I found my copy of this book sometime in the ‘90’s, at a bargain bookstore selling second-hands from the U.S. It even had the stamp of some town library on one of the inside covers – which town, I can’t remember. (I’m old, and the book isn’t with me.)
The book, which sadly I couldn’t take with me when we moved because the paper’s gone mildewy, which, gives me asthma, contains some gems of sword and sorcery and was my introduction to the work some authors I’d never read before. Chief among the new discoveries was Charles Saunders, as there was an Imaro short here, E.C. Tubb, whose Dumarest novels I’d read but never knew he’d dabbled in sword and sorcery, and Hank Reinhardt.
The best story for me was far and away Reinhardt’s Age of the Warrior. It lovingly takes the standard, practically cliched tropes of the genre and extrapolates them forward. The protagonist Asgalt, was a barbarian very much in the Cimmerian mold, ‘able to fight all day and drink all night,’ now in semi-retirement as a Duke after rising through the military of a kingdom.
The story though catches up with him as a crotchety old man, but a barbarian invasion forces him to take up the sword again and race through enemy-occupied territory to get a vital message through. As a foil he gets a younger warrior to go with him, and there are several hilarious passages where the old barbarian huffily measures his prowess against the young protégé. In the end, though, they’re cut off at a bridge by the enemy, and Asgalt makes the only decision an old but still hale barbarian hero can.
Age of the Warrior really hits all the right notes for me – the indomitability of a barbarian spirit, the code of self-heroic sacrifice, and embracing doom with style. This story is a real gem.
On top of that, Saunders’ Death in Jukun is a fine gritty thriller, there’s a deliciously ironic Cyrion adventure by Tanith Lee, The Mistaken Oracle by A.E. Silas ends on a fine note of grim laughter, and there are three interesting essays on the genre by Reinhardt.