Review: Blackguards

Blackguards

This book should be one of the introductory bibles to grimdark. There, I said it.

It’s got a wide range of awesome authors writing for a very specific audience. And boy, do they do it well.

What is Blackguards?

Besides fucking awesome? It’s an anthology by Ragnarok Publications featuring assassins, mercenaries, and rogues written by some of the best grimdark and dark fantasy authors out there.

Back in 2014, I spotted something from a small publisher I didn’t know a whole lot about on a website I’d never looked at before. Ragnarok Publications’ Blackguards had gone up on Kickstarter. The Kickstarter had a fun vibe to it – cheekily written with plenty of content – so I threw down my hard earned and waited for the paperback to be delivered in the mail. In all honesty, I clean forgot I’d ordered it until I received an email from reception at work and ran downstairs to see what it was.

When I first started reading Blackguards and taking notes for the review (with a memory like a sieve, you’ve got to take plenty of ’em!), it occurred to me that while some people might love to hear me crapping on about each individual story, others might not. So I’ve written two reviews: one that’s an overall review with a few favourites, etc, picked out, and one where I’ve just gone berserk.

I give you the long and the short of my review of Blackguards.

The Short of It

BlackguardsBlackguards is a thoroughly enjoyable collection grimdark fantasy written by some of the premier authors of grimdark fantasy – eg. Mark Lawrence, Peter Orullian, Bradley P. Beaulieu, Cat Rambo, John Gwynne, Anthony Ryan — and a bunch of newer faces. The stories range from the cheeky and funny, to the super dark and vicious, running the full gamut of the grimdark fantasy genre.

There are some absolutely cracking stories in there. Irindai by Bradley P. Beaulieu, The Subtler Art by Cat Rambo, Better to Live Than to Die by John Gwynne, The Secret by Mark Lawrence, A Length of Cherrywood by Peter Orullian, Seeds by Carol Berg… as you can tell, there are a fair few in here I’m a big fan of. There are a few stories that weren’t for me, which isn’t surprising. I have pretty specific tastes, and a pre-set opinion of what is a grimdark story, so that was bound to happen.

The production as a whole is excellent. Beautiful art, a solid printing, an excellent design from cover to cover, and a well thought out collection of authors to make this really attractive. The Kickstarter itself is a deadset template for how to run an anthology Kickstarter (check it out here if you’ve got a minute) with engaging posts and a range of fun and enjoyable backer rewards and stretch goals (I especially liked the author pay-bump and will definitely be pilfering that idea in the future).

Overall, Blackguards is an excellent production by a publishing house that is fast becoming one of my favourites in the market. That’ll be all I’ll say about them for now. If I blow any more smoke up Tim’s or Joe’s arse they’re likely to pop.

The Long of It

Here we go. These were my thoughts on each short story in the print edition. My apologies to the wonderful Charles Phipps and the others in the ebook extra to Blackguards, but I’ll review their work in another post. This was going to turn into a bloody novel otherwise.

Presentation: this anthology is a work of art. It’s beautifully thought out and presented. Shawn King and Joe Martin have done an amazing job on this. The exterior art is a great summation of the content, while the individual interior sketches really add to the appeal of each story as you move through. Top marks.

Foreward by Glen Cook: Enjoyable read. Great opinions. Funny. A little sad with the death of his step mother mid-production. It’s also refreshing to get a piece from a bloke who sounds like a more intellectually standard person. Sometimes I read pieces by authors and just think, “How the hell do I even compare to that?” To have Glen speak to me like I’m the average Joe provides a really enjoyable entry into this anthology.

Intro by Joe Martin: I want to buy this bloke a pint. A stout. Because it’s dark. Really on point with the grimdark sub genre and started with the same first book in those travels, The Hobbit, though with a perspective I’ve not really seen before. Added a few new authors to my to read list.

Now, into the thick of it. Some of these run a bit more stream of consciousness than structured review, but, hey, I draft these on the bus to and