super-secret negotiations between Haven and its old enemy Outremer. Before long, though, both of them find themselves on the run, accused of treason and selling out to Haven's underworld.
    • In The Bones of Haven, Hawk and Fisher are assigned to work with the Guards SWAT (Special Wizardry And Tactics) team to put down a riot in the city's largest prison. The riot turns out to be a cover for something much more elaborate and dangerous, involving a renegade sorcerer, the Kings of Haven and Outremer, a terrorist who will stop at nothing to achieve his goals, and an ancient magical secret older than Haven itself.

  • SWORDS OF HAVEN
    Author: Green, Simon R.
    Copyright:1999
    Publisher: Roc
    ISBN: 0-451-45750-1
    The first three of the Hawk and Fisher stories:
    • In Hawk & Fisher, Captains Hawk and Fisher are assigned as bodyguards for a powerful, reform-minded (and therefore very endangered) City Councilman. Things get very bad when the Councilman is murdered mysteriously, in a situation where there are far too many suspects for comfort.
    • In Winner Take All, Hawk and Fisher again draw bodyguard duty, protecting another Reform politician during his election campaign. Elections can get bloody in Haven, both figuratively and literally. This one involves mercenaries, magic, double-crosses, double-dealing, and something from the Street of Gods which may be a long-lost god -- or may be something more. Or something less.
    • In The God Killer, Hawk and Fisher are assigned to the God Squad, a small and elite unit of Guards that patrol the Street of Gods and keep the peace there. Their immediate job: solve the murders of three gods, before the others lose control of their followers and a God War starts. What happens in a God War? You really don't want to know...

  • DOWN AMONG THE DEAD MEN
    Author: Green, Simon R.
    Copyright:1993
    Publisher: Roc
    ISBN: 0-451-45301-8

  • BEYOND THE BLUE MOON
    Author: Green, Simon R.
    Copyright:2000
    Publisher: Roc
    ISBN: 0-451-45805-2
    The wrap-up to the whole Hawk & Fisher/Forest Kingdom arc. It's ten years after the Blue Moon, and trouble has come to the Forest Kingdom again. The King is dead, murdered in his private chambers; the cursed Inverted Cathedral has reappeared within the Forest Castle; and all the magical omens point to something awful about to happen. The Queen has dispatched a messenger to find the long-lost Prince Rupert and his wife Julia, and bring them back to save the Forest Kingdom again. But Rupert and Julia don't want to come back. So instead, the messenger returns with Captains Hawk and Fisher of the Haven City Guard. And neither they nor the Forest Kingdom will ever be quite the same again.

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Tiger and Del

The six "Tiger and Del" books by Jennifer Roberson are about the purest 'swords and sorcery' stories I've ever read. The Sandtiger (or simply Tiger) is a desert-born nomad, once a slave, now a legendary sword-dancer and mercenary of the Southern desert. Delilah (Del) is a sword-singer from the far North, armed with a magical jivatma sword and bent on a mission of vengeance. Two things make this series unique: first, the depth of the characters and the story; second, the fact that Roberson, a woman, chose to write the entire series in first-person narrative -- from the viewpoint of a man, and made it work. To write first-person you must see and understand the character from the inside. That's hard enough with a character of the same sex; I don't know another author who could believably write a first-person character of the opposite sex.

  • SWORD-DANCER
    Author: Roberson, Jennifer
    Copyright:1986
    Publisher: DAW
    ISBN: 0-88677-376-8
    It started so simply for the Sandtiger: a beautiful woman from the North who needed his help. Needed it more than she knew, for a beautiful woman alone in the Southern desert is a woman who isn't long for this world. Before very long, though, escorting Delilah isn't just a job anymore, and Tiger has his hands full keeping both of them alive. The idea of a woman who is a sword-dancer -- and a good one, sexism be damned -- turns his world upside down.
  • SWORD-SINGER
    Author: Roberson, Jennifer
    Copyright:1988
    Publisher: DAW
    ISBN: 0-88677-447-0
    Delilah has a death mark on her. Tiger didn't know it when they first met, but now he does. She murdered her sword-master in the circle, to give her the power she needed to complete her mission of vengeance. Now she must travel north to Staal-Ysta, the place where she learned her swordsmanship, so she can face judgement for her crime. With her goes Tiger, determined to somehow save her life. But along the way they rouse a mysterious foe. And Del has ideas of her own about how to win her freedom from the death-mark.
  • SWORD-MAKER
    Author: Roberson, Jennifer
    Copyright:1989
    Publisher: DAW
    ISBN: 0-88677-379-2
    Ignorance can kill you. It's a lesson the Sandtiger learned well in the Southern desert, but one he forgets frequently when in the Northlands. This time it will cost him. From his time in Staal-Ysta, Tiger now carries a magical jivatma sword of his own. It's a power he didn't want and refuses to learn, and the consequences could be lethal to him and to others. An evil sorcerer seeks the power of Del's jivatma, and Tiger and Del must face him in his own lair. The power of Tiger's jivatma can kill the sorcerer ... but can Tiger deal with the consequences of that act?
  • SWORD-BREAKER
    Author: Roberson, Jennifer
    Copyright:1991
    Publisher: DAW
    ISBN: 0-88677-476-4
    Tiger and Del must travel south, returning to Tiger's homeland in search of Chosa Dei's brother and enemy, Shaka Obre. For only Shaka can remove the curse that Tiger unwittingly invited on himself: a jivatma that hosts the soul of a dark wizard. While they seek Shaka Obre, Tiger and Del must avoid the pursuers who seek to collect the bounty on their heads, placed there by maddened tribesmen after Del killed the man the tribes believed to be their messiah.
  • SWORD-BORN
    Author: Roberson, Jennifer
    Copyright:1998
    Publisher: DAW
    ISBN: 0-88677-827-1
    Hunted in the South, banished from the North, Tiger and Del leave their old lives behind, turn to the open ocean and set sail in a merchant ship seeking an island which may be Tiger's original homeland. There they find pirates, political schemes, and a plan to make Tiger the heir to a wealthy noblewoman's estate. And one thing more: a heritage of magic which may make Tiger into something he never wanted to be, before it finally kills him.
  • SWORD-SWORN
    Author: Roberson, Jennifer
    Copyright:2002
    Publisher: DAW Books
    ISBN: 0-7564-0099-6
    With the mystery of Tiger's birthright solved, Tiger and Del return to the Southern Desert. Here they hope to build a new life. But Tiger still has a price on his head: for betraying the code of the sword-dancers, his life is forfeit to any sword-dancer who can take it. Tiger has a mission of his own, though, and dying isn't part of it.

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Annals of the Black Company

Glen Cook's "Black Company" series is about the adventures of a hard-bitten company of mercenary wizards and warriors, in an equally hard fantasy world. It's very dark for swords and sorcery, so dark that it could be called "dark fantasy" without much trouble.

  • BLACK COMPANY, THE
    Author: Cook, Glen
    Copyright:1984
    Publisher: Tor Books
    ISBN: 0-812-52139-0
    Centuries ago, the Dominator, his wife the Lady, and the ten dark wizards known as the Ten Who Were Taken ruled an empire in the north. Then they were defeated by the legendary rebel general called the White Rose. But they could not be killed, only imprisoned in a charmed barrow and guarded for all time. When the Black Company is betrayed by its current employer, the mercenaries must flee the city they were guarding. To make good their escape, they take service under a new employer. Unfortunately, they don't find out until too late that their new employers are the Lady and the Ten Who Were Taken, recently released from their magic prison. Now the Lady has two goals: first, to rebuild her empire; and second, to prevent her husband the Dominator from also escaping that same prison. The Black Company has little choice but to obey the Lady's commands, until they hear a rumor that the Lady's nemesis, the master general known as the White Rose, has also been reborn to fight her ancient enemy.
  • SHADOWS LINGER
    Author: Cook, Glen
    Copyright:1984
    Publisher: Tor Books
    ISBN: 0-812-50842-4
    Far in the west of the Lady's reborn empire, the Black Company has a new mission. Here the Dominator has set into motion a plan to release him from his prison. The Company's mission: stop him. However, a new factor has entered the equation: even as the Company works to defeat the Dominator, some of them have also begun to think of becoming rebels themselves. For they now know that the rumors are true, and the White Rose has indeed been reborn.
  • WHITE ROSE, THE
    Author: Cook, Glen
    Copyright:1985
    Publisher: Tor Books
    ISBN: 0-812-50844-0
    The remnants of the Black Company have gone to ground on the bizarre Plains of Fear, where they help the White Rose direct her rebellion against the Lady and the remaining Taken. At the same time, the Dominator is being brought ever closer to freedom by the random workings of nature. Events are rapidly approaching the final battle, in which the Lady, the Dominator, the Black Company, the White Rose, and an evil that is ancient beyond history will all come together in one great confluence of power and destruction.
  • SILVER SPIKE, THE
    Author: Cook, Glen
    Copyright:1989
    Publisher: Tor Books
    ISBN: 0-812-50220-5
    A side-story that finishes the tale of the Dominator. After the Company's few survivors depart the North, a trio of thieves plot to steal the silver spike which contains all that's left of the Dominator. At the same time, a demon called Toadkiller Dog is working to find the still-living head of the insane Taken called the Limper. All these threads converge in a last fight for the power of the Dominator.
  • SHADOW GAMES
    Author: Cook, Glen
    Copyright:1989
    Publisher: Tor Books
    ISBN: 0-812-53382-8
    As the Company's new Captain, Croaker is determined to return the Company's Annals and its standard to the city of Khatovar far to the south, from whence the Company originally came. As the Company travels south, it finds new recruits and new enemies (and some old ones too), while a number of mysterious events begin to indicate that far more is going on than Croaker thinks. Eventually, the Company finds an employer again: the leaders of the city of Taglios, who need the Company's help against the evil wizards called the Shadowmasters. It seems a good arrangement, since the Shadowmasters control land the Company needs to cross to reach Khatovar. . .
  • DREAMS OF STEEL
    Author: Cook, Glen
    Copyright:1990
    Publisher: Tor Books
    ISBN: 0-812-50210-8
    the first book to be told by someone other than Croaker: the Lady, once a sorceress supreme, now Lieutenant of the Black Company and Croaker's lover. Croaker has apparently fallen in battle, much of the Company is dead or besieged, and Lady is engaged in rebuilding the Company and finding a way of getting revenge for Croaker's death. In this task she chooses some very unsavory allies: the society of assassins called the Deceivers, sworn to the service of the dark goddess Kina. At the same time, she finds her powers of sorcery returning -- something which should be impossible.
  • BLEAK SEASONS (Glittering Stone Book 1)
    Author: Cook, Glen
    Copyright:1996
    Publisher: Tor Books
    ISBN: 0-812-55532-5
    The first book of a series-within-the-series called Glittering Stone. It parallels the events of DREAMS OF STEEL, but from a different point of view. Murgen, the new Annalist of the Black Company, tells the story of the remnants of the Black Company besieged in the city-fortress of Stormgard. But things are never what they seem where the Company is concerned, and somehow, Murgen's narrative includes things he shouldn't know. Kina's power is growing, and an ancient prophecy known as 'the Year of the Skulls' is moving closer to fulfillment.
  • SHE IS THE DARKNESS
    Author: Cook, Glen
    Copyright:1997
    Publisher: Tor Books
    ISBN: 0-812-55533-3
    Again narrated by Murgen, this book of the Annals describes the Company's final great assault on the remaining Shadowmasters. All the stops are pulled out as the Company deploys a gigantic army against the Shadowmasters, and attacks repeatedly in Croaker's determined effort to defeat the Shadowmasters and win through to the Plain of Glittering Stone, beyond which lies their destination of Khatovar. At the same time, Kina's followers continue their scheming to have their new priestess, who is the daughter of Lady and Croaker, summon their dark goddess and bring on the cataclysm called the Year of the Skulls.
  • WATER SLEEPS (Glittering Stone, Book 3)
    Author: Cook, Glen
    Copyright:1999
    Publisher: Tor Books
    ISBN: 0-812-55534-1
    It's been fifteen years since the events of SHE IS THE DARKNESS, and much of the Black Company, including Croaker, Lady, and their chief advisors, are trapped in stasis beneath the plain of glittering stone. The remnants of the Company, including Sleepy (the new Annalist), the aging wizards Goblin and One-Eye, and a handful of others have been plotting for years to free their trapped leaders and also start a rebellion against the sorceress called Soulcatcher, the Lady's sister, once one of the Taken and now the dictator of Taglios. Their plan will lead to a series of revelations about the Black Company's nature, its history, its mission, and the being called Kina.
  • SOLDIERS LIVE (Glittering Stone, Book 4)
    Author: Cook, Glen
    Copyright:2000
    Publisher: Tor Books
    ISBN: 0-812-56655-6

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Tales of Bahzell Bloody-Hand

A few years back David Weber took a break from Honor Harrington and tried his hand at swords and sorcery fantasy. The fantasy setting he built was a very conventional one, but he peopled it with some very unconventional characters, not to mention a lot of humor. Bahzell Bahnakson is a hradani prince just trying to make his way in the world as best he can. He never planned on becoming a hero. Or a champion of the War God. Or a vital bit player in the eternal war between Good and Evil. But when that's exactly what happens to him ... well, a champion is someone as does what needs doing, and nobody is better at that than Bahzell...

  • OATH OF SWORDS
    Author: Weber, David
    Copyright:1995
    Publisher: Baen
    ISBN: 0-671-87642-2
    Bahzell Bahnakson is a hradani, a member of a race of humanoids who are tall, powerful, technologically backward (for this world) and given to outbreaks of insane fury, an ancient curse which they call the Rage. Bahzell is also an honor hostage, sent to live in the court of his father's mortal enemy. When Bahzell discovers the enemy prince's eldest son raping a servant girl, he intervenes and then must flee for his life, taking the injured girl with him. Unable to go home, he instead becomes a wandering mercenary and caravan guard, trekking across the land to escape the assassins on his trail. But more than assassins have taken an interest in Bahzell. Hradani may have no use for gods, but the gods definitely have a use for hradani. Rather to Bahzell's dismay, Tomanak the God of War has decided he wants Bahzell as one of his champions, while Sharna the Lord of Demons simply wants him dead.
  • WAR GOD'S OWN, THE
    Author: Weber, David
    Copyright:1994
    Publisher: Baen
    ISBN: 0-671-57792-1
    Bahzell decides it's time to end his wanderings and return home, there to use his new status as a champion of Tomanak to confront his enemies and end the dark god Sharna's influence among the hradani. Along the way, he must contend with Tomanak's Order of knights, some of whom have trouble believing that their god would take a hradani as a champion. He also has to deal with more assassins, various plots by Sharna, and finally an attempted invasion by the hereditary enemies of the hradani, the Sothoii Windriders. Fortunately, he has two newfound allies: Vaijon of Almerhas, a knight-probationer of the Order of Tomanak; and Kaeritha, a fellow Champion of Tomanak and a swordswoman of phenomenal skill.
  • WIND RIDER'S OATH
    Author: Weber, David
    Copyright:2004
    Publisher: Baen
    ISBN: 1-4165-0895-3
    Bahzell and his friend Brandark are now living on the Wind Plain as "guests" of a senior Sothoii nobleman. Kaeritha is off to deal with a strange conflict over land that pits a powerful and prejudiced young Sothoii baron against the semi-religious order of woman warriors known as the "war maidens." Bahzell soon finds himself with a task of his own: a rescue mission to save a herd of the huge, semi-magical horses called coursers. These coursers were the victims of an attack by one of the Dark Gods. Bahzell must try to heal the wounded coursers of the magicked venom that is eating them alive -- without being killed by either the venom or the coursers, whose hatred of hradani rivals that of the Sothoii themselves. What neither champion knows is that their two missions are two parts of a complex plan by the Dark Gods to cripple Tomanak's Order by killing two of His champions in one bold stroke. While Bahzell hunts the one who attacked the coursers, Kaeritha is sucked into a long-building plot to corrupt both the war maidens and the temple of the goddess Lillinara, with the ultimate goal of causing a civil war on the Wind Plain.

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The Twelve Swords of Power

In the early 1980s, veteran SF/F author Fred Saberhagen turned his talents on the swords and sorcery genre. This is the result. The gods like to play games with mortals. This time one of them has thought up an exceptionally fun game: have Vulcan the Smith forge twelve Swords of Power, each with its own name and powers. Unfortunately, Vulcan made a mistake: he made the Swords too powerful, and the events that follow are far worse than the gods ever imagined.

  • FIRST BOOK OF SWORDS, THE
    Author: Saberhagen, Fred
    Copyright:1983
    Publisher: Tor Books
    ISBN: 0-812-55298-9

  • SECOND BOOK OF SWORDS, THE
    Author: Saberhagen, Fred
    Copyright:1983
    Publisher: Tor Books
    ISBN:

  • THIRD BOOK OF SWORDS, THE
    Author: Saberhagen, Fred
    Copyright:1984
    Publisher: Tor Books
    ISBN:

  • LOST SWORDS: THE FIRST TRIAD
    Author: Saberhagen, Fred
    Copyright:1988
    Publisher: Nelson Doubleday
    ISBN:

  • LOST SWORDS: THE SECOND TRIAD
    Author: Saberhagen, Fred
    Copyright:1990
    Publisher: Nelson Doubleday
    ISBN: 1-56865-012-4

  • LOST SWORDS: ENDGAME
    Author: Saberhagen, Fred
    Copyright:1994
    Publisher: Nelson Doubleday
    ISBN: 1-56865-100-7

  • ARMORY OF SWORDS
    Author: Saberhagen, Fred
    Copyright:1995
    Publisher: Tor Books
    ISBN: 0-812-52283-4
    A collection of short stories set in the world of Fred Saberhagen's "Twelve Swords of Power."

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The Book of Years

An excellent swords-and-sorcery series, from an author who I wish would write more of them. The land of Alba is a fairly typical medieval-fantasy setting: wizards, warriors, armies, and empires fighting for power and freedom. Aldric Talvalen is a younger son of the Talvalen clan: a gifted swordsman and a warrior with nothing to lose after his clan was massacred by a dark sorcerer. His travels through the intricate politics and wars of Alba are the stuff of legend.

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Anthologies

These are short-story anthologies in which all or most of the stories fit the "swords and sorcery" genre. There's some very fine writing in these stories ... if you can find them.

  • ALADDIN: MASTER OF THE LAMP
    Author: Resnick and Greenberg (ed.)
    Copyright:1992
    Publisher: DAW Books
    ISBN: 0-88677-545-0

  • APPRENTICE FANTASTIC
    Author: Greenberg and Davis (ed.)
    Copyright:2002
    Publisher: DAW Books
    ISBN: 0-7564-0093-7

  • BATTLE MAGIC
    Author: Greenberg and Segriff (ed.)
    Copyright:1998
    Publisher: DAW Books
    ISBN: 0-88677-820-4

  • CREATURE FANTASTIC
    Author: Little, Denise (ed.)
    Copyright:2001
    Publisher: DAW Books
    ISBN: 0-7564-0007-4

  • CRUSADE OF FIRE: Mystical Tales of the Knights Templar
    Author: Kurtz, Katherine (ed.)
    Copyright:2002
    Publisher: Warner Books
    ISBN: 0-446-61090-9
    The second of the three "Knights Templar" anthologies edited by Katherine Kurtz.
  • DRAGON FANTASTIC
    Author: Greenberg, Martin & Rosalind (ed.)
    Copyright:1992
    Publisher: DAW Books
    ISBN: 0-88677-511-6

  • DRAGON TALES
    Author: Asimov, Greenberg, Waugh
    Copyright:1982
    Publisher: Fawcett
    ISBN: 0-449-24523-3

  • DRAGONS OF LIGHT
    Author: Card, Orson Scott (ed.)
    Copyright:1980
    Publisher: Ace Books
    ISBN: 0-441-16661-X

  • ON CRUSADE: MORE TALES OF THE KNIGHTS TEMPLAR
    Author: Kurtz, Katherine (ed.)
    Copyright:1998
    Publisher: Aspect
    ISBN: 0-446-67339-0

  • TALES OF THE KNIGHTS TEMPLAR
    Author: Kurtz, Katherine (ed.)
    Copyright:1995
    Publisher: Aspect Fantasy
    ISBN: 0-446-60138-1

  • WITCH FANTASTIC
    Author: Resnick & Greenberg (eds)
    Copyright:1995
    Publisher: Daw
    ISBN: 0-88677-640-6

  • WIZARD FANTASTIC
    Author: Greenberg, Martin
    Copyright:1997
    Publisher: DAW Books
    ISBN: 0-88677-756-9

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