Saturday, September 29, 2012

Thieves’ World Edited by Robert Asprin

Thieves’ World
Edited by Robert Asprin
Copyright 1978

Fantasy and science fiction writer Robert Asprin created the fantasy setting of Sanctuary – a remote town known as a haven for thieves, brigands and riff raff, a number of characters, and invited the heavy hitters of the genre to write stories for what would become a twelve volume anthology.

Introduction by Robert Asprin
Asprin introduces us to Sanctuary. The emperor has a troublesome, idealistic half-brother who is making his life difficult. His chief adviser says have him killed. The emperor sends his half brother, Prince Kadakithis to Sanctuary to serve as its new governor.

Kadakithis is going to clean up Sanctuary, but he’s going to do it his way. There will be no brutality by the town guard. He will target petty crime first, then move up to the smugglers, assassins, and thieves as he learns the lay of the land. The stage is set for the first story.

Sentences of Death by John Brunner
Jarveena is an orphan whose parents were murdered when marauders sacked her village. She, just nine years old was raped and disfigured. She longs for revenge on the perpetrators and can’t believe her eyes when one of those wicked men from many years ago shows up in her town of Sanctuary as part of the Prince’s guard detachment.

Meanwhile, a member of the town guard has brought to her boss, Melilot who is a scribe who deciphers, decodes, and translates documents, a scroll that was dropped by that very man. Melilot immediately recognizes the runes as magical and develops a scheme to have Jarveena help him swindle some coin from the man who dropped it.

Before the swindle can take place, however, the wizard Enas Yorl intervenes and helps Jarveena develop a better plot – one that will help her realize her revenge fantasies. The scroll is actually a spell that will bring about the death of two people. Through swift contrivance, Jarveena is able to bring death to the man who wronged her so many years before. But, Enas Yarl reminds her that there are two deaths in the scroll and that second death very well could be hers. He convinces Jarveena to sign on with a merchant marine and get out of Sanctuary and let death take someone else.

Brunner masterfully weaves a number of intricate subplots and twists into his short story. It’s clear that Thieves World is going to be an interesting and entertaining collection of stories that combine swords, sorcery, and intrigue. The first three residents of Sanctuary have been introduced and we’ll see where they go from here. Bravo to the late John Brunner for getting this series of books off to a fascinating start!

The Face of Chaos by Lynn Abbey
It’s going to be a bad day Illyra – the half blood S’danzo and fortune teller realizes when the Face of Chaos card shows up in her own reading. A bad day indeed. . .

It starts when her husband’s anvil breaks. Dubro serves as the blacksmith in the bazaar at Sanctuary. In this remote part of the empire, a replacement will be impossible to find. Dubro takes off to drink his sorrows away. Illyra returns to her work of telling fortunes.

A woman of wealth and means, but trying to disguise it, comes to her for a reading. She needs to know what’s in store for her tomorrow. Illyra predicts ill for the woman who finally spills her story. Her father’s land was seized by the priests of one of Rankan’s many deities and they plan to build a new temple on it. Marilla was to be the priest’s prize. When she spurned him, he declared that she would be the sacrificial virgin placed under the cornerstone of the new shrine.

Marilla pleads for help. If Illyra can save her, she can have the anvil resting in her father’s abandoned barn. Illyra gives Marilla a drug that will knock her out. She figures the priests may have no use for her if she is asleep and if they go ahead and sacrifice her by burying her alive, at least she’ll be unconscious.

That night, Illyra is visited by the mage, Lythande who tells her Marilla must be saved. It is imperative for the kingdom. Illyra tells Lythande about the knockout drug, but Lythande says that is not enough. A substitute must be found.

She wanders into the night to find her husband and happens upon a brutal murder. The victim’s demolished face morphs into the Face of Chaos. Emotionally stricken, she collapses and is discovered by Dubro. Illyra tells her of the mage’s visit, the anvil, and they hatch a plan.

The acquire a corpse from the gallows. Confident that it will be too dark to distinguish between a sleeping virgin and a dead old man, they interrupt the late night processional of priests to the temple building site. They switch out the corpses. When Illyra looks upon Marilla, she sees first her face, then the faces of people she’s known before it morphs into a featureless head. Illyra flees in panic to the barn to hide.

There, she encounters an agent of Lythande who explains the ruse. The Priests of Ilsig knew that under their own temple was a body – not of royal lineage as everyone believed – but a lowly slave substituted by the Queen. The Priests of Ils therefore conspired to rig the site of a temple to Ranke with a false body. While their temple was consecrated by an imperfect body, it was a body. A temple consecrated by an inanimate dummy would give Ilsig a leg up on Rankan. Lythande and all mages want to keep the balance of power in the cosmos.

Illyra and Dunro have their anvil. They return to the bazaar where she will resume her occupation as a seer S’danzo and he a blacksmith.

This was an engaging story, but without a little groundwork laid for the background of the deities and temples, the conspiracy was difficult to understand.

The Gate of Flying Knives by Poul Anderson
A young bard’s love is taken from the Prince’s palace by a strange creature called a “flying knife” that apparently comes from a different plane. Cappen Varen and his friend, Jamie, must locate the gate within the temple of Ils, pass through, and rescue the beautiful Danlis and the princess to whom she is a lady in waiting.

I know Poul Anderson is a legend in science fiction and fantasy, but I thought the dialogue in this story was just atrocious. But the story was good enough to overcome the poorly written dialogue. The story also serves as our introduction to the Vulgar Unicorn and its innkeeper.

Shadowspawn by Andrew Offutt
A palace coup is afoot within the walls of Prince Kadakathis’ castle. A royal concubine and a member of the royal guard recruit a thief and conspire with him to have an important staff stolen from the prince’s quarters. The thief, Hanse – or Shadowspawn – is regarded as an up and comer in The Maze of Sanctuary. He knows when he’s being set up, but develops his own plan to take advantage of the situation. But the tables get turned on all parties by the unlikeliest of people and Hanse finds himself with an unprecedented opportunity.

There’s nothing terribly original about the story. It’s the standard treachery of a palace coup fare and finding a dupe to take the fall. But Offutt writes well and it is enjoyable if predictable. The end is a bit of a cliffhanger and we’ll have to wait until later to find out what decision Hanse eventually makes.

The Price of Doing Business by Robert Lynn Asprin
Jubal, once a gladiator and slave, is now a merchant and dealer in slaves and contraband. He is one of the wealthiest merchants in Sanctuary with many paid eyes and ears in The Maze and the Bazaar. As he is receiving his daily intelligence briefing in his mansion, a Maze street urchin is brought before him, claiming he has a message. One of Jubal’s hired spies – Hakiem – is in hiding and in fear for his life. The urchin says that Jubal must come to Hakiem’s aid at once. Jubal agrees and accompanies the lad into the city, musing over the little urchin’s spunk and courage. The boy leads him into a narrow alley where he is set upon by a group of kids bent on vengeance for the random murder of one of their own by Jubal’s men. Jubal tries to fight them off, but there are too many. Just as he’s about to fall, he’s rescued by a Hell Hound – one of the prince’s guard. The Hell Hound is righteous in his attitude about morality and service to the kingdom and is quick to pass judgment on Jubal’s life as a peddler of evil.

The first half of this story was packed with action and moved quickly. Once Jubal was rescued, it read like a political debate with an anti-climatic resolution. Seeing as Asprin was the editor of this series of books, it looks as if he may be developing a character to be passed onto another writer, because this story, standing alone, is not a good short story.

Blood Brothers by Joe Haldeman
Lastel is an assassin in Sanctuary. To some, he’s Lastel, wealthy merchant and trader of the drug krrf (the author’s description would have it resemble cocaine in its effect). To others, he’s the gruff, but good natured bartender, One Thumb at the Vulgar Unicorn. Lastel has just assassinated by way of poison, the son of a noble and acquired a large supply of krrf. He plans to sell it to the owner of a brothel. When they sit down to strike the deal at the Vulgar Unicorn, the brothel owner says she’s been robbed of a brick of krrf. When they go to ascertain if it is the same block of krrf, they find it gone. It seems a wizard is meddling in their business. They pay a visit to the wizard’s father to ask him to intervene.

Joe Haldeman’s climax is a scenario frequently seem in role playing games which is having a character fight himself. In this case, One Thumb must fight Lastel. The blow by blow account of this encounter is confusing and the ending entirely too ambiguous for it to be a good story.

Myrtis by Christine DeWees
The owner of a brothel is informed that she and the other operators of brothels will have to pay a hefty tax to continue with business in Sanctuary. Myrtis immediately recognizes that the tax is designed – not to raise revenue – but to put them out of business. She organizes the other madams and hits Sanctuary’s “respectable” merchants in their pocketbook. She also seduces on the palace guard, “Hellhounds” and shows him what lies beneath her brothel and how important it is to the safety of Sanctuary.

Of all of the writers in the first volume of Thieves World, DeWees is the least heralded. Yet her story was the most concise and tightest of the bunch. It is a story that could be set in our world today with its sin taxes designed to change behavior. Myrtis is going to be an interesting character.

The Secret of the Blue Star
by Marion Zimmer Bradley
The magician Lythande saves a poor wretched prostitute from the hands of an evil mage of his order. Each of those mages wears a blue star tattooed on his forehead. But the saving was part of the evil mage’s plan. He hopes that the prostitute will seduce Lythande and force him to tell the secret of the Blue Star which will eliminate him as a rival by destroying his power. But Lythande has a secret bond with the madame Myrtis and she helps get him out of his bind.

Bradley is one of the giants of science fiction writing and this tale is a good example of why she is held in such regard. Great emotion in this story along with well developed characters.

The first Thieves’ World book has some great stories and a few average stories. None of them are bad.

The concept of Thieves’ World is to have each author create their own character and have that character interact with characters created by other writers. What the reader gets is different perceptions of characters based on who is perceiving them (meaning which writer is telling the tale). It is an original concept and was well received by the science fiction/fantasy community. This book is one of the most widely read and best known anthology series in fantasy literature for good reason.

No comments:

Post a Comment