From the Publisher
“Donaldson proves once again that he is the quintessential fantasist and the true successor and heir to J.R.R. Tolkien.”—BookPage
“Inventive characters and fantastical aladdinesque settings.”—SF Site
“Beguiling, intelligent and thought-provoking.”—World-Herald, Omaha
“Fans of Donaldson’s longer fiction will dive right in...thoughtful, well-worked out, often fascinating yarns.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Donaldson’s strength is in the worlds he creates, which are familiar enough to strike a chord in his reader, but different enough to present fascinating new sights and adventures.”—Science Fiction Chronicle
The Barnes & Noble Review
Short Works from a Master
In Stephen R. Donaldson's second collection of short fiction, the bestselling author of the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant series presents eight superb stories, including five reprints from major anthologies and three new novellas. In the 15 years since his previous collection, Daughter of Regals and Other Tales, fans of the author have eagerly awaited his return to the short form.
In Reave the Just and Other Tales, readers will discover medieval magic fused with Arabian fables and fantasy, where an elaborate style and lavish language gleam like jewels and well-polished armor. This wonderfully lyrical but earthy compilation embodies Donaldson at his finest, with a variety of haunting, beautiful narrative voices that will entice and intoxicate.
The standout pieces include the title tale, "Reave the Just," which concerns a young man, Jillet, who seeks to court a wealthy widowed noblewoman, though she has already been enslaved by the brutal and powerful Kelven. Jillet is easily duped by an alchemist selling love potions, who instructs Jillet to speak often of the legendary personage known as Reave the Just and name him kinsman. The alchemist hopes this will reinforce Jillet's confidence as well as start a rumor that will keep other suitors at bay. When the plan backfires, Jillet is taken prisoner and tortured by Kelven, until the mythic Reave comes to town to find his kinsman.
Reave is a cryptic character more determined to teach lessons of personal accountability than to actually take an active role in matters. Even whenattacked,he does not fight back, and if his chargers don't learn their lessons, Reave will become as entrapped as they are. The story brims with a sort of parable's wisdom that lends itself to the playful but allegorical atmosphere Donaldson fashions.
Using an Inquisition-like time as the setting and backdrop, Donaldson capably presents in "Penance" a horrifying yet endearing novella dealing with the life of a vampire caught up in a war between church and state. Scriven, who can also use his vampiric powers to heal, is summoned before his lordship Duke Obal, who is in the midst of a conflict with the High Cardinal Straylish. Now that Scriven, a "blood beast" and "carrion eater," has been found out, the tide of the religious war might turn to the Torquemada-like Straylish. Unless Scriven tells his entire tale and is accepted into the devout but prejudiced court, both he and Duke Obal will be killed. Scriven's personal story of loneliness, heartache, and longing for love in a land where he can find sustenance only in death is highly engaging and effective.
Perhaps the strongest piece in the book is "The Killing Stroke," a masterfully presented union of martial arts action, philosophical doctrine, and wizardry that considers the complex issues dividing good and evil. Two warrior-assassins from different martial arts doctrines are, for reasons unknown, imprisoned in a cave with no passages or doors. All they know is that they've died in battle many times over and yet have repeatedly been returned to life. Together they watch as another warrior from a different house of the Five Fatal Arts is brought to life time and again, though he has no memory of who he is. Eventually it becomes apparent that a war between the dark and light wizards is raging, and the dark lord is in need of a champion. The third warrior, the most powerful of the three, is from a house that does not believe in "the killing stroke," a house whose creed is that there is no such thing as murder, since all are in charge of their own fates. The slowly unfolding mystery and captivating tension Donaldson manages to create here, even while infusing the piece with a profound sense of responsibility and self-actualization, is nothing short of amazing. These enthralling tales will lead you on mystical adventures that breathe fresh life into fantasy. Reave the Just is filled with fascinating, thoughtful, and refreshing stories that spotlight the author's craftsmanship, delivering glowing prose and extremely tight plotting focused on human quirks, tragedy, and worlds of celebration.
Tom Piccirilli is the author of the critically acclaimed supernatural novel Pentacle, as well as the dark suspense mysteries Shards and The Dead Past. His short fiction has appeared in many anthologies, including The Conspiracy Files and Hot Blood: Fear the Fever.
VOYA - Diane Yates
In the title story, a simple man claims kinship to a legendary figure who rights the wrongs that evil men have done. This lands him in such dire straits that the great man himself must come to his small village to save him. Penance is a deeply affecting tale of a vampyre (author's spelling) who falls in love with the virtuous maid Irradia. He is hopeful of redemption and reconciliation with Mother Church until a vengeful Bishop tortures Irradia in a vain attempt to make her denounce the vampyre. In The Woman Who Loved Pigs, a supposedly evil mage in the guise of a pig awakens a poor half-witted young woman to awareness of the world around her, while he trains her to help him fight his enemies. When he is surrounded and destroyed, she is left as she was before. The only science fiction entry, What Makes Us Human, involves two spacers battling a robot killer spaceship with nothing but their human ingenuity. Donaldson is a master of scene-setting; he weaves a spell with well-chosen words that set the mood as well. The language is appropriate for the imaginative stories he tells. His major theme, the power of the individual (be she or he human, mage, or genie) to overcome adversity, is present in each of the eight stories and novellas collected here. Atmospheric and compelling, this is a book to be savored by mature readers. VOYA Codes: 4Q 4P S A/YA (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult and Young Adult).
I have not read Donaldson for quite a while, since he finished the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, so I was happy to receive this collection of short stories. A favorite is "The Djinn Who Watches over the Accursed," in which the Djinn himself narrates the story of Fatim, cursed by the husband that he was cuckolding, to be "readily loved, and let all those who love him die in anguish." The Djinn is to keep him from being harmed also part of the curse. It takes a little while, and much coaching from the Djinn, before Fatim learns to use the curse to his advantage. I liked the slight tongue-in-cheek tone of the narration, and even thought he has unlikable characteristics, Fatim becomes a sympathetic character. I also like "The Killing Stroke," about a wizard, and the many ways of fighting. The title story is good, too. Jillet wishes to be a suitor of the widow Huchette, but the love spell he is given requires him to say that he is a kinsman of Reave the Just, which starts a complex chain of events. Donaldson is an excellent writer, and his mastery over many styles is shown to its best advantage in this book. KLIATT Codes: SARecommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 1999, Bantam/Spectra, 486p, 18cm, 98-24075, $6.99. Ages 16 to adult. Reviewer: Gail E. Roberts; Coordinator, Youth Scvs., New Bedford P.L., New Bedford, MA, May 2000 (Vol. 34 No. 3)
A tale of justice with a supernatural twist leads off this second collection of short fiction by the author of the popular "Chronicles of Thomas Covenant" and the Gap Cycle. Donaldson's arch and ornate style lends a quiet formality to his stories, giving each tale a distinctive voice. Though previously published in slightly different form or in theme anthologies, this volume belongs in most fantasy collections.
Donaldson's first collection since Daughter of Regals (1983), though, of the eight substantial stories here, 1984-98, five have appeared previously in other volumes-the title piece in After the King (1992); "The Djinn Who Watches Over the Accursed" in Arabesques 2 (1989); "The Kings of Tarshish Shall Bring Gifts" in The Book of Kings (1995); 'The Woman Who Loved Pigs" in Full Spectrum 4 (1993); and "What Makes Us Human" in Berserker Base (1985). As for the newcomers, 'The Killing Stroke" is an agreeably metaphorical blend of magic, martial arts, and the philosophy of knowledge. The bitterly ironic "Penance" concerns a vampire healer as the focus of a religious war. And in 'By Any Other Name," a good-hearted merchant finds that he's constrained to honor a dreadful bargain.
Read an Excerpt
I had wealthan enviable villa graced by servants and soothing grounds, courtesans both imaginative and compliant, and a thriving merchantry, coupled with social standing just below that of the Thal himself. I had friends, well placed and gracious, who might have come to my aidif they could have done so without inconvenience. I had a substantial, if somewhat overfed, cohort of guards sworn to my service and, presumably, to my protection.
But necromancy and the fatal arts were Sher Abener's province, and at last I fled from them.
The nature of his quarrel with me was at once mystically arcane and stupidly practical. The caravans of my merchantry extended their travels to Sher Abener's distant homeland, from whence his occult passions and powers derived. In hushed whispers, it was often said that there men trafficked openly with the dead, while here such practices are only feared and shunned.
On the day when Sher Abener's enmity toward me was set in motion, he approached me, asking that I command my caravans to obtain various necrotic objects and potencies for him from his homeland. Naturally, I acquiesced. I had never sought conflict with any man. Indeed, during the years since my kind and indulgent father had succumbed to the plague, and I had inherited his villa, his riches, and his merchantry, I had studiously avoided contention of any kind. I saw no purpose in it. I desired no alarms and apprehensions to trouble my satisfied life. The manly skills appropriate to my stationprimarily the saber and lance, supported by some few techniques of unarmed combat, and a smattering of theurgyI had learned without interest as a youth, and forgotten as swiftly as I could. My business dealings were marked more by pleasure and comradeship than by profit. My sport with my courtesans and friends accommodated no discomfort. No doubt Sher Abener had come to me because he could be certain of my acquiescence.
Unfortunately, the man whose duty it was to carry out my assent refused. He was Tep Longeur, the overseer of my merchantrythe man who both commanded and represented the drovers and carters and ware-hawks of my caravans. Two days after Sher Abener's request, he approached me with his unwelcome reply.
"Sher Urmeny," he informed me stiffly, "it won't be done. We won't do it."
"My good man, why ever not?" I responded in protest. Truth to tell, I had at that moment no notion what he meant. My transaction with Sher Abenerominous though it washad already vanished from my mind.
"The men won't do it," Tep Longeur explained. "And I won't force them. I wouldn't do it myself in their place. That trek is already dangerous enough. These things" The neat scrim of his beard lifted in disgust. His eyes flashed a careless anger past the sun-belabored leather of his cheeks. "They're evil, Sher Urmeny."
"'Things,' Tep Longeur?" I made no attempt to conceal my bewilderment. He had served my family longer than I had been alive, and knew me too well to be misled by feigned certainty. "'Evil'? Have you dismissed your senses?"
"No, I haven't, Sher." My overseer brandished before me a parchment marked by Sher Abener's crabbed hand. A thrust of his finger indicated one illegible item. "This is a mechanism used to suck the blood from a man while he still lives. And this"Tep Longeur pointed again"keeps a man's member rigid after death, so he can still be used for fornication. For those," he sneered bitterly, "who enjoy that sort of amusement."
I found that I needed to seat myself. I had been cognizant of Sher Abener's reputation, certainly. And a moment's thought might have informed me that the objects and potencies he desired were of unpleasant application. Yet I had not considered that I might become an unwitting participant in some dire rite.
"But I have accepted Sher Abener's request," I informed Tep Longeur. "It must be carried out. That is the nature of merchantries. The alternatives"I could hardly suppress a shudder"are disagreeable."
Indeed, my overseer himself had always insisted that a merchant must stand by his word.
Now, however, he jutted his jaw stubbornly. "The men won't do it," he repeated. "They'll leave your service first." Then he added, "I'll leave it myself. We're decent folk, all of us. We'll have nothing to do with necromancy."
Had I been of a less dignified temperament, I would have groaned aloud. Here was a choice for which I had no taste thrust upon me. The prospect of informing Sher Abener that I must decline his requirements appeared unpleasant in the extreme. At the same time, I had no answer for the threat of Tep Longeur's defection. I was entirely dependent on him. I could no more have filled his place myself than survived a contest of necromancy. If he abandoned me, I would be forced to rebuild my entire merchantry. And that burdensome task might prove impossible. If men who had grown fat in my service refused my commands, others would likely do the same.
Wracked by concerns I did not enjoy, I concluded eventually that my need for Tep Longeur's forthright service outweighed other considerations. Sher Abener must take his requirements elsewhere. He was a reasonable man, was he not? Doubtless he would be vexed by my decisionbut he would accept it. And I could offer him a number of valuable compensations. I alone controlled the price of my goods, regardless of their cost of procurement, or their exotic origins. Surely he would not disdain to profit at my expense?
This decision contented me in the privacy and comfort of my villa. Unfortunately, I began to doubt it when I ventured forth to announce it to Sher Abener in person. His reputation for darkness, like the memory of his bitter visage, contrasted uncomfortably with the gracious avenues along which I strolled in the direction of his walled manor. Benedic, the seat and chief municipality of our Thal's demesne, was a sun-drenched and soothing town. Locust trees overarched the avenues, shaping the sun's kindness with an artist's hand. Whitewashed villas nearly as attractive as my own gleamed among their grounds and gardens on each side. Ladies and courtesans displayed their gowns and charms in open phaetons drawn by the fine steeds which were the source of the Thal's personal wealth. Prosperous laborers tended the walks and intersections, the gates and carriageways. And above my head a flawless sky held Benedic like the setting for a rare and grace-bedizened gem. I conceived that I had been born for the enjoyment of such days in such a place, and images of Sher Abener's dour countenance disturbed my satisfaction.
His manor was of grim granite, undressed, naked of plaster, and high-walled to foil any unwelcome attention. As it stood, it formed a blot on one of Benedic's most harmonious vistas, and I wondered as I approached why the Thal had permitted it to be built as it was. The light of the sun shunned it, and the locusts leaned askance. Its stone spoke of secrets and practices dangerously protected. Indeed, it appeared strangely ominous, as though it threatened the whole of the town. Nearing it, I became concerned that its owner and architect might not prove as reasonable as I desired.
I had with me no more retinue than one servant and a guard. Considering the nature of my errand, I had no wish for ostentation. Yet I found now that I would have preferred a greater company around me. I would have liked Sher Abener to know that I was not a man to be threatened or harmed, despite my compliant nature.
But these were fancies, I assured myself, suggested by the hard stone and unfamiliar style of the manor. Thoughts of threat and harm had no place in such sunlight, under such a sky. Benedic was not a municipality in which a man of my wealth, charm, and pleasantness need fear the ill will of his fellows. Surely the Thal would not have granted Sher Abener leave to dwell among us if his arts or his intentions were as dread as his abode.
Assuming a good face, I sent my servant to announce me at the manor's portal.
The gates opened before us, though I saw no servants drag them aside. A dreary voice instructed us to proceed to the doors of the manor itself, but I saw no speaker. And when we gained the doors, we found them wide, despite the fact that they had been unmistakably shut, and we had not seen them move.
"Sher," my guard murmured to me, "this is an unwholesome place." A pallor had come over his plump features. Sweat stood on his brow. "Do not enter."
I wished to scoff at his apprehensions, but I found that my own assurance had sunk too low. Turning to bid my servant advance ahead of me, I saw only the miscreant's back and heels as he fled between the portal gates at a run.
"Sher" my guard quavered piteously.
Devoutly, I desired the man to display more fortitude. He had accepted good coin in my service for years, and had been asked little or nothing in return. I felt entitled to his courage. At the same time, however, I considered it unseemly for a man of my stature to appear more timorous than his underlings. Cursing the honorable intentions which had brought me to this discomfort, I took pity on him and ordered his return to my villa.
Perhaps he would spread the tale of my courage, beneficence, and forbearance, and Benedic's esteem for me would be enhanced by this otherwise distressing adventure.
Escorted by that cold comfort, I entered Sher Abener's disconcerting abode alone.