Sunday, 3 April 2016

Mage, Maze, Demon by Charles Allen Gramlich, 2016

A barbarian sent on a mission of no return.

The cover of Mage, Maze, Demon, the latest fantasy story by American writer Charles Allen Gramlich, is so striking that it instantly reminded me of the covers of Conan the Barbarian comics I read as a teenager, and still do sometimes.

I could visualise Bryle the barbarian built like Conan, and like the Cimmerian warrior, filled with raw courage and a grip that never loosens its hold on his mighty blade.

The story begins with the barbarian fleeing a raging forest fire, the howling flames licking his skin and flesh, wolves and deer outrunning him to the safety of dry land and greener pastures.


But Gramlich’s narrative is more poetic than that — “The flames shriek with joy like a fiend.”

He continues in his distinctive style, to recount Bryle’s narrow escape into a dark cavern, where he meets an evil sorcerer who baited the brave protagonist into coming to him.

Bryle is trapped inside the enormous cave. The sorcerer, whose two unseeing eyes are like black holes, offers freedom in exchange for a dangerous task — the barbarian must enter a treacherous maze to retrieve a mysterious talisman and bring it back. To get there, however, Bryle will have to get past a beast guarding the amulet, confront a powerful demon central to the story, and surmount orphic challenges.

Can he trust the necromancer? Will he let him go if he succeeds? Bryle is not sure. But like Conan, he is curious and therefore adventurous even if it means putting his life at risk. Paying no heed to his own safety, Bryle ventures into the depths of the labyrinth, unaware of help from a quiet and unlikely friend.

I think the beautiful part of fantasy and its sub-genre, sword and sorcery, is the uncertainty — neither the protagonist nor the reader are prepared for what is coming next. It’s a literary form where fear and pity have no place. Gramlich, an expert on the phantasmagoric works of Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan, piles on the suspense and surprise with every narrative line.

Mage, Maze, Demon is the first sword-and-sorcery yarn I read, and liked. However, it was my second fantasy story by Gramlich, the first being his Harvest of War. Both stories are about brave warriors turned survivors.

This story is based on “a concept developed by David Cranmer (publisher of Beat to a Pulp) for the Veridical Dreams Series 3, inspired by the dreams journals of Kyle J. Knapp."

Mage, Maze, Demon is a very readable fast-paced action-adventure that will appeal to readers of fantasy fiction, and particularly sword and sorcery.

20 comments:

  1. I'm not generally a fan of fantasy novels, Prashant. But it sounds as though this one touches on some larger, human, sorts of themes. Interesting!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Margot, the human spirit lies at the heart of this story. Fantasy fiction is also about ordinary people, I think. I started reading in the genre a little over a decade ago and I have a lot of ground to cover.

      Delete
  2. Thanks, man, I really appreciate it. Glad you enjoyed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're welcome, Charles! You tell a good yarn. I look forward to more sword and sorcery from your pen.

      Delete
  3. Nice review of something I never, or hardly ever, read.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oscar, thank you. I'm a relative newcomer to fantasy fiction, not counting Harry Potter.

      Delete
    2. A-ha! Some people read only fantasy.

      Delete
    3. Oscar, I have not read a lot of traditional fantasy novels. I'm not particularly keen on contemporary fantasy fiction.

      Delete
  4. This type of fiction has never held a lot of appeal to me, yet I'm pleased to see someone keeping the genre alive. I did like Conan and Red Sonja comics when I was very young. Maybe I'd like it more than I realize.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Kelly! I have never read Red Sonja though I used to follow the adventures of her clone, Axa, who appeared a few years later. An Indian entertainment tabloid used to carry the black-and-white comic strip from Britain's "The Sun" in late 70s-early 80s.

      Delete
  5. The genre does not appeal to me at all but there is a huge fan base out there who appreciates the style.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Mystica! Here, in Bombay, I have never met a fan of sword and sorcery. Part of the reason, I think, is the lack of awareness of this sub-genre. It has a different style, I agree.

      Delete
  6. I don't read a lot of fantasy anymore, but that is a very striking cover.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Ryan! I liked the cover too. I like reading different kinds of fantasy, though I have been reading more short than long.

      Delete
  7. It sounds like a fun, fast, action-packed read – just what I am in the mood for right now. Thanks for the review.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Elgin, you are welcome. Charles' story moves at a brisk pace. I enjoy reading short stories in between novels.

      Delete
  8. Not a genre I know much about Prashant but really enjoyed the review - thanks chum, sounds good!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Sergio. My reading in the genre has been intermittent though I'd really like to dig my teeth into it.

      Delete
  9. I have the book “The Lizard's Ardent Uniform" which is the first book in the Veridical Dreams Series. It has a story by Patti Abbott and a lovely cover. I haven't read the stories yet but I should get to them soon. And try this one too. I like fantasy although haven't read much sword and sorcery.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tracy, I have not read any other stories in the Veridical Dreams Series. But after reading Charles' story I'm tempted to read them. This was my first sword and sorcery tale.

      Delete