New Edge Sword & Sorcery Magazine #0 (2020) (magazine review).
At the super low price of just £ 3.48 on Amazon for the softcover, I couldn’t not check this out. It’s that cheap because it’s intended as a promo, so it’s being sold more or less at cost. A successful Kickstarter was launched for the first two full-sized issues, which can be found here. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/oliverbrackenbury/new-edge-sword-and-sorcery-magazine?ref=do3cew
It’s quite hard to gauge the actual size of this promotional special. It runs for 80 pages, but the letter (11inch x 8½inch) format, with three columns per page and fairly small font size, means it contains much more material inside than one might think.
The ‘Letter From the Editor’ tells how the magazine came about and of editor Oliver Brackenbury’s hopes and plans for the future. But we’re here for the stories…
This issue opens with the story of Orhan, deposed khan of the eastern tribes, as he tracks the stag he’s wounded, while desperately trying to avoid being captured and killed by his enemy. Along the way, Orhan has to deal with ferocious wolves, unfriendly bands of fighting men and a powerful if not very wise sorcerer, who thought stealing sacred items of power from a tomb was a good idea. There’s enough potential here for someone like Gardner Fox to have stretched it out to a full novel.
This tale, ‘The Curse Of The Horsetail Banner’ by Dariel R.A. Quiogue, while not being ground-breaking, is a solid, well-written tale pretty much in the classic sword & sorcery vein and there’s certainly room for more to come, which would not be unwelcome. Not at all a bad choice for an opener, but had all the stories been in the same vein, I’d not be so impressed.
However, one of the claims editor Oliver Brackenbury makes for the magazine is that they want to encourage diversity in authors, characters and settings of the stories. In practice, I regard the decision to open with a fairly generic, albeit enjoyable, sword and sorcery tale as a good one. It allows fans to get comfortable, before they get their horizons expanded.
This starts with ‘The Ember Inside’ by Remco van Straten and Angeline B. Adams. The protagonist, Ymke, is female, and in a same sex relationship. She’s also a scribe (author to us) and is invited to tea by an older, more established male scribe, whose intentions may not be entirely honourable. I really liked the way that this tale both had lots of swordplay and violence and didn’t really have any…I’m not going to tell you any more. You should just read it.
David C. Smith is a familiar name. I remember enjoying the ‘Red Sonja’ novels he co-wrote with Richard L. Tierney back in the 1980s! ‘Old Moon Over Irukad’ is back in the more classic sword and sorcery vein, albeit Virissa, his female sword-wielder does like women. She and her partner Edrion have taken on a delivery job. A scroll has to be delivered to Lord Masor. Are our heroes stupid enough to trust the man who hired them?
So far, I’d enjoyed everything I’d read, but I was still hoping for something a bit more special. ‘The Beast Of The Shadow Gum Trees’ by T.K. Rex certainly fits the bill. More Lord Dunsany than Robert E. Howard, it doesn’t contain any swords, but it just may be the best story featuring a unicorn that I’ve read in decades. It’s beautifully written in a classic style that is at the same time very readable. As long as T.K. Rex is contributing stories, I will almost certainly be picking up new issues of this magazine.
J.M. Clarke takes us back into more familiar territory with ‘Vapors Of Zinai’. Kyembe, a Spirit Killer, has had cause to kill the wizard that Takhat, high priestess of the goddess Zerlquet, was about to hire for a dangerous task, a task that it now falls to Kyembe to complete. The fact that Kyembe is armed with a khopesh, an ancient Egyptian sickle-shaped sword that evolved from battle-axes gives away the setting of this excellent tale. Clarke is yet another new-to-me author I need to watch.
The fiction side of things is brought to a close with a weird little tale by Brynn Hammond. ‘The Grief-Note Of Vultures’ features a small caravan of fairly dodgy traders, led by Angaj-Duzmut, a nomad guide who, having managed to piss off a local city god, has to take under the radar work to survive. They take shelter in an abandoned temple, which may not have been a great idea. I was impressed with the way we are presented with a female guide, in charge of a band of male brigands and they actually respect her enough to follow her advice. If I have any criticisms, it’s that the author should perhaps watch her use of anachronistic phrases. While I’m willing to accept that there may be a game called ‘football’ in her world, I did have trouble with the term ‘pit stop’.
This brings us to the non-fiction section of the magazine. I have to say that I would have preferred the fiction and non-fiction to be interspersed throughout the magazine, but that’s more a matter of personal taste.
‘The Origin Of The New Edge’ by Howard Andrew Jones is a brief piece which introduces us to the origins of the term ‘New Edge’ and how it might differ from the classic pulp stories of old. He shows that sword and sorcery can take inspiration from what has gone before, while setting aside the racism, sexism and suspect politics of those times.
The point of his that resonated with me most, though, was that the sorcery aspect should not be all that prevalent. Once magic is so common that one can buy enchanted rings at the local market stall, the stories lose their sense of wonder. There’s nothing wrong with high fantasy and much urban fantasy, but that setting doesn’t really work for sword and sorcery. Why would it even concern a sword-wielding hero when the evil magician can be better dealt with by another magician?
This applies to the magazine I co-edit, ‘Occult Detective Magazine’, in the same manner. I do occasionally enjoy and even publish tales set in a world where magic and magical beings abound and everyone is aware of them. However, my preference will always be for those set in a world where the supernatural is rare and most of the population don’t even believe in it.
I mentioned earlier that we’re here for the stories. I certainly was, so it was something of a shock to the system when I realised that my favourite item in the magazine was non-fiction. ‘C.L. Moore And Jirel Of Joiry: The First Lady Of Sword & Sorcery’ by Cora Buhlert is genuinely one of the best overviews of an author and her work that I’ve read in a good long while.
Howard Andrew Jones wrote about how the genre could set aside the sexism and racism of the past. Cora Buhlert points out some very interesting facts that call into question just how these attitudes took hold in the first place. For one thing, the two most popular stories to be published in ‘Weird Tales’ during the tenure of editor Farnsworth Wright were written by women, namely Mary Elizabeth Counselman, and C.L. Moore. Yes, C.L. Moore’s story did feature a male hero, Northwest Smith, but he was brown skinned!
Jirel of Joiry, of course, is of the most interest to readers of this magazine. I could touch on so many of the interesting points Buhlert makes on why those six stories are so good, and essential to any sword and sorcery fan’s bookshelf, but I’ll just say this, I defy anyone who isn’t already familiar with Northwest Smith and in particular Jirel of Joiry, to read this informative and fascinating article without wanting to read the stories.
I admit to not having been aware of Cora Buhlert before reading this magazine, but I plan on seeking out her fiction, as well as her non-fiction.
The longest item in the non-fiction section is editor Oliver Brackenbury’s interview with author and publisher Milton Davis, this being a transcript of Brackenbury’s podcast, ‘I’m Writing a Novel…’, Episode 20, October, 25, 2021.
It certainly serves as a very good introduction to the sub-genre, ‘Sword And Soul’, covering the ground-breaking work of Charles R. Saunders, with his excellent ‘Imaro’ series in the 80s and Davis’ own history of how he first got into our particular branch of fantasy and his own books, anthologies and the other authors he’s published, not forgetting his involvement in the RPG side of things. I have been a fan of Charles R. Saunders’ work for decades and was certainly aware of Davis, but this interview has yet again increased the TBR list that I will not live long enough to catch up on.
Brian Murphy’s short piece on ‘The Outsider In Sword & Sorcery’ also speaks to diversity in character and how the genre needs to avoid becoming more of the ‘same old, same old’ if it wants to survive and grow.
‘Gender Performativity in Howard’s “Sword Woman”’ by Nicole Emmelhainz is a more academic essay than anything else found here, highlighting, as it does, Robert E. Howard’s somewhat forward thinking notions on gender identity. There are several numbers in parentheses that I have to assume are page references for one of the works cited, ‘Sword Woman And Other Historical Adventures’ by Robert E. Howard (Del Rey, 2010), but this isn’t really made clear and it’s fairly irrelevant to those of us who have the Kindle edition.
This brings us, after the review column, by Robyn Marx, to the final piece in the magazine, where Oliver Brackenbury answers the question, ‘What is New Edge Sword & Sorcery?’ Brackenbury’s enthusiasm for this project is truly infectious, and I look forward to seeing where it goes.
It would be seriously remiss of me not to mention the artwork. This has always been an important aspect of sword and sorcery, from the Margaret Brundage ‘Weird Tales’ cover paintings, the internal black and white pulp illustrations, through the superb Frank Frazetta cover paintings in the 60s, to the comics and now this burgeoning revival in the genre, just in time for proper cover art to regain lost ground from those boring digital covers that had completely taken over by the 90s.
I can’t deny that I don’t really love the cover. It’s a bit too generic a pose for my tastes, looking like a sort of barbarian ‘Charlie’s Angels’. I’ve seen better work from Gilead. In fact, I prefer his black and white work inside the magazine.
One complaint I had was that the art credits didn’t include page numbers, which meant I had to ask who did what. The quality is varied, as one would expect, and subject to personal taste, but the highlights for me were by Hardeep Aujla, and Morgan King. The publisher has taken my comment on board and I suspect the artwork credits will be better in future issues.
All in all, this is a very good opening effort and I expect it’ll only get better as long as they can keep going. I, for one, hope it lasts for at least 100 issues!
This promotional issue is also available as a free download in .pdf, or .epub formats from their website. https://newedgeswordandsorcery.com
(pub: Bracken Books, 2022. 82 pages paperback. Price: £ 3.48 (UK). ISBN: 979-8-35423-180-5)
check out websites: https://newedgeswordandsorcery.com and https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/oliverbrackenbury/new-edge-sword-and-sorcery-magazine?ref=do3cew
One thought on “New Edge Sword & Sorcery Magazine #0 (2020) (magazine review).”
Glad you liked my essay on C.L. Moore and the rest of the magazine. I’ll have another essay in issue 1, about editor Cele Goldsmith Lalli who was crucial to launching the second sword and sorcery boom of the 1960s.