Monday, January 14, 2013
An Edge to a Sword by Harold Lamb
As I've occasionally mentioned before, I'm a big fan of the historical fiction of author Harold Lamb. This isn't surprising, given that Lamb was a favorite of Robert E. Howard. In fact I recommend Lamb to anyone who loves REH's work because you'll find much of the same energy and headlong pace in Lamb that you find in Howard.
Over the last few months I've been reading my way through the Bison Books Complete Cossack Adventures, compiled and edited by my friend, writer Howard Andrew Jones. I started volume three, Riders of the Steppes last night. The very first story in the book, An Edge to a Sword, turned out to be one of my favorite Lamb stories so far. This is the story that introduces Ayub, a massive Cossack who will later appear in several short stories, novellas and even a novel. There's a difference though because unlike most of Lamb's Cossack tales, which are told in third person POV, this one is narrated in the first person by a young boy named Gregory who hero worships Ayub, giving the huge warrior an almost mythic stature. The story takes on the feel of a legend.
It's a short tale, only about twenty pages but in it Lamb does a great job of sketching characters so that they seem very real. In many ways I've always preferred the rare Lamb first person stories because they have a feel to them that's hard to explain. They seem more real to me, and more visceral. I was complaining to my buddy Jim the other day about how disappointing I find much of the current crop of first person fantasy book, all snark and no substance. Lamb shows how it's done. Along with writer William Preston (Taking the Old Man Down, Unearthed) reading this story has renewed my faith in the first person voice.
I will tell you that Edge is not a happy story for all its wonderful characters and atmosphere. There's a heartbreaking moment late in the tale that made me grit my teeth and wait for the reckoning I knew would come. But then some of the best stories don't end happily. Track this one down and give it a read. You won't be disappointed.