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Blackguards: Tales of Assassins, Mercenaries, and Rogues (2015)

by J. M. Martin (Editor)

Other authors: Bradley P. Beaulieu (Contributor), Carol Berg (Contributor), Richard Lee Byers (Contributor), S. R. Cambridge (Contributor), David Dalglish (Contributor)22 more, James Enge (Contributor), John Gwynne (Contributor), Lian Hearn (Contributor), Paul S. Kemp (Contributor), Snorri Kristjansson (Contributor), Joseph R. Lallo (Contributor), Mark Lawrence (Contributor), Tim Marquitz (Contributor), James A. Moore (Contributor), Peter Orullian (Contributor), Jean Rabe (Contributor), Cat Rambo (Contributor), Laura Resnick (Contributor), Anthony Ryan (Contributor), Clay Sanger (Contributor), Mark Smylie (Contributor), Kenny Soward (Contributor), Shawn Speakman (Contributor), Jon Sprunk (Contributor), Anton Strout (Contributor), Michael J. Sullivan (Contributor), Django Wexler (Contributor)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Song Of The Shattered Sands (Short Story "Irindai"), Serendib (Short Story "The Subtler Art"), Sanctuary Duet (Short Story "Seeds"), GnomeSaga (Short Story "Jancy's Justice"), The Riyria Revelations (Short Story "Professional Integrity"), Balathex (Short Story "Troll Trouble"), The Tales of Egil and Nix (Short Story "A Better Man"), The Shadow Campaigns (Short Story "The First Kill"), Sword & Barrow (Short Story "Manhunt"), The Faithful & the Fallen (Short Story "Better To Live Than To Die"), The Broken Empire (Short Story "The Secret"), The Red Queen's War (Short Story "The Secret"), Chronicles of Sirkara (Short Story "Friendship"), Silerian Trilogy (Short Story "Friendship"), The Annwn Cycle (Short Story "The White Rose Thief"), The Vault of Heaven (Short Story "A Length Of Cherrywood"), Tales of the Prodigy (Short Story "A Taste Of Agony"), The Blasted Lands (Short Story "What Gods Demand"), Shadowdance (Short Story "Take You Home"), The Book of Deacon (Short Story "Seeking The Shadow"), The Book of the Black Earth (Short Story "Sun And Steel"), The Valhalla Saga (Short Story "A Kingdom And A Horse"), Tales of the Otori (Short Story "His Kikuta Hands"), Raven's Shadow (Short Story "The Lord Collector"), Simon Canderous (Short Story "Scream")

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Showing 4 of 4
When I read an anthology I'm looking to find some authors I like without investing a lot of time. The better known authors in the book (Anthony Ryan, Mark Lawrence, Michael J. Sullivan, Bradley P. Beaulieu) do an excellent job but most of the lesser known ones didn't inspire me to check out their other works. Many of the stories seem as though they might have been more enjoyable if I had a strong connection to the authors' works from which the characters came from. The only author I was unfamiliar with that I enjoyed was probably Anton Strout and his story "Scream".

There was a pretty unexpected bit of awesome in the book. Twice I have attempted to read books by Peter Orullian and both times I abandoned them at the 1/3rd mark finding them not to my taste. So I was pretty damn shocked by how good his story in the anthology is. It was incredibly dark with very interesting characters. I really loved this story and it really made the other stories pale in comparison. I will definitely be looking for whatever comes after his Vault of Heaven series.
( )
1 vote joeslucher | Oct 20, 2017 |
A dark sword and sorcery compilation mostly focused on rogues and blackguards set in many different diverse settings. Not all stories are equally well written but many are worth the undertaking. This collection is massive! It was obviously an ambitious undertaking. A kickstarter project that went beyond expectations. Most stories are brief and easily finished in a sitting. ( )
  RachelRY | Aug 23, 2016 |
Blackguards: Tales of Assassins, Mercenaries, and Rogues by J.M. Martin
S.E. Lindberg rating: 5 of 5 stars

Blackguards: Tales of Assassins, Mercenaries, and Rogues is Highly Recommended Dark Fantasy:: This collection is largely Dark Fantasy. As the subtitle says, this not just about Assassins--there are plenty similar lawbreakers featured: Thieves, Smugglers, and Mercenaries. As J.M. Martin clarifies in his introduction:
"Blackguard, by the way, is actually pronounced ‘blaggard,’ as in haggard. The term seemingly originated from scullions and kitchen-knaves, in particular those in courtly caravans who were in charge of the pots, pans, utensils, and the conveyance of coal … one could extrapolate that a ‘blaggard’—also ‘blagger’ in some texts—is a ‘rag-tag deceiver with grandiloquent habits.’"
Crowdfunded Gateway: Anthologies often function as a way to speed-date authors. Want to get acquainted with those who write about a theme you crave? Then find a thematic anthology and shop around! The Sword & Sorcery genre spawned from short stories; for many decades anthologies needed no classification. But in the last few decades, within the dark fantasy genre associated with S&S, there has been a move toward themes—which is great (i.e., Rogue Blade Entertainment’s Rage of the Behemoth and Heroika 1: Dragon Eaters come to mind). Blackguards: Tales of Assassins, Mercenaries, and Rogues provides a whopping 27 stories—24 of which are linked to established series. The “Roll-Credits” section in the end is designed to link readers to the authors they just liked. Classy. This book was launched via Kickstarter and Ragnarok Publications delivered a solid product. Me? I was just a Bung Nippers level supporter, but am still part of the band wagon and proud to be acknowledge in the contributor section.

Variety: A menu of 27 entries starts off with ~4 female protagonists, which was unexpected and enjoyable. The range of characters and milieu is truly broad. There is surprisingly little redundancy. As mentioned above, the Sword & Sorcery genre was influential: Michael J. Sullivan and Paul Kemp offer duos reminiscent of Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar “Fafred and Mouser”; and Jon Sprunk seemed to write a pastiche/fan-fiction of Glen Cook’s The Black Company.
Many are tales of betrayal and grim situations; the most impactful was Peter Orullian ’s "A Length of Cherrywood" which was uber-dark, but very well written--this story is one you’ll enjoy reading once, and then never again. Not all these are grim. There are several comedic entries, the funniest for me was Richard Lee Byers’s "Troll Trouble" which had me laughing out loud. There are several others that have the protagonist as savior/hero, or the target of blackguards; Kenny Soward’s "Jancy's Justice” was one such which also offered a bit of steampunk/gnome technology. The last several entries really cast the net: James Enge casts Odysseus as a blackguard, Lian Hearn provides some Japanese inspired darkness, Snorri Kristjansson offers Viking flare, and Anton Strout brings a psychic- sorcery into contemporary art crime.

Personal Favorites: S.R. Cambridge’s "The Betyár and the Magus" blends magic into western-European history—great characters and setting. Equally entertaining & well written was Shawn Speakman’s dose of druidic/Celtic lore; his "The White Rose Thief" made me aware of “Rosenwyn Whyte” a musician with a dark past which I am anxious to read more about. Tim Marquitz ’s "A Taste of Agony" got me intrigued about the “outlaw, eunuch assassin Gryl”, even though the story’s mission was obscure. Anthony Ryan’s "The Lord Collector" offered it all—an intriguing world of assassins, dark magic, and interesting characters.

Art: The cover art by Arman Akopian is nicely done and representative on the book’s contents (yes, there are plenty of female protagonists). Interior art for each of the stories is bonus flare, well done by artists Orion Zangara and Oksana Dmitrienko ( )
  SELindberg | Jan 31, 2016 |
Great anthology! Very focused on the sword & sorcery, dark, epic and historical fantasy subgenres, most of the stories are pacy and feature interesting characters. There is drama and comedy, there are shorter and longer tales, there are different degrees of world-building and magic, and there is focus on action and psychology. Some authors truly have a gift for fitting compelling narrative and characterization in the short story format, and there are both stories which are more like an introduction to their existing works and structured short standalones with unpredictable twists.

I liked or loved all of the stories, very few didn’t catch my attention and I really appreciated such evenness of quality; it's a splendid collection, the theme is intriguing and the final picture is pretty cohesive: this anthology really feels like an ensemble rather than a volume of separate stories. After a slow start (as it is normal for me with anthologies) I roared along, savoring all the varied contributes without pause. The writing quality is very good throughout but I expected that, considering the names in the table of contents.

"When you root for the bad guy you never know what you're going to get"

The stories feature a very wide range of characters, there are thieves, assassins, tricksters, mercenaries, scoundrels, dastards, swindlers, fighters, sorcerers, tax collectors, villains murderers, traffickers and more; some have standard ethics, some are simply practical, some outright evil. Some ply their trade for higher ideals, some out of circumstances, some for money, some simply following their nature, some for the sheer fun of it.

It’s also interesting to see the different approaches to the same unsavory businesses, some authors go for playful tones, portraying waggish circumstances or likable scoundrels (I can appreciate characters with dishonest trades and witty tongues who don't take themselves too seriously), while others deliver disturbing characters or hair-rising plots which explore the depth of human hell. And imagine the opponents or partners of such protagonists!
The mix of light humor and grim seriousness is truly frabjous.

"Assassination is murder with somebody else's purpose. [...] Coins hold purpose, they bear it like a cup. A murder should always carry a weight, even if it's only the weight of gold"

I was first drawn to this anthology because of a couple of stories starring familiar characters which I eagerly anticipated. Almost all but a few are, in fact, set in established worlds. I rarely felt disoriented for lack of prior knowledge of the characters or the history, it was great that almost all the authors effectively managed to achieve the right balance between fleshing out and plot.
There is the advantage that short stories related to existing series allow for the opportunity to discover the writers and the series at the same time, and are great gateways to get familiar with a more complex situations. On the whole there are fewer strictures in original settings, I’m very much for them, but here I was also interested in trying some series I have on my to-read shelf without yet committing to the full work.

More tales than I expected had my undivided attention and left me really wanting for more of their characters and their authors’ imagination, but I would have been disappointed otherwise, ever since the earlier days of the Kickstarter project the contributor list exerted an irresistible pull (it was very fulfilling to see it grow, either) and it was instant chemistry with the theme: anti-heroes!

In part I agree with Glen Cook (yes I read it, sorry Glen), reading about the nasty and the flawed can be downright fascinating, but it’s not only the fun of scoundrelly action or the boring-good-exciting-evil thing. It is interesting to know about the humanity (if any) of those who play the game with a very personal set of rules, their motivations, their worlds, or simply to follow their logic and see how it ends. I would not read fantasy literature to feel better in my own world. Indeed "good and bad are extremely dependent upon where I am standing", of course, I am judgmental by nature; so what’s better than a hefty book of unclear morality to test the boundaries of my perception and have a great time at it?

Another welcome aspect is the neat package (and there are illustrations to boot, though some are a bit spoilery), I think the editing can really make a difference, not only on the story selection –which is paramount of course- but also on the reading quality of the volume if it can bring out the synergies between the various stories. It was an excellent job, since I read them straight through, I had the opportunity to enjoy all the aspects of the editorial choices, and I did. There is nothing worse than short stories randomly bound together, without normalization, fine-tuning of the theme, or harmony between the lengths of the various pieces, writing styles and in the emotional impact sequence. That is not the case here. I still have to come around Blackguards Blacklist, the anthology companion, a much-appreciated boon with some interesting authors.

Pleasant discoveries, great reading time, highly recommended.


Sept 2014: project successfully funded on Kickstarter. Initial pledge goal more than doubled! I'm looking forward to reading this anthology. ( )
1 vote Alissa- | Jun 5, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Martin, J. M.Editorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Beaulieu, Bradley P.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Berg, CarolContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Byers, Richard LeeContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cambridge, S. R.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dalglish, DavidContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Enge, JamesContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gwynne, JohnContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hearn, LianContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kemp, Paul S.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kristjansson, SnorriContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lallo, Joseph R.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lawrence, MarkContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Marquitz, TimContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Moore, James A.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Orullian, PeterContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Rabe, JeanContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Rambo, CatContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Resnick, LauraContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ryan, AnthonyContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Sanger, ClayContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Smylie, MarkContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Soward, KennyContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Speakman, ShawnContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Sprunk, JonContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Strout, AntonContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Sullivan, Michael J.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Wexler, DjangoContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Akopian, ArmanCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cook, GlenForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Martin, J. M.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Whether by coin or by blood... YOU WILL PAY. A fantasy anthology featuring the deadly, the worldly, and the sneaky. Blackguards consists mainly of stories in established series, and the authors range from wildly successful indie authors to New York Times bestsellers. Featuring tales set in the worlds of Michael J. Sullivan's Riyria, David Dalglish's Dezrel, Mark Lawrence's The Broken Empire, Lian Hearn's Tales of the Otori, Mark Smylie's Sword and Barrow, Anthony Ryan's Raven's Shadow, Shawn Speakman's Chronicles of Annwn, Carol Berg's Sanctuary, James A. Moore's Seven Forges, DJango Wexler's Shadow Campaigns, Laura Resnick's Silerian Trilogy, Peter Orullian's Vault of Heaven, Kenny Soward's GnomeSaga, Paul S. Kemp's Egil and Nix, and more! If you enjoy roguish tales of scoundrels and ne'er-do-wells, many of them set in established worlds, Blackguards is for you! Foreword by Glen Cook (Black Company) Carol Berg, "Seeds" Richard Lee Byers, "Troll Trouble" David Dalglish, "Take You Home" James Enge, "Thieves at the Gate" John Gwynne, "Better to Live than to Die" Lian Hearn, "His Kikuta Hands" Snorri Kristjansson, "A Kingdom and a Horse" Joseph Lallo, "Seeking the Shadow" Mark Lawrence, "The Secret" Tim Marquitz, "A Taste of Agony" Peter Orullian, "A Length of Cherrywood" Cat Rambo, "The Subtler Art" Laura Resnick, "Friendship" Mark Smylie, "Manhunt" Kenny Soward, "Jancy's Justice" Shawn Speakman, "The White Rose Thief" Jon Sprunk, "Sun and Steel" Anton Strout, "Scream" Michael J. Sullivan, "Professional Integrity" DJango Wexler, "The First Kill" Anthony Ryan, "The Lord Collector" Paul S. Kemp, "A Better Man" James A. Moore, "What Gods Demand" Jean Rabe, "Mainon" Bradley P. Beaulieu, "Irindai" S.R. Cambridge, ""The Magus and the Betyar" Clay Sanger, "The Long Kiss".… (more)

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