I have a new book project I’m very excited about. It’s another one I’ve kind of been training for my entire life.
One of my favorite books when I was little was the Windermere edition of the Arabian Nights.
Mine was the 1935 edition, illustrated by the great Milo Winter. It was a gift from my grandmother, who said my father had owned it when he was a kid.
He must not have thought much of it, because it was practically pristine. I adored it, though, and read it to tatters. I guess that marked the beginning of a love affair with sword-and-sorcery adventure that has lasted to this day.
Flash-forward to the mid-seventies. I recounted some of this in the Michael Moorcock column a week or two ago, but the short version is that I had rediscovered my love of fantasy through Marvel’s Savage Sword of Conan, a gateway drug to Robert E. Howard and Michael Moorcock and all the groovy anthologies like Flashing Swords! and Ariel and so on.
As such, it was a very easy sell to me and my high school posse when Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards came out in theaters. Especially since I had read that Mike Ploog was involved, an artist I recognized from his Marvel work.
Wizards, frankly, was a little bit of a disappointment– it’s kind of an addled hot mess combining hipster underground comix, Tolkien, and a LOT of Wally Wood’s Wizard King.
Almost to the point of theft, if you ask me, though I had no awareness of this at the time.
But the expedition to the theater was NOT a disappointment, because of the second feature. The Golden Voyage of Sinbad was the bottom half of the double bill at the Lake Theatre where we saw Wizards. As far as I was concerned it blew Wizards off the screen. It was my first Harryhausen film and I was instantly, swooningly, in love.
Yes. THIS was the stuff. This was the kind of thing I had been reading, realized on film.
It’s still my pick for best overall sword-and-sorcery film ever. Granted, it’s the same kind of addled hot mess as Wizards, combining bits of Greek mythology and the Arabian Nights and classic Hollywood swashbucklers; but it’s much more elegantly put together, it doesn’t have the pasted-together Frankenstein vibe about it that Wizards does.
Okay. Flash-forward again, to a few years ago when my editor Ron Fortier was looking for stories for his New Voyages of Sinbad series.
SET SAIL FOR ADVENTURE with the greatest seafaring adventurer of all time, Sinbad the Sailor! This fearless rogue sets sail across the seven seas aboard his ship, the Blue Nymph, accompanied by an international crew of colorful, larger-than-life characters. Chief among these are the irascible Omar, a veteran seaman and trusted first mate; the blond Viking giant, Ralf Gunarson; the sophisticated archer from Gaul, Henri Delacrois; and the mysterious, lovely and deadly female samurai, Tishimi Osara. All of them banded together to follow their famous captain on perilous new voyages across the world’s oceans.
But the thing that galvanized me was when Ron said we were going to try to evoke the spirit of the Harryhausen Sinbad. Instantly I thought of the Robert E. Howard movie I’d always wished Harryhausen had made, The People of The Black Circle.
That was what I would do. I’d find a way to mash up the Harryhausen Sinbad and The People of the Black Circle. In particular, I’d do a riff on my favorite part of that story, the part where the evil wizard Khemsa is seduced away from the cult by the hot slave girl.
I just love that. “Why are you carrying water for those withered old creeps when you could run away with me? We could be rich and powerful and have a lot of smokin’ hot sex!”
I thought of a cool variation on that idea that would make use of all the various crew members on the Blue Nymph and in no time at all I was well on my way with The Mages of the Obsidian Shard.
And now, finally, the book is out.
It was hung up in production for different reasons that are mostly tedious and I won’t bore you with them. Instead I want to share with you a couple of Rob Davis’s stunning interior illos.
I am so thrilled this is finally available, I can’t even tell you.
Here is an excerpt that I hope will give you an idea of what it’s about.
The black edifice carved out of the northern cliffs of the island loomed over the waves like a gargoyle made of dark glass. Though the sun beat mercilessly down on it in these tropical latitudes, the light barely penetrated its obsidian walls. Even as evening approached and the sun grew huge and red in the western sky, the light directly behind it merely caused the edges of the tower to glow faintly purple, the vaguely dizzying purple of the after-image of an explosion. It was difficult to look upon and had there been any human observers of the phenomenon they would doubtless have turned away.
There were no observers, though, not even gulls. All avoided the island of the Mages. It had been so since before the earliest sailors made their crude maps and it was so today. Doubtless it would remain so as long as the tower of black glass stood watch over the western seas. The edifice reeked of sorcery and evil; it had once been said that the tower was forged with the dark magics of the molten rivers that flowed through Hell itself, summoned to the surface and frozen into the tower’s current shape to serve the needs of the wizards that dwelt there.
But these things were said no more… the Mages had made a concerted effort to eradicate the memory of their order from human histories. Like most magic, their works were best served with darkness and secrecy. Only the most erudite historians even knew that there had ever been an Order of the Obsidian Shard, let alone that it was still active today. And those few greybeards that knew the name tended to think of it as myth.
However, the Order was no myth, as Sinbad El Ari was soon to discover. A gathering was taking place in the tower of black glass that would have dire consequences for his life and the lives of his crew.
Five figures in black silken robes stood in a chamber in the top floor of the black tower. Each robe bore a bizarre scarlet crest on its back, a broken crescent pierced with a diamond-shaped blade. “Seven years,” intoned the robed figure at the head of the stone slab that served as a table in the council chamber. “Seven years and we must replenish the Shard. Have we a candidate?”
“A mighty warrior is called for,” a second one said. “The Shard’s requirements are strict. ‘A man with the strength of ten. A man whose sword has claimed many lives. A man who has shown nobility and compassion. A man upon whom the gods smile.’ We have gazed into the crystal and we have found such a man.”
“Can there be more than one candidate?” A third asked, hesitation in the voice. “What if there is a problem? An obstacle? Perhaps our warrior will not—“
“What care we for the wishes of mortal men?” the first robed one cut in. “We care only for our lives and the life of the Shard. We must be restored. And so the Shard must be replenished. Bring the warrior to us. You know what happens if you do not.”
There was a muttered assent from the group. The third figure, the one who had raised the objection, was silent.
“Where is the man now?” the leader asked. “What does the crystal show?”
“He is at sea still,” answered another. A gloved hand sketched a rune in the air over the slab. The air shimmered and revealed a picture of a calm blue sea. In the midst of this was a sailing ship with the figure of a nude mermaid carved into its prow. The sails were filled and there was the faint noise of waves splashing mingled with the chorus of an old sea chantey, as sailors went about their work.
“Closer,” the leader said.
The picture zoomed in to reveal a brawny, bare-chested man leaning over the railing, staring out to sea. “They make for port,” explained the one who had sketched the rune. “In Aghrapur. He is already halfway ours. We just need to nudge events a little and we will be poised and ready for him.”
“It is pleasing to hear this.” The leader nodded. “At the full of the moon, then. In five days’ time. The warrior will be here, atop this very slab, and all will once again be well with us.”
“Not so well with the warrior, though.” No one could see which had spoken, and so the leader chose to ignore this impertinence, as well as the few mordant chuckles that followed.
Sinbad El Ari leaned back against the railing and sighed. He was on the foredeck of his vessel, the Blue Nymph, letting the fresh spray soothe his bare back as he watched his sailors go about their business in the afternoon heat. He could see that all was well, yet he was uneasy.
“Something ails this crew, Omar,” he murmured to the man standing next to him at the rail. “Despite the fact that we will be in Aghrapur tomorrow with each of them looking at shore leave and a newly-fat purse once payment is made for the cargo, there is something amiss. I can feel it.”
“Of course you can, my captain.” Omar was Sinbad’s first mate, a small burly man with a graying beard and a perpetually sour expression. However, his nut-brown face split in a small smile at his captain’s dark musings. “A crew has moods just as the sea does. I should be surprised indeed if you could not sense them–However!” He raised a hand as Sinbad made to interrupt. “…I also have been aware of this small unrest, and I assure you it is best to let the men sort it out among themselves. A good captain, and his mate, would do well to remain out of these things. Sometimes it is a light hand required at the tiller.”
“Well, what is it, then?” Sinbad relaxed a little at Omar’s words, but he did not let this show. He turned his scowl upon the mate. “Is the captain not even allowed to know the source of the discontent?”
“Ralf and Tishimi had words. I do not know the source of this disagreement exactly, but there was a quarrel that barely escaped an escalation to blows. Thanks be to the gods that it did not for there would most surely have been blood on the decks.” Omar’s brows knitted in distaste. “Truly, had I wished to administrate childish squabbles I should have stayed on land with my wives and children. Now the crew tiptoes about for fear of provoking a recurrence, and there are whispered arguments among them of who had the right of it. Of course Ralf and Tishimi do not speak at all, but stalk about the ship like angry cats.”
“Oh, for—“ Now Sinbad was merely exasperated. “Less than a day from shore leave and division of spoils? What manner of foolishness—“
“Children, as I said.” Omar shrugged and spread his hands. “What can be done? Let it shake out on its own.”
“No.” Sinbad shook his head. He pulled his shirt from where it had been draped over the trail and tugged it on. “I’ll have the truth of this out of them. They are my fiercest warriors. If they cannot get along then our battle readiness is compromised. Either this is worked out or one of them is off the ship.”
“You would kick over the hornet’s nest, then?” Omar looked nonplussed. “Would it not be better—”
“It would not.” Sinbad, his expression a roiling thundercloud of annoyance, strode to the ladderway without waiting to hear the rest of it.
Omar watched him go and muttered under his breath, “Children. Allah has cursed me with a shipload of children.”
Back next week with something cool.
Housekeeping note– if you should happen to click on one of the many Amazon links above and you end up purchasing an item– ANY item, not necessarily the one at the link — the Junk Shop gets a referral fee. If you feel a shopping spree coming on, please consider using our gateway. It helps to defray the costs around here and then we don’t have to put up annoying ads. Thanks.