Joe Bonadonna’s Amazon review of The Golden Sword, #2 in the Silistra Quartet:
Joe Bonadonna’s Amazon review of The Golden Sword, #2 in the Silistra Quartet:
Dreamers in Hell (Heroes in Hell, Volume 15)
Created by Janet Morris, edited by Janet and Chris Morris, and written “with the diabolical assistance of their damnedest writers.”
Perseid Press (478 pages, June 13, 2013, $23.95 in trade paperback)
It is a place of swords and spears, revolvers and automatic weapons, sorcery and science, catapults and cannon, bows and arrows, computers and demons. It is a place where there is no Hope for the damned, merely the suggestion of it.
Welcome to Hell, where Perdition rules. Whether a soul believes in Hell or not, Hell believes in damnation of the mortal soul. Anyone can end up in Hell, no matter what religion, no matter what faith. You may not believe in Hell, but Hell believes in you.
In Hell, all things are possible. In Hell, many of the damned believe they have been wrongly sent there, while others accept their fate and try to make the best of a bad situation. In Hell’s Mortuary, the Undertaker giveth and taketh away, revives and reassigns the damned — again and again — so they can continue their dance with the Devil. Yes, welcome to Hell — where rogues and heroes and fools quest for a way out, and Satan plots to storm the Gates of Heaven.
Ah, but wait… the powers that be in Heaven have decided that Hell has become too comfortable. Infernity is in trouble. El Diablo is lying down on the job.
Heaven has sent Erra, Babylonian god of plague and mayhem, and his 7 Sibitti (his Auditors, his Enforcers, his personified weapons), to further punish the innocent as well as the guilty, and they do so with great glee. They are Hell’s judge, jury, and executioners. Satan can’t even run Hell the way he wants to run it. Paradise mocks him. Will Erra replace Satan? Make things worse for everyone in all levels and versions of Hell — past, present and future?
Dreamers in Hell is the 14th volume in this best-selling series, which has seen stories nominated and winning Hugo and Nebula awards. It is also the most ambitious book to date in this highly successful and most brilliant shared-universe of all. So let’s get started, shall we?
Chris Morris gets things off to a grand start with Fools in Hell. Satan plans a great festival to celebrate the rebuilding and reopening of the Hellexandrian Library. (Guy Fawkes, in an earlier tale, had destroyed the Library, as well as the Hall of Injustice in his attempt to assassinate Satan.) Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe write a play for Satan, who enlists their aid in yet another of his nefarious schemes. And who knows what wicked games, what sinister machinations lurk in the mind of His Satanic Majesty, aka HSM?
“Leave me in hell then! But leave my hell alone!” Satan screams to “Above,” in Janet Morris’ wonderful Alms for Oblivion. There is too much overcrowding in Hell for Satan’s liking. So he sets into motion plans to prove that Humankind is unworthy of Hell or redemption, and deserves only oblivion. Rid Hell of Humankind, and the Netherworlds won’t be plagued by Erra and his 7 Auditors from Above running amok throughout Satan’s rightful domain.
In Nancy Asire’s clever little The Unholy Hole, Caesar’s magnificent villa is totally destroyed, leaving but a massive hole in the ground upon which it stood. No survivors can be found. Are the dastardly Erra and his 7 Auditors behind this attack? Or is it someone or something else? Napoleon and Wellington are recalled to active duty by El Diablo himself. Attila the Hun and Sulla’s “legions” join them. Countess Marie Walewska, who chose to spend eternity in Hell to be with Napoleon, arms herself and joins in the fun.
Next up is Yelle Hughes’s intriguing Essence Helliance. The King Infernal visits Medea of Colchis, the first wife of Jason of Thessaly, who works in Hell’s Mortuary. Old Scratch needs the essence and souls of the damned who have no chance for redemption. This, he tells her, is for a project he is working on. A headstrong, disrespectful, and somewhat mad woman, Medea is in charge of this “essence and soul distillery.” But is there more to Satan’s power play? Can anyone even guess at what his infernal end game may be? (I’ve been sworn to secrecy.)
Next is Sara M. Harvey’s lovely and sad, Barefoot, On Brimstone. Isadora Duncan awakens from a dream of dance-performance, green grass, and her children — only to find that she is alone, still in Hell, and the infamous scarf that had strangled her is still around her neck. But then she meets Pharzuph and Naamah, a pair of fallen angels. It seems she has been summoned to Sin Francisco, to see Joshua Abraham Norton, who had once declared himself Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, and they are to be her escorts. But what she asks of him only one personage can give, and so she must go dance for the Prince of Darkness.
Shakespeare’s Ophelia, delicate and moody little flower that she is, finds herself once again in the hands of the Undertaker, in Shebat Legion’s wicked little vignette, Ophie and the Undertaker.Having twice attempted suicide, poor Ophie refuses to accept her fate in Hell and the fact that there is no escape. No matter how much the Undertaker takes from her, tenacious and stubborn Ophelia always finds herself crawling—or squirming—back to him.
In John Manning’s delicious Just Desserts, Jimmy Hoffa is union president of all Hell’s damned souls. Satan has ordered him to provide labor for the reopening of the Hellexandrian Library. Infamous Nazis Heinrich Himmler and Joseph Mengele, with a few friends, are hired as cooks under the supervision of Jewish gangster, Izzy Bernstein. Meanwhile, Matthew Hopkins thinks he’s found a way for him and fellow witchfinder John Stearne to get out of Hell and escape to Heaven, where they belong. Needless to say, everyone gets what they deserve.
Hell, I Must Be Going, is Michael A. Ventrella’s comedy-skit ode to the Marx Brothers, wherein Rufus T. Firefly and Ciccolini Ravelli, his assistant, are in charge of keeping track of all assignments in Hell. Enter one Margaret Dunwoody, who has come to question who they reallyare and what they are doing. Seems they’ve conned their way into positions where they can search for a missing brother who, for obvious reasons — is not in Hell. Hail, hail, Helldonia, land of the Knave and Unfree.
INFERNAL NOTICE: Weapons are not allowed at the grand reopening of the Hellexandrian Library. In Head Games, Bill Snider’s sly look at psychoanalysis in Hell, Fionn mac Cumhaill, accompanied by his friend Caliban, leaves his sentient spear Areadbhar at the door. Then, during an interview with Sigmund Freud, the spear begins talking to Fionn, though only Fionn can hear it. Old Siggy finds Fionn’s attachment to the spear quite “telling,” and begins to explain how the weapon is an extension of Fionn’s… well, I’m sure you can guess. Throw in the Staff of Merlin, which can talk to the Fionn’s spear, a guest appearance by Merlin himself, and one harridan named Sycorax, who is the mother of Caliban — and hellzapoppin!
Next up is Tom Barczak’s heroic tragedy, Blood and Ash. Beowulf is still in the process of accepting his death when he encounters Boudica, Queen of the Iceni. Then they meet up with Joan of Arc, who has come to lead them out of Hell. All three are sorely wounded and badly burned, as you might imagine. The trio meets up with former writer turned tinkerer, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who gives Joan a Vorpal Blade that he calls ‘Alice.’ Before they can escape down the rabbit hole, along comes Erra and his 7 Sibitti Auditors. The unexpected happens, a sacrifice is made, and we discover that even in Hell, there is such a thing as Hope.
Hellexandria the Great is next at bat. Sarah Hulcy hits a home run as she tells us of Demetrius, the Chief Librarian, Makalani his assistant, and Caesarion and Brutus, the sons of Julius Caesar. Brutus and Caesarion are drafted as volunteers to act as guides for the guests at the upcoming gala in honor of the reopening of the Hall of Injustice and the Hellexandrian Library. During the boys’ training period, they hear of the destruction of their Dad’s villa by suspects unknown, and everyone is naturally on edge. (Could that all be part of Satan’s grand scheme to storm the gates of Heaven? At this point—anything is possible!) But everyone survives the big party, even though the witchfinders attempt to assassinate His Satanic Majesty.
David L. Burkhead’s The Knife-Edged Bridge is a tale of friendship and loyalty. It stars William Simpson, veteran of Second Manassas, Jim Bridger, scout and trapper, and Perseus, Son of Zeus. In olden times, this bridge was known as the Bridge to Paradise. But now… who knows where it leads? For them, it will hopefully lead out of Hell. But along the way, Bridger is horribly mangled and tortured, and Perseus goes missing. Setting out to rescue his mates, Simpson finds himself in a disturbing level of Hell he’s never seen before, where his friends are being tortured by demons, rather than having been sent back to the Undertaker for reassignment. Simpson rescues his friends, as well as Archimedes, who claims he should be in Hades or Tartaros, but not in Hell. So they all set out to find Erra and his 7 Auditors, hoping to get Archimedes’s punishment amended—and fearing that they might make it worse.
Our next item on the menu is Deborah Koren’s The Wager. It’s an interesting mash-up of the western and boxing genres, with a dash of Damon Runyon thrown in for seasoning. It stars Bat Masterson, the eternal gambler, and Wyatt Earp, who has become the manager of a boxer named Big Ed. Enter one Grayson, an atheist and former writer who refuses to accept that he’s dead and in Hell. Earp bets Masterson that he can’t convince Grayson that he is indeed dead and damned. As for what’s at stake, you’ll just have to read the story and find out for yourselves.
Bettina S. Meister’s More Light is a very poignant, complex, and introspective yarn. Certain passages read like the inner monologue of poet and sorcerer, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who believes he has been wrongly sent to Hell. He suffers the daily humiliation of a poet’s soul. His sufferings of old age are daily presences in his life in Hell. He is tormented by memories of his mother, his wife, and his children. But even in the Realm of the Damned, one can find a friend, and he does — Karl Wilhelm Jerusalem, whose suicidal death Goethe had immortalized in his novel, “The Sorrows of Young Werther.” Arrogantly thinking that he can play with the powers of Hell, Goethe sets out to plead his case in hope of gaining salvation.
In the Shadow of Paradise is Jason Cordova’s excellent, first-person account of Juan Ponce de Leon y Figueroa’s common-sense approach to survival in Hell, set in Lost Angeles. The 7 Sibitti have destroyed Hellywood, and through a landscape of death and devastation, Figueroa travels to find a map showing the way out of Hell, using the waters of the Fountain of Youth underneath the Mortuary. And then he meets Marie Antoinette, who has somehow acquired the map. With her is her attendant, Henrietta, who is in possession of box that contains a Prophecy Head Doll that speaks with the voice of Rasputin. Meanwhile, two Angels from Above discuss whether or not there is such a thing as ultimate salvation, and whether or not even the damned can be redeemed.
Zero Sum Game is Richard Groller’s sci-fi seasoned take on what happens when Nikolai Tesla realizes what has been missing from his theoretical constructs. Tesla is Director of Infernal Research Projects. George Washington Goethals, once Chief Engineer in charge of building the Panama Canal, is Tesla’s assistant and ally. Thomas Edison is the comptroller of the Dept. of Infernal Energy. And Hero of Alexandria is the arbiter of the War of the Currents that is still being waged by Tesla and Edison. Tesla needs funding and is obsessed with besting Edison. Goethals has a penchant for skirting regulations. During the course of Tesla’s experiments, a worker demon is killed, and then a stress wave in the fabric of Space and Time causes one-third of New Hell to disappear. Could Thomas Edison be the saboteur? Tune in and find out!
“All of Hell is a stage and the damned are merely players in Satan’s endless and infernal game.” So says Jack William Finley in his philosophical And the Truth Shall Set You Free, which stars Constantine the Great, one-time emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Constantine can’t come to terms with the reality of his new existence in Hell, but he has a plan: “In the land of the Prince of Lies he would weave a greater lie than all that came before, a lie that would set them all free.” He assembles the finest minds in Hell, including Kierkegaard, Voltaire, and Schrodinger, to help him concoct this magnificent lie. Satan then orders gangster Frank Nitti to team up with Jack the Ripper, and they are sent to keep an eye on this intellectual rabble. When in Rome, do as the Romans. But when in Hell, do not attempt to emulate the Devil.
The next entry is Michael H. Hanson’s The ITTT (pronounced eye-triple-tea) — The Institute of Terrified and Tortured Technicians. Sergei Korolev, former father of the Soviet Space Program and now, in Hell, President-Elect of The ITTT, is the keynote speaker at an upcoming conference, which revolves around the ongoing feud between Edison and Tesla. Edison is a crafty bureaucrat who lords it over the various infernal-internal technology departs, and steals every idea he can get his hands on. Also in this clever little tale, we see more of the irony and punishments of Hell: genetic engineers are plagued with physical deformities, and chemical engineers are constantly sprayed in their faces by all manner of toxic elements, for example. But what’s really at stake here is Tesla’s new space tunnel, Hell’s own escape hatch.
Petra E. Jorns continues the tragic tale of Siegfried and Kriemhild in her mythic Siegfried’s Blade.Kriemhild awakens in Hell, suffering the pain of loss and guilt. Wandering over a field of bones, she hears a skull speak to her in a familiar voice. “You have murdered us.” It is the voice of Gunther, her brother, who had plotted Siegfried’s death with Hagen. Kriemhild sets out to find Siegfried, only to encounter Brunhild, her enemy, whose own vanity had led to Siegfried’s death, and they accuse and blame each other for that. Further along, Kriemhild meets Hagen, who now carries Balmung, Siegfried’s accursed sword. Hagen: whom she had allowed to murder her brother Gunther, and thus quench her thirst for vengeance. Haunted by memories of Siegfried, confronted by old ghosts and tortured by her own guilt, Kriemhild stumbles on, over the bodies of her brothers and all those she had brought to death thru her vengeance — and ultimately discovers the truth of her personal and private Hell.
Stairway to Heaven is Ed McKeown’s wonderful tale of Emile Du Chatelet — physician, mathematician, and author—who seeks audience with Belial, Crown Prince of Hell. One-third of New Hell City has disappeared, and its citizens have not reappeared at the Undertaker’s for reassignment. According to Emile, Tesla could not control his Dirac Power Source — which is actually the underlying principle that binds the Universe together. She proposes a great mechanism by which they can rip open the dimension of Hell and march out to freedom — perhaps to Heaven itself. Emile, who claims she has done nothing to warrant her place in Hell, wants revolution. She wants to invade Heaven and face God in battle, but she needs Tesla’s help, and he’s still locked inside the Fortress of Despair — J. Edgar Hoover’s prison. Belial agrees to support her, and with the aid of a female demon named Smoke, the cowboy Frank Hopkins, and Achilles piloting a Blackhawk helicopter, they storm the prison in a battle worthy of a James Bond flick. Emile’s speech to the damned is thought-provoking, eloquent, and perfectly logical. What she asks of Belial, however, is a thing heretofore unknown in Hell.
Knocking On Heaven’s Gates is Larry Atchley’s excellent and epic novella, starring Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan on Earth. Seems he’s been blown to pieces in the failed attempt to steal from Guy Fawkes the Spear of Longinus, aka the Spear of Destiny—the spear that had pierced Christ’s side. LaVey wakes up in the Mortuary after experiencing a dream of light at the end of the tunnel, a heavenly dream of love and joy. Now he wants to experience those feelings again, if he can. After the Undertaker reconstitutes his body, LaVey sets out to file his report with Satan. Meanwhile, Tesla’s latest invention has backfired and a third of New Hell has gone missing. Hell now really looks like a painting by Bosch or Brueghel. LaVey realizes that Hell is truly going to Hell in a hand basket.
Cut to Guy Fawkes, who was captured and is now in prison, but still in possession of the Spear of Destiny. But the Spear is embedded in his body, a result of an explosion during the failed attempt to take it away from him, and legend has it that whoever has the Spear is invincible and invulnerable. So no one can take it away from him. Enter Emile du Chatelet, who comes to free him and enlist his aid in her plot to storm the Gates of Heaven. Will her plan succeed or is it doomed to failure? And what is Satan’s purpose for secretly supporting but not taking part in the storming of Heaven’s pearly gates?
Meanwhile, Satan wants LaVey to play keyboards and entertain the army of damned souls about to attack Heaven. But LaVey is suffering from Post-Traumatic Death Disorder and does not feel he can perform at his best until he recovers from his emotional trauma and his troubling dream. Just as self-serving in Hell as he was in life, LaVey wonders if he can become a better person, to be loved and to find redemption. After his first session with Williams James, Psychologist, Spiritualist, and Pragmatist, the big day has come for LaVey. He is ordered by demons to play the new and improved Liszt pipe organ while the army of the damned assaults the Gates of Heaven and battles a host of Angels. Ah, but things in Hell are not always what one thinks they might be, and LaVey realizes that everything in Hell has its price — even playing the pipe organ, to which he and a number of other lost souls are physically attached.
Now we come to the final chapter, folks, and a most fitting pay-off it is, too. Janet Morris returns us to Chris Marlowe and Will Shakespeare as they perform, perhaps for all eternity, their play, Hell Bent, which is also the title of this eloquent and theatrical comic-tragedy. The two playwrights play lovers in a hellish parody of their own plays, which they have written to order, per His Satanic Majesty’s Request. Will plays the male lead, Marlowe the female. In every performance, Marlowe must kill Shakespeare — I mean, really kill him. But the Bard does not return to the Undertaker for reassignment, for Satan is there at every performance, there to revive him, once a night and twice on Sadderday. More than a parody, their play is almost a travesty, being made up of scenes and dialogue cannibalized from the plays they wrote in life. Marlowe, in love with Shakespeare, wonders and worries over the Bard’s infatuation with HSM.
“Why should you love him whom the world hates so?” Marlowe’s character asks.
“Because he loves me more than all the world,” Will’s character replies.
As he prepares to plunge the rapier into the heart he loves best, and bring death nightly to the man he treasures most, Marlowe stage-whispers a line from Othello. “Perdition catch my soul, but I do love thee! And when I love thee not, Chaos is come again.”
“Hell is just a frame of mind,” Shakespeare replies through gritted teeth.
That line from Faustus was Marlowe’s downfall — a line that ultimately proved to be false. He had taunted the Devil in life with it, and now he pays in Hell forever.
Over and over again, Marlowe must kill Shakespeare in the final act, only to watch, through jealous eyes and suffering heart, as Satan brings Will back from the dead, showering him with love and favor. However, after long and many arguments, Marlowe convinces Will to trade roles with him, and the Bard in turn convinces Satan to let them do it, because he wishes to learn how it feels to truly kill a man.
Will the Prince of Darkness bring Marlowe back to life after Shakespeare kills him in the final act of their play? Ah, there’s the rub.
Not since Adam and Eve has the Devil had such a pair to play, one against the other.
Oh, what fools these mortals be! Are the damned Satan’s tools, his fools, to think they can wring power from infinity, make themselves powerful enough to overcome their fate? Does the assault on the Gates of Heaven succeed? Does Satan bend Hell itself to accommodate his fools for war? Does he transport one-third of New Hell, trashed by power-hungry idiots and their petty hatreds, into some new dimension of space and time just big enough to accommodate their egos and their fiery deaths? Does the Son of the Morning make his point to Erra and his Seven Sibitti, the Almighty’s pitiless enforcers — that Mankind is demented and foul and not worthy of Heaven’s forgiveness, not worthy of redemption? Will Satan gather his legion of Akkadians and Spartans, Nazis, Americans, Chinese — the greatest armies of the damned — and put on his own play for Heaven? (Or a reality show—“His Satanic Majesty Disciplines His Own,” perhaps?)
In Hell, the Devil rules, the Devil is not mocked, and the Devil always gets his due.
Each story in Dreamers in Hell is top notch. Perhaps I should say each chapter, for this is truly a shared-universe that reads like a novel, rather than an anthology. The stories are all very good, many are great, some are superb. This is a true collaboration of diverse hands that has been shaped and molded into a cohesive whole by Janet and Chris Morris.
The beauty of the Heroes in Hell series is that all genres work in Hell, and no genre has been left undone. You’ll find horror and science fiction here, fantasy and historical drama, satire and action/adventure thrillers — even romance. These metaphysical, visionary “mythical epics” are character-driven, thoughtful, intelligent, and insightful. They examine the nature of Man, and the nature of good and evil.
These are fables and morality tales, examinations into what makes Mankind tick, a look into the soul of humanity. Justice rules in Hell, too, you’ll discover. So does irony: all that was fair on Earth has turned foul in Hell. But all’s fair in Hell when it comes to how the damned are treated, of course. Yet for all its torments and punishment and betrayals and violence, there is friendship and loyalty to be found in Hell, courage and honor, and even love. And above all, Hope persists. For even in Hell, the damned can and do hope for redemption and salvation.
Have some sympathy for the Devil and give Satan his due: check this one out. In fact, I recommend you check out all 14 books in the Heroes in Hell series. Just in case you find yourself in Hell one day, it’s best to be on the good side of the Devil. If he has one, that is.
Click https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_Couch_of_Silistra to read the original Wikipedia article on High Couch of Silistra’s Wikipedia page.
An excerpt from the High Couch of Silsitra Wikipedia page:
High Couch of Silistra, renamed as Returning Creation for the integral edition of the series, is the first book in the Silistra quartet, by Janet Morris. Published in 1977 by Bantam Books, High Couch of Silistra was the debut title of her writing career. The series went on to have more than four million copies in print and was also published in French, Italian and German.
Silistra is a post-apocalyptic planet devastated by a war that forced its populace to go into underground shelters for centuries and, even many centuries later, the planet has not recovered. Infertility is one of the worst problems facing the planet’s populace—thanks to the fallout of that deadly war. Silistra is ruled by a theocratic caste named the Day-Keepers who control the planet by monopoly on technical and divine knowledge and through a brutal police force named the Slayers. The planet is administratively divided into city-states founded around procreation centres named Wells that were originally introduced by the Day-Keepers as a solution to Silistra’s infertility problem. In time, the Wells attracted men from various planets and virtually turned into brothels, while women who manage the Wells founded aristocratic lineages named Well-Keepresses that form a peculiar matriarchy. Politically, Silistra is part of the Bipedal Federation, a polity dominated by the technologically advanced merchant planet M’ksakka, which is also the de facto suzerain of Silistra. Astria is the Well that first made alliance with M’ksakkans to pioneer the current model of Silistran city-states and the Well-Keepresses of Astria who carry the title High Couch of Silistra have maintained their at least nominal hegemony over other Well-Keepresses.
In The High Couch of Silistra, Estri, Well-Keepress of Astria and holder of the ultimate seat of control begins an epic adventure to discover her origins and save the dwindling population.
Charles N. Brown, Locus Magazine, is quoted on the Baen Books reissues of the series as saying, “Engrossing characters in a marvelous adventure,” and Frederik Pohl is quoted there as saying “The amazing and erotic adventures of the most beautiful courtesan in tomorrow’s universe.”
I continue with my review of the 5-star, Author’s Cut editions of Janet Morris’s classic of Homeric Heroic Fantasy, the Beyond Sanctuary Trilogy, of which Beyond the Veil is the second book. Once again, she does not disappoint in this stirring novel of political and religious intrigue, dark magic, gods and men, witches and mages, and the price of love and war.
This is a pivotal book in the trilogy, where foreshadowing and story threads begin to weave in and out to form a tapestry, telling a tale of friends who become foes, enemies who become allies, and what fate lies in store for certain demigods and mortals.
Now, after the battle to win Wizardwall that took place in book one, Beyond Sanctuary, Tempus, Niko, and the Sacred Band are caught between the local rebels and the empire of Mygdonia’s blackest magic. Once again, “War is coming, sending ahead its customary harbingers: fear and falsity and fools.”
It begins with the murder of a courier on his way to meet with Tempus, and the arrival of a young woman named Kama, of the 3rd Commandos, (a unit of special rangers originally formed by Tempus) who seeks audience with Tempus, who is also known as Riddler. Her mission is to take 11-year old Shamshi, the young wizard-boy, back home to Mygdonia.
Shamshi, once a pawn in the game played by the late sorcerer Datan in the previous novel, is still under the spell of Roxane the witch, but is now being held as a guest-hostage by Tempus and the Sacred Band. Though he may be a child in the eyes of men, Shamshi is already plotting against Tempus and Niko.
He is guided and goaded by the “voice” of Roxane, who has been in hiding since the death of Datan, her former partner in crime, and the loss of Wizardwall at the hands of Tempus and his Stepsons. Roxane has her own agenda, of course: she is one of the most seductive, dangerous and deadly foes in this trilogy.
To further complicate matters, Shamshi is in love with Jihan, Froth Daughter of the weather god, Stormbringer; she has come to Earth to spend one year as a mortal, and Shamshi can’t wait to grow into manhood so he can take her for his own. Even though Roxane has already introduced him to the pleasures of the flesh, Shamshi knows he must wait to seduce Jihan, wait until he is a man full-grown when she will accept him as such, or so he believes.
Jihan, however, loves and cares for Shamshi only as if he was her own son. But she has fallen in love with Tempus, much against her father’s wishes, and wants to stay with him, permanently. Relationships, plots, and counterplots are complicated in this series and, oh… what tangled webs these mortals and immortals weave. “When men and mages fought gods in perverted theomachy, no one was safe, not on earth or in the heavens.”
Tempus, still without the patronage of Enlil, the Storm God of the Armies, is weakened and uncertain, and concerned for Niko, his right-side partner, whose life and fate hang in the balance. He sends young Randal, the seventh-level Hazard Class mage who proved his worth in the battle of Wizardwall, to the Bandaran Isles to find Niko, who has gone into retreat there. Together, Niko and Randal then travel to mystical and mysterious Meridian, where they meet with Askelon, Dream Lord and regent of the seventh sphere, who seeks Niko’s aid and offers him his patronage.
Reluctantly, Niko agrees to become the avatar of Askelon who says he wants “to secure the stability of the seventh sphere through its human connection, to prevent the possibility of someone threatening the right of man to dreams of comfort and healing.” But is that all the entelechy of dreams and shadows wants? Or does Askelon have a hidden agenda that is yet to be revealed? Are gods to be trusted any more than men?
And let’s not forget about Roxane, the snake-eating, soul-devouring witch whose grim shadow hovers over all. She wants Niko for her own; she seeks to regain Wizardwall for all her kin, and “to find out if Tempus is truly immortal and whether a Froth Daughter might be turned to drizzle upon the air.” And young Shamshi is her tool, her weapon against Tempus and Jihan.
As I stated earlier, this is a complicated novel, rich and complex in the machinations of its characters, whether they’re mortal, divine, or numinous, whose motives may or may not be what they seem. It begins with a mystery and keeps that going throughout the story. The reader knows only as much as what the characters know and learns things only when the characters learn them.
When the answers and revelations come, they hit fast and hard. There is also wisdom and philosophy in this novel, as well as a wealth of wonderful quotes. Janet Morris was determined that Beyond the Veil not suffer from what I call MBS — Middle Book Syndrome, and she has succeeded. More than that, halfway through the story, this novel goes from being as solid as its predecessor to upping the ante and raising the bar.
Now let me mention Janet Morris’s prose, her style, her approach. She is a musician, a bass player, and she writes with the ear of a musician. There is what I call “poetry of earthiness” in her prose, and a certain rhythm in her style. For example, here’s a passage, elegant in its simplicity, from a scene set in a whorehouse, that puts you right there.
Gayle was here now — beside her among the bubbly pipes and smoke. Candlelight flickered with the drafts, glimmering on cup and shield rims, on blades and armor; snatches of intrigue; lovers cuddling in corners; schemers whispering in booths nearby; wisps of low connivance leaking out from a dozen paper screens. Gayle must know something, be useful in some manner. This place he’d chosen was one for confidences and calumny. She began to open him up with canny questions and careful flattery.
And here’s a bit about Tempus that reveals something of his character, something of his past, without giving away the mystery of the one they call the Sleepless One. His presence, whether or not he takes center stage in a scene, dominates all.
As a haughty young philosopher, ages ago, before the curse which had made him a tireless wanderer, bereft of sleep and love and what men call peace, Tempus had concluded that god is day and night, winter and summer, war and peace, satiety and hunger… Further, that out of all things can come unity and out of unity, all things.
Tempus, Morris’s most famous character, her legacy character, is a stoic hero, a great warrior, a demigod… and philosopher. We get to know him, but not as well as we get to know the other members of the Sacred Band. Morris keeps the mystery, the enigma, of him there to tease us. He is not called Tempus the Obscure for nothing.
And for all the glory of its flesh and blood characters, the beauty of prose, the literary depth and textures and levels of this classic, there is no shortage of inhumans, once-humans, half-humans, magic-working, mortals fighting in the streets, mage war, embattled gods, fire-spitting demons, shape-shifters, and a rousing night raid that reaches a powerful crescendo. Oh, yes… there’s also a golden homunculus, a creepy little thing that becomes the whispering master of one recurring character, and nearly succeeds in doing to Tempus what few men, few mages, have ever attempted.
The final scenes involving a young warrior-woman who has found herself pregnant, and who is torn between keeping the baby or having an abortion, is played out perfectly, with restraint and delicacy, with compassion and humanity, and a deft touch that neither underplays nor overwhelms.
Once again, as I highly recommended the first book in this magnificent trilogy, I say that you will not be disappointed in this second book, Beyond the Veil.
Life to you, and everlasting glory.
Review by Maddie M. originally published at: https://hedgehogbookreviews.com/2016/10/07/review-high-couch-of-silistra-by-janet-morris/
High Couch of Silistra by Janet Morris
Rating: 4/5 stars
-I would like to give a big thank you to Perseid Press for the paperback copy of this book!-
The men and women living on Silistra are governed by a hierarchy of sexual desire and fertility. Infertility is a widespread issue that allows the most sexually appealing women the greatest power. Estri is among the most powerful in the land—she holds the position of the high couch of Silistra. Estri’s mother died during childbirth and she has yet to know much about her father. She is sent on a quest to find her father and discover the secrets that his kind may hold.
In my opinion, this should be a classic science fiction book, especially for those who love female protagonists. Estri is a strong woman who leads with her body and her wit. She was really fun to join on this adventure across strange lands. I thought she was by far the most interesting character in the book, so I naturally paid a lot of attention to her and was left wanting more. I love strong-minded (and, in this case, bodied) women who don’t take any bs from men to whom they don’t owe anything. Go Estri!
I also thought it was cool to hear about the customs of these different societies that Morris so brilliantly created. Estri visits a few places that each have their own customs. I’m not sure how Morris made them so unique, but she found a way to make them all intriguing.
When I got to some of the first sexual scenes, I was a bit confused. I was thinking that Estri was submitting to men as a way of giving up. I soon realized that I was thinking in the mind of someone from our world, not Silistra’s. In actuality, Estri was pleasing these men as an act of power and domination. Switching into this mindset was very freeing.
I was searching for a good science fiction read, and I definitely found it. High Couch of Silistra is full of new cultures and creatures to study. I can’t stop thinking about how I really want to meet a hulion, a big cat with wings and a mane. I definitely want to read more of The Silistra quartet and follow Estri on more adventures. If you’re a science fiction lover (especially with a passion for female protagonists), you’ll love this book.
Something a little different today, we get to meet not only a brave animal but one who has lived and died and lived again.
Welcome to Ghost Horse, from the Sacred Band Books.
Tell Us About Yourself
Name (s): Ghost-horse; the bay. If you can hear me, you’ll know it. I have no name in the way you mean.
Age: thirteen years, interrupted by death and resurrection.
Please tell us a little about yourself: A war-horse am I. Strong and brave. Straton’s horse am I, once found, then lost, then found again. Of all the Sacred Band of Stepsons, Ace called Straton alone now rides me. When he’s astride my broad back, nothing is impossible.
Describe your appearance in 10 words or less: Sixteen hands, blood bay war horse, broad backed and strong.
Do you have a moral code? If so what is it? A moral code? Bear my rider whence he must go, forever. Run far and fast. Bring my rider’s battle to his enemies. Charge boldly; never falter; never hesitate; refuse no challenge. Feel the love, hear the words of my human partner…
Would you kill for those you love? I do.
Would you die for those you love? I have done so. And been brought back to life for my human partner’s sake thereafter. Now nothing harms me, no metal cuts me; in any battle, my blood never spills. Nowadays I do not die for love; I live for love – the love of my human partner, Straton.
What would you say are your strengths and weaknesses. Carrots and sugar-beets, those my weaknesses, which I dearly love. Running over green grass, into battle, finding the safest path to victory for my rider, protecting him and all his Sacred Band: these are my strengths: As the only ghost-horse of the Stepsons, my place is always in the forefront: with Straton I forge new ground; I bear him everywhere, unflinching. Such service we have seen, such places far and wide, as few horses ever see.
Do you have any relationships you prize above others? Ace called Straton, the right rider for this broad back; the right partner for my battles.
Do you like animals? Do you have any pets/animal companions? Do I like other horses? As with men, some horses are brave, some cowardly; some generous, some churls. I was bitten in the throat by a man who attacked me as if he were a dog, once. So dogs are not my friends. Sometimes a cat will bide with me, in this stall or that. I like cats: they give loyalty when deserved; they are rightly cautious.
Do you have a family? Tell us about them. I have been a cavalry horse since I was two, and chosen from a band of captured bachelors. Straton has brought me up; he is all I trust, all I love; he is my family. Sometimes he finds me a mare or two, but battle is my greatest passion: in war, Straton and I find our greatest joy. Sometimes we run for the sheer bliss, over vast plains and through forest, with no enemy in sight. Straton’s lover, Ischade, resurrected me after the dog attacked me, after the battle in which I was mortally wounded. She loves Straton; I love Straton, so Ischade is, in some ways, under my protection. Up behind Straton she sometimes rides me, and then no place is too far, no goal to loft, for us three
Can you remember something from your childhood which influences your behaviour? How do you think it influences you? I remember the day Straton chose me, the look in his eye, the apple in his hand. He sent me to other men, to teach me the ways of war, and got me back again. We have thundered into so many battles, even the Battle of Chaeronea together. With Straton astride me, I never doubt, I never fear. Wherever he wills to go, I can carry him, be it to hell itself and back again. This I believe because Straton knows it: whatever my rider thinks, I know to be true. Wherever he wants to go, I will take him. Whatever he needs, I try to be. So Straton gives me the wants, the needs, the courage of a man, and I show him the wants, the needs, the courage of a horse, and together we are indomitable. A horse wants to fight or flee, as does a man; deciding which is my rider’s task. Making his wishes real, that is mine.
Do you have any phobias? Dogs and the men who become them.
Please give us an interesting and unusual fact about yourself. I have a spot on my withers where men can see into hell itself, and a spot on my hip where they can see into nothing at all.
Tell Us About Your World
Please give us a little information about the world in which you live: The world in which I live is wherever my rider, Ace called Straton, wishes to go. I have fought on Wizardwall, against the black mages of Nisibis. I have fought on the battlefield of Chaeronea; I have fought in mystical Meridian. Since I was foaled in Syr, I have been adventuring: first among the other horses, until the mares cast us bachelors out; then in the high steppe country, and at last as a war-horse of first Straton and then the greater Sacred Band. We fight in the forefront; we travel by cloud conveyance from war to war. We have numinous allies to take us any place in space and time. Except for my rider and the witch who loves him, all I care for is contained in Tempus’ Sacred Band. And someday, Straton has promised me, we three will ride forever, away from witchery and angry men, in the green fields of the gods.
Does your world have religion or other spiritual beliefs? A horse believes what he can see and feel, and is bred to tell what he can trust. We have our gods, you know: Epona, Poseidon, Hekate, and the war gods before them: a war-horse gives his life into his rider’s hands, and that rider gives all to the gods. My world is full of enemies, who’d eat a horse as soon as kill a man, and those enemies have rival gods. So we war-horses fight on the side of right, as our riders see it. And that will never change, has been the same since the first gods were foaled.
If so do you follow one of them? I follow the gods of Ace, called Straton. As long as he lives, that will never change.
Please describe (briefly) how this affects your behaviour: I am a war-horse, so I go to war. With Ace called Straton astride, I do the needful, all his gods command, since his gods are also mine. I am a peace-keeper, so I ply angry streets. I am an explorer, so I lope where no horse has ever gone before.
Do you travel in the course of your adventures? If so where? I go where Ace called Straton needs to go. I fight for him, with him, beside him. I keep him safe whether we are in this world or another. Anyplace a horse can go, I take him – even a world away. I have spun in whirlwinds unto foreign lands, even Thrace and Scythia and on from there. Not future or past or anywhere is barred from the Sacred Band of Stepsons, so in ranks we sortie. Even Tempus, the Riddler, has commended me in public for my bravery, when I have fought in dimensions some horses never tread, and more farther realms lie just ahead….
Name and describe a food from your world. Salt hay, tender and tan, bluest grass bitten right from the earth, roots and dirt and all; fat oats, steamed until their hulls break open; corn and molasses and flaxseed mashed. My favorites though, are carrots with their green and lacy tops, and chunks of tender sugar-beet.
Does your world have magic? If so how is it viewed in your world? Magic is the necromant who resurrected me, gave me a chance to come back to this world for the rider whom I love. Some think magic is aught than natural; I say magic is the wind in your mane, yielding turf underfoot, and a rider on a mission.
What form of politics is dominant in your world? Politics are for mares and men, not for stallions. I will walk upon my hind legs to strike any enemy of my rider or my mares and foals. I will trample jackals and lions and feral dogs. I believe in giving one warning squeal, and a bellow of promise; then I strike, unashamed, to defend what is mine: that is the extent of politics for me. The rest is clacking of jaws and whistles on the air.
Does your world have different races of people? We have humans of every color and belief and shape and size, just as we have horses as diverse. In a herd of horses, as in a crowd of people, those who are alike band together against those of different nature.
Name a couple of myths and legends particular to your culture/people. In ancient times, Zeus gave two horses to Tros, king of Troy, to console the king after the god had taken Ganymede for his young lover. From those great horses, the best, the strongest, the fastest horses are sprung.
What is the technology level for your world/place of residence? We have chariot with metal-bound wheels and axles fitted with scythes. Some of us wear armor, felt or scales of metal. Some of us have iron shoes upon our hooves. What item would you not be able to live without? My rider.
Does your world have any supernatural/mystical beings? Please tell us about some. This world is full of gods, mages, shape-shifters; and demi-gods, and elementals – even a demiurge or two and creatures who spawn weather gods and fashion fates.
Within your civilisation what do you think is the most important discovery/invention? Horsemanship, so that we and our riders can be better partners.
Name three persons of influence/renown within your society and tell why they are influential (Could be someone like Christ/Mandela/Queen Elizabeth or a renowned figure from a non-human/fantasy world.) Hekate, goddess of race horses. The Hippoi Athanatoi, the immortal horses of the gods themselves, offspring of the weather gods themselves; and all the Hittite god of horses, Tarhun, in and of himself a storm god.
Book(s) in which this character appears plus links
The Fish the Fighters and the Storm God http://www.amazon.com/Fish-Fighters-Song-Girl-Sacred-Stepsons-ebook/dp/B007VQIJFY
Author name: Janet Morris and Chris Morris
Website/Blog/Author pages etc.
Battle of Chaeronea,Beyond Sanctuary,Beyond series,Character Interviews,Fantasy, fantasy series,Fantasy world, Janet Morris, mythic, Niko,Nikodemos, Sacred Band, Sacred Band of Stepsons, Sacred Band of Thebes, Tempus,Thieves’ World
Welcome to Nikodemos, of the Sacred Band.
Tell Us About Yourself
Name (s): I am Stealth called Nikodemos; Niko to my friends.
Age: How do you mean? I have spent five years in the City at the Edge of Time, where time doesn’t pass, and lived now and again on Lemuria, where the Band is based, and where mortals do not age. When I joined Tempus’ Sacred Band with my first partner, I claimed twenty-five years, not quite true, but I’d already been a right-side partner for nine years. I have served sixteen years with the Stepsons. So, thirty-seven, perhaps, as mortals count time.
Please tell us a little about yourself. First I should tell you that I answer your questions only at my commander’s order. I’m overall second in command and hipparch, or cavalry commander, of the Unified Sacred Band of Stepsons. I manage our prodromoi, our skirmisher light cavalry, as well as our heavy cavalry. I am a committed Sacred Bander, right-side partner of our commander, Tempus, called the Riddler, the Black, the Sleepless One, the Obscure, Favorite of the Storm God. I am also a secular Bandaran adept, initiate of the mystery of Maat. I’ve claimed Enlil when I have needed a tutelary god. These days, the goddess Harmony calls me her own. I’m not a man for words.
Describe your appearance in 10 words or less. Tall, but shorter than Tempus. Hazel-eyed. Dark-haired. Fit.
Do you have a moral code? If so what is it? The Sacred Band Ethos guides me. I am still learning what the Riddler has to teach. I strive for balance in all things. Stepsons should want neither too much to live nor too much to die. To serve with the Band requires unflinching determination; unwavering devotion – to one another, to honor, to creed. I’m Bandaran at my core: venerating the elder gods, but worshiping only the god within. The Band says, ‘Life to you, and everlasting glory.’ I don’t ask destiny even that much. Only to be useful while I live.
Would you kill for those you love? I have. I do. It’s what I am: a fighter. I told you: My mystery is maat, one of seeking balance and equilibrium, truth and justice. On occasion, I become justice incarnate, when justice must be dispensed with a sword.
Would you die for those you love? I am a Stepson. So, of course. If you are really asking about my being immortalized by Harmony, I will tell you only that what is between me and the goddess is ours alone, not yours to know.
What would you say are your strengths and weaknesses? We are all weak, even those of us, like my commander or myself, who’ve been immortalized by some god or goddess or touched by sorcery. I’m a Bandaran fighter. I have a calling: I take my strength, my mystery, my spirit and my skill out into the World and challenge its evil until it wears me down. Then I return home to Bandara or lately to Lemuria, restore my internal equilibrium, and do the same again.
If I must confess a flaw to you – and only the gods know why – it would be that I ask too much, not only from others, but from myself.
Do you have any relationships you prize above others? Ah, the women. Everyone asks about how a Sacred Bander can love so many women. It’s a soul that calls me, not the size of breast or buttocks. But yes, I love women as well as men and horses, and the sun that’s new every day, and weather on the wind. Without love, how can a man live fully the life that the gods bequeath?
My relationship with my commander is most important: love without limits, wisdom beyond price; leadership is what he teaches, and commitment beyond measure. I know I’m imperfect, still young in his sight, still balancing my rage. More now than ever, since the goddess Harmony touched me, I need his guidance.
And there’s Harmony herself. That this goddess favors me, gave me that great horse, is beyond my ken but she’s goddess of the Balance, after all.
Above all else come my brothers of the Sacred Band.
And Randal, although he’s a mage and a shape-shifter, was once a partner to me and still like a brother. Not every man is alike in mind: our differences define us.
Do you like animals? I love the Band’s Tros horses, and the horses we bred up in Free Nisibis, and the black horse the goddess gave me. Love is vulnerability, you must understand: love comes at the risk of grief. I’m careful how much vulnerability I court.
Do you have a family? More than one: The Unified Sacred Band of Stepsons; Bashir and the freemen of Nisibis; the adepts of Bandara.
Can you remember something from your childhood which influences your behaviour? Too much suffering, too much death. Terror in war. Slavery and sorcery. And then a left-side leader who loved me and made a man of a foolish boy.
Do you have any phobias? Witches. Warlocks. Arrogance. Stupidity. Stupidity kills more than all else.
Please give us an interesting and unusual fact about yourself. I was courted by the entelechy of dreams who gave me a charmed panoply forged in hell itself. I was stalked by a witch. The Greek goddess Harmonia is my current lover. Pick any one.
Tell Us About your World
Please give us a little information about the world in which you live. These days I live with the Band. Lately we’ve been in Thrace. When we’re not campaigning, we billet in Lemuria. There the Riddler’s sister rules with unchallengeable power from behind its sheer seaside walls. From there we fight where the commander and his woman send us, anywhere in space and time – past, future, other realms.
Does your world have religion or other spiritual beliefs? So many. What’s between men and gods powers all. We fight in theomachy, too often: Tempus is Favorite of the Storm God, so we fight a lot of wars.
Do you travel in the course of your adventures? If so where? Where? Sometimes, a world away. Wherever Cime, the Evening Star of Lemuria, decrees. To places decoupled from time and space, like Bandara or Meridian or the City, or Thrace. We’ve been places others only dream of. We fought in a future so far away that the seas were dead. We fought in a place so primitive ancient beasts walked the earth. Sometimes we slip through gates between dimensions… I’m a simple fighter. Ask Tempus and Cime these questions, not me. We go where he leads, we fight where he puts us.
Name and describe a food from your world. Nisibisi blood wine, made with bullock blood. Possets of watered wine with cheese and nuts and barley.
Does your world have magic? If so how is it viewed in your world? You jest. We fought a war for more than a decade against sorcery, thought we’d won it, but now fight the mages yet again in other realms.
What form of politics is dominant in your world? (Democracy, Theocracy, Meritocracy, Monarchy, Kakistocracy etc.) An intellectual said we are timocrats. What that means, I don’t know. We fight for honor and our commander, not for place or race or national goals. Dominant in our world are fools and kings and reavers and their sorcerous allies, who scheme under any name that will give them greater power. They try to seize control of everything and everyone.
Does your world have different races of people? If so do they get on with one another?Races vie for power. People hate anyone different, then deem them soulless, then try to wipe them out. Tempus says that, absent reason, men will fight over eye-color, hue of skin or heavenly affiliation.
Name a couple of myths and legends particular to your culture/people. We have no myths, except perhaps the one that says no nation can lose if Tempus and the Band fight on its side. We have truths and realities, sometimes long forgot and often twisted, that fools think are myths, going back to the time of Gilgamesh.
What is the technology level for your world? Tempus and his sister have the Lemurian windows, to take you anyplace in space and time. We use repeating crossbows; some forged iron, some poor steel, some bronze, but well forged bronze still bests iron. We have naphtha and poisons, great ships and more, and cloud-conveyance. But what difference? It’s the man, not the weapon, that wins the day.
Does your world have any supernatural beings? Supernatural? Like the entelechy of dreams who is regent of the seventh sphere? Or do you mean the gods? Jihan, the Froth Daughter? Witches? Sorcerers. Some mainlanders say that we Bandarans do the same as sorcerers, just under another name. Mystical creatures? Of course. Naiads. Erinyes. We have devils, demons, fiends, snakes that change shape, giant vipers and rocs and eagles. Don’t you? We have zombies, vampires, necromants; even a ghost horse, Straton’s mount. And our warrior-mage Randal, one of our bravest fighters, can become a dog or an eagle when he must…
Author notes: Novels(s) in which Nikodemos appears.
Beyond Sanctuary (1985), (2013), Janet Morrishttp://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Sanctuary-Sacred-Band-Stepsons-ebook/dp/B00GU0FPDG
Beyond the Veil (1985), (2013), Janet Morris http://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Veil-Sacred-Band-Stepsons-ebook/dp/B00GU0FIG0
Beyond Wizardwall (1986), (2013) Janet Morrishttp://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Wizardwall-Sacred-Band-Stepsons-ebook/dp/B00GU0FH6G
Tempus (1987), (2011) Janet Morris http://www.amazon.com/Tempus-Sacred-Band-Stepsons-Tales-ebook/dp/B00BI175EY
City at the Edge of Time (1988), Janet Morris and Chris Morris
Tempus Unbound (1989), Janet Morris and Chris Morris
Storm Seed (1990), Janet Morris and Chris Morris
The Sacred Band (2010), Janet Morris and Chris Morrishttp://www.amazon.com/Sacred-Band-Janet-Morris-ebook/dp/B00AMLKJAI
The Fish the Fighters and the Song-girl (2010), Janet Morris and Chris Morris,http://www.amazon.com/Fish-Fighters-Song-Girl-Sacred-Stepsons-ebook/dp/B007VQIJFY/ref=pd_sim_kstore_2
Nikodemos also appears in Morris & Morris Sacred Band of Stepsons stories set in the Thieves’ World shared universe, including:
“Wizard Weather,” Storm Season, Ace 1982
“High Moon,” Face of Chaos, Ace 1983
“Hell to Pay,” The Dead of Winter, Ace 1985
“Power Play,” copyright (C) Janet Morris, Soul of the City, 1986
“Pillar of Fire,” copyright (C) Janet Morris, Soul of the City, 1986
Author name:Janet Morris
Website/Blog/Author pages etc.