Title: The Mark Of The Black Arrow
Authors: Debbie Viguie & James R. Tuck
Series: Robin Hood: Demon’s Bane #1
Publisher/Copyright: Titan Books, 2015
Dark days have come to Sherwood. King Richard has sailed for the Holy Land to do battle with the forces of darkness, taking with him the best of England’s strength. In his absence, darkness has taken root across the land aided by the would-be king John and his right-hand, the demonic Sheriff of Nottingham. Those loyal to Richard and the forces of light face an uphill battle as they try and protect the innocent from the heavy hand of the usurper. A man can be killed for standing against the king, but a legend? A legend can inspire hope even in the darkest of times. It is time for the Hood to once more protect the people of England….
Just when you thought you’d seen every incarnation of the Robin Hood tales imaginable, Debbie Viguie and James Tuck pull this out of the hat. This time around John is no petty tyrant, concerned only with how much gold he can ring from the people and aided by cruelly efficient human agents. This time John is a servant to the forces of darkness, determined to break the spirit of the people and deliver all the world to darkness. Unless, of course, our heroes can stop him….Enter Robin Longstride, youngest son of Richard’s right hand. He’s more at home hunting in the forest than trying to fill his father’s shoes, but with the elder Longstride off to the Holy Land Robin hasn’t much choice. The only bright spot in being called to the castle is the chance to see the king’s niece, Maid Marian. The king’s ward since the death of her parents in a tragic fire, Marian was supposed to serve as an adviser to John in Richard’s absence. John…has a different idea. Robin’s cousin, Will Scarlet, is far more comfortable at court than in the woods, but his task is far more dangerous–to stay in the usurper prince’s confidence, saying nothing while horrors are perpetrated before his eyes. The book walks a bit of a tightrope between dismissing and wholly embracing the power of the Church, but I think that is appropriate for the time in which it is set. There were undoubtedly good monks and church leaders, like Friar Tuck and the Cardinal, but there were also brigands hiding in their ranks. Then too, it is politically incorrect (not to mention historically inaccurate) to cast the Crusades as a struggle between Good and Evil. Not that this book is all that concerned with historical accuracy–it is far more concerned with staying true to the traditional narrative, which is deeply flawed in historical terms. King Richard spent little time in England at any time during his reign, and certainly little resembled his benevolent character from most Robin Hood tales. John did die in Nottinghamshire, but it wasn’t his headquarters. He was just passing through when he took ill. I’m not saying this is necessarily a weakness to the book, or even that I’d take it a different direction if I wielded the pen, just that like most Robin Hood legend it smacks far more of fiction than it does history. It was an unusual tale, but very fun. I look forward to the publication of the rest of the trilogy with great anticipation.
CONTENT: Strong, occasionally disturbing violence. Some crude language, mostly PG-13. Moderately-explicit sexual content. Strong occult content, from demons to necromancy.
This post doubles as one of the “stops” on the Book Of Apex Blog Tour organized by the Little Red Reviewer, where we all read and discuss The Book Of Apex: Volume IV Of Apex Magazine (*****). This anthology collects all the stories published in Apex Magazine issues #30-#44, the first fifteen issues since Lynne M. Thomas took over as editor for the magazine. In my first post, I looked at some of my favorites from the anthology. This time, I’ll look at those that didn’t make the cut. Not that they’re bad, some of them are great, they just didn’t “do it” for me like those others did. The great thing about Apex Magazine is that their stories are all available online, so if you are intrigued by a story you can just click the title and it will link you to that story on their website! I’d be interested to hear your opinions as well, so feel free to leave a comment telling what you thought of a particular story…..
- Splinter, by Shira Lipkin. (***)
A group of friends, all with magical powers, step into another world. I’m not sure why, but this story just didn’t hit the mark for me. It wasn’t bad, I just wasn’t all that impacted by it. Maybe you’ll fare better than I did. CONTENT: Strong language. No sexual content, no violence, although the emotional impact of their trip can be a little disturbing.
- Erzulie Dantor, by Tim Susman. (***)
In the wake of the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti darkness holds sway over the land, both in the land surrounding Bas-Le-Fond and in the hearts of some of it’s inhabitants. But the voodoo gods can be fickle, especially to those who merely pay them lip service…. I wasn’t a fan here. Perhaps it’s my antipathy towards voodoo, or perhaps I was simply in the mood for a more uplifting tale. Either way, despite my lack of investment in this tale it was well-crafted. Perhaps you’ll find it more appealing than I did. CONTENT: Some strong and disturbing violence. Mild sexual innuendo. Strong voodoo occult content. No profanity.
- Labyrinth, by Mari Ness. (****)
Below the temple, there is a labyrinth. In it, trained Dancers wait for the condemned. If the condemned can beat the Dancers, they are innocent and go free. If not, their guilt is proven and their death just. To be a Dancer is a great honor, but it also comes with a terrible potential for loss…. This story was very well crafted, but very bleak. Perhaps another day I would have received it better, I don’t know. At any rate, this one disturbed me. CONTENT: Strong violence. Mild sexual innuendo. No profanity.
- Blood From Stone, by Alethea Kontis. (****)
This tale was excellently executed. Ms. Kontis takes the real historical character who was the alleged basis for the fabled Bluebeard, Baron Gilles de Rais, and seeks to explain just what turned him into that legendary monster. The story was well-told, very evocative and frankly disturbing–how could it not be, given the subject matter? My one complaint is that Lord Death, once he appears, speaks with a modern idiom that was jarring in the medieval setting. CONTENT: Strong, disturbing violence. Sexual innuendo. No profanity. Strong occult content.
- Trixie And The Pandas Of Dread, by Eugie Foster. (*****)
This one would have made my best-of list, hands down, had I managed to finish the anthology before the time came to post it. Oh well….In the world Ms. Foster presents here, there are far more gods than our humble sphere has ever conceived of. There’s apparently a Karmic Council that can elevate someone to godhood if they deem you worthy. Anyway, Trixie is the goddess you’ve always wished existed–she exists purely to smite the @$$holes of the world. That guy posting racist and fascist comments on your favorite YouTube video? She just pulled out his heart. That drunken idiot at the back of the theater yelling spoilers while you try and enjoy the film? His spleen just spontaneously ruptured. (I can only assume he went to Shepherd Book’s “special Hell….”) The only problem is that Trixie is running solely on duty. It’s been a long time since she’s felt any sort of the righteous anger that keeps her running, and she’s getting tired. And her totem Pandas that carry her sedan have a severe case of flatulence due to their all-bamboo diet…. CONTENT: This story is pretty offensive on every front, but I have to confess that I loved it anyway. R-rated language. Semi-explicit sexual content. Occasionally-gruesome (but always deserved!) violence.
- The Performance Artist, by Lettie Prell. (****)
Anna Pashkin Bearfoot is a performance artist. Her latest work will be the most controversial of all….Not gonna lie, this story was fairly disturbing. The prose was excellent though, and it was a good story. The ending had a particularly biting commentary on our culture…. CONTENT: Some sexual content, including implied rape and molestation in a character’s past. No overt violence, but some fairly disturbing content I can’t place in any other category. No profanity.
This is the fifth and final post in a series of reviews of individual stories from this anthology. The other posts can be found as follows:
–Part One (My personal favorites….)
–Apocrypha (The reprinted stories from the relevant issues, not included in the anthology)
This post doubles as one of the “stops” on the Book Of Apex Blog Tour organized by the Little Red Reviewer, where we all read and discuss The Book Of Apex: Volume IV Of Apex Magazine (*****). This anthology collects all the stories published in Apex Magazine issues #30-44, the first fifteen issues since Lynne M. Thomas took over as editor for the magazine. In this post, I will be examining my personal favorite stories from the anthology. The great thing about Apex Magazine is that their stories are all available online, so if you are intrigued by a story you can just click the title and it will link you to that story on their website! I’d be interested to hear your opinions as well, so feel free to leave a comment telling what you thought of a particular story…..
- The Bread We Eat In Dreams, by Catherynne M. Valente. (*****)
The first story in the collection is a surprisingly haunting tale of a demon banished from Hell. Gemegishkirihallat, or Agnes, as she’s called these days, begins our story as an exile not only from Heaven but from the diabolical realms as well. In Hell she was the master baker, baking the bread for the nobles of the Underworld, bread that would be used to torment the famished souls of the damned with the sweet delicacies they would never be allowed to taste, the bread we eat in our dreams. In Hell she had camaraderie, friends, or as near to friends as a demon is capable, even lovers from time to time. In Hell, she wasn’t alone. Here on Earth, this is not the case. She is a demon alone, without the companionship she craves, and when people eventually come to this abandoned piece of land that will one day become New England she will be unable to resist their companionship. But when a demon lives among Puritans, the end result is nearly inevitable…. Agnes’ tale draws most of its impact from the way Ms. Valente spins her prose. She sucks you in from the first paragraph, painting an incredibly vivid and evocative picture that dares you to even try and look away. The conclusion is built slowly and gently, piece by piece from the beginning of the story, so gently that you don’t even consciously register until the end that this is the central question of the whole tale: what in the seven rings of Hell could a demon do to deserve banishment from that unholy place? This is certainly a different take on demons, and I’m not sure what to think of it theologically, but I am definitely intrigued. I urge you to give this story a try. CONTENT: Sexual content, non-explicit. Mild violence, not too disturbing. The main character is a demon, so there’s a bit of an occult flavor.
- So Glad We Had This Time Together, by Cat Rambo. (*****)
Another very strong story, this time told as the protagonist writes to tender her resignation from the TV network she works for. As she composes, we’re treated to her recollections of the past year or so. She has been one of the leads on a new show, Unreality Television, which is basically Big Brother with a vampire, a werewolf, a medium, a guy who’s demon possessed, and a couple normal humans to pull in audiences. Everyone knows they exist, somewhere in the shadows, but nobody has ever pulled them into the light….until Unreality Television, that is. The result? Ah, now that would be telling. I really liked this one–especially for the ending, true, but I was hooked long before that. I’m going to chalk it up to the writing, Ms. Rambo’s voice and the tiny hints she drops that everything is not as it seems. I’m not sure what else to attribute it to, since the story is most certainly a lot better than how I’ve described it…. CONTENT: References to violence and sexual content, but nothing explicit. Mild language.
- The Second Card Of The Major Arcana, by Thoraiya Dyer. (*****)
The Sphinx walks the streets of Beirut, searching for the one who awoke her from her millenia of slumber and asking riddles of all she interacts with. The penalty for failing to answer is a swift and sure death. To what purpose was she awoken? Read on and find out… Pointing out that this is a story about the Sphinx may be a minor spoiler, unless you either know your tarot deck and catch the reference in the title or you pick it up from the continued riddling, but I can’t really describe it otherwise and it’s a minor spoiler at worst. So why does this one make the list where others did not? I honestly can’t say, except that I really enjoyed it. CONTENT: Mild violence, in that people die when they fail to answer her riddles. No language or sexual content. Does the sphinx count as an occult figure?
- Decomposition, by Rachel Swirsky. (*****)
What can I say about this story without giving things away? It was incredibly disturbing, for one thing. The tale of a man driven by vengeance, and what form that vengeance takes…. Very well written, very disturbing. Be forewarned, there are even hints of necrophilia in this particular tale. Not for those with a weak stomach. CONTENT: Brief language. Mild violence. No overt sexual content, though there are some innuendos and a hint of necrophilia. Strong occult content.
- The Silk Merchant, by Ken Liu. (*****)
A young man sets out to redeem his father’s name and prove that the legendary Shimmersilk actually exists. Yet another disturbing tale that has made it into my favorites list…I must be a secretly twisted individual or something. I called the ending, but that doesn’t have to serve as a black mark. CONTENT: No language. No sexual content. Little overt violence, but several very disturbing ideas and revelations.
- Ironheart, by Alec Austin. (*****)
In a dark future, a dark past, or a dark parallel world humanity is at war with the Fae. This war has raged for years, fueling and fueled by dark magic and necromancy. With no more adults to feed to the war, children have been pressed into service. Fallen soldiers are revived with necromancy and sent back to the front to fight and die again. Usable parts are “Frankensteined” together and sent back out. The way the war was described, terms used and the dynamics of how the stalemate had cemented, I can’t imagine that the first World War was not an inspiration here. CONTENT: Strong violence, sometimes disturbing. Harsh language. Sexual innuendos, non-explicit.
- Sexagesimal, by Katharine E.K. Duckett. (*****)
In the afterlife, all you are is memory. It is your currency, your very existence, until you’ve used up all your memories and simply cease to exist. For Teskia and Julio, this is very dangerous because all of their memories are shared. And Julio has inexplicably fallen ill…. This story was…haunting, is I think the best word. I didn’t particularly like the ending, I prefer things to be more hopeful than that as a rule (don’t worry, no spoilers) but the story had grabbed me so tightly that it made my favorites list anyway. I’m not sure what the time stamps signify, I wasn’t able to puzzle them out. This could be the fact that I was reading a challenging story after a truly crazy day at work, but oh well. If you figured it out, please enlighten me! CONTENT: No profanity. Some sexual innuendo, but nothing explicit. No real violence, but one scene is fairly disturbing for reasons I’ll leave unexplained because spoilers.
- Weaving Dreams, by Mary Robinette Kowal. (*****)
Eva is a witch. A witch with a doctorate, in fact, and her current project is assisting a local historian in attempting to learn all he can about the area’s past from the local population of Hidden People. She’s being careful, following all the rules…or so she thinks. As it turns out, she and Giancarlo have inadvertently upset some major players in the faerie realm, and they’ll have to think fast unless they want to pay the price…. I enjoyed this one. I usually do enjoy stories featuring different takes on the fae, especially after the wonderful things the Dresden Files has done. I found out in searching out the link that this is actually a revised version of the story–the first version had some serious accidental racism and reinforcement of negative tropes, which was exactly what the author did not want to do. If you’re interested, check out the link. It’ll get you to the author’s blog where she talks about the revision and the reasons behind it. CONTENT: No profanity. Mild sexual innuendos and flirting, nothing too explicit. No overt violence, as such, but some discussion of it.
- Sprig, by Alex Bledsoe. (*****)
At a renaissance faire in Bristol, a young boy misplaces his parents and begins talking to one of the fairies. The ending is perhaps a bit predictable, but I loved the story anyway. It was very cute. CONTENT: Mild sexual innuendo–very mild. No profanity or violence.
This is the first post in a series of reviews of individual stories from this anthology. The other posts can be found as follows:
-Part One (My personal favorites….)
–Apocrypha (The reprinted stories from the relevant issues, not included in the anthology)