Cirsova was sent a paperback review copy of Rogues of Merth by Robert Zoltan.
Rogues of Merth was an excellent read and a good bit further up my alley than my other recent contemporary read, For the Killing of Kings.
Rogues of Merth straddles the line between novel-length anthology and fix-up, collecting several standalone stories in loose chronological order and bridging them by short interlude pieces to strengthen the connection.
Rogues chronicles the adventures of Dareon, a small and boisterous would-be poet swordsman, and “Blue”, his quiet and rather introspective “savage” barbarian companion. The anthology sees them on several picaresque adventures both in their home city of Merth and abroad. The immediate comparison that springs to mind is Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser; I’m sure that there are Leiber partisans who would accuse them of being pastiche or “knock-offs”, but fans of classic pulp sword & sorcery adventures who are looking for new stories in the genre would be hard-pressed to find better reading.
For me, one of the things that really set Dareon & Blue apart from Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser is that D&B were actually likable. I’ve written before about how F&GM underwent their own grimdark reboot after the pulp era, where Leiber really made them rotten fellows. With Dareon & Blue, even though they were nominally thieves and Dareon, perhaps, a scoundrel, I never felt bad cheering them on in their quests, because they were actually pretty good people who just got into some rotten situations, often becoming agents of good and justice, righting far more wrongs than they create.
I might not go so far as to call it “Superversive”, but it’s certainly more fun and uplifting than one would expect from contemporary Sword & Sorcery revival. This one should go on your reading list, especially if you’re a fan of the classic early Fafhrd & Gray Mouser or of Cirsova, particularly our Mongoose & Meerkat series from Jim Breyfogle. There’s not a single story in this anthology that we ourselves would not have run, had we had the opportunity.
A few other things worth mentioning are Robert Zoltan’s interior illustrations, which help set the mysterious tone, and the map of the regions surrounding Merth, which promises that there are plenty more places for the duo to have their adventures before setting off to distant lands beyond the map’s edges.
You can pick up Rogues of Merth here on Amazon. The eBook is a little pricey, so I’d recommend going all-out and just getting the paperback. It’s only a few dollars more and worth it if you have the shelf-space.
Also, for those of you who enjoy audiobooks, at least two of the stories have been done up real nice and are available on youtube.