Mountain of Daggers by Seth Skokowsky is a collection of short stories about a thief named Ahren (pronounced Aaron). Ahren is arguably the greatest thief in the world and someone who has skills as a sailor, burglar, con man, swordsman, and brawler. Unfortunately, this is not the kind of world that benefits Renaissance Men and he is someone the local gangs don’t know what to do with.
The book is arranged in the context of an old Sword and Sorcery book rather than grimdark. It reminded me strongly of the pulpy adventures of Conan the Barbarian or Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Ahren, himself, is not a larger than life character but stoic and reserved with rarely any hint to what he’s really thinking. He reminds me a bit of Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name, transplanted to a Medieval Italian-esque universe.
Ahren’s motivations seem limited to either coin or cleavage, the later driving him to get involved with several dangerous women throughout the story. He’s not a lech like Conan but more like a gentleman bandit who is certain he can charm any of the young women he gets involved in given enough time spent in his company. How successful depends on the story as quite a few of the women he encounters outwit him rather than the opposite.
Each of the short stories inside the book is yet another one of Ahren’s adventures, loosely organized in chronological form. We follow him from when he’s little more than a sailor sick of doing menial labor for little pay to a man who is feared throughout the continent as the Black Raven. Each of them is self-contained and could have been printed in a magazine with readers never having to read one of the originals.
Seth Skorkowsky is notably an award-winning reviewer of pulp-influenced tabletop games like Call of Cthulhu, Conan the Barbarian, and Traveller. As such, we can see what sort of fiction he’s making a homage to despite this being a book written in the 21st century rather than in the early 20th. This is a world of evil wizards, pirates, thieves’ guilds, decadent nobility, and more. It’s a bitter higher tech than Conan’s world and I’d put it roughly around the same level as the Gentleman Bastard series.
This classic homage to the swashbuckling short stories of the past is going to appeal to a lot of fans but sadly suffers from some of its weaknesses. Ahren’s mysteriousness and stoicism prevents much in the way of character development. He’s pretty much the same individual he was at the beginning, even when he’s only starting his career as the legendary Black Raven. We also don’t have much in the way of a supporting cast as there are only a handful of recurring characters throughout the short stories.
Still, I recommend this book and think it is far from the worst way a fantasy fan can spend their afternoon. The big appeal of this book is its action, daring do, and interesting heists. This is a book about a dashing rogue and Seth Skorkowsky writes them well.
Read Mountain of Daggers by Seth Skorkowsky