East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Belated Review: Tales from the Magician’s Skull, Issue #1

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I am definitely late at the party, but recently the Bundle of Holding did a quick deal offering the digital “Starter Collection” for The Tales from the Magician’s Skull, for a very reduced price, and with the opportunity of doing a little charity on the side.
And so I went and bought the deal, and now I have the first seven issues of a magazine that I’ve been keeping an eye on for quite a while – both curious to read the stories, and hopeful to one day sell them one of mine.
So, now I have the opportunity to study the market, and enjoy hundreds of pages of good sword & sorcery.

How good, you ask?
Well, here’s the idea – I will post a quick review of each magazine, covering every story, as I read through this (digital) stack.
Starting now, with Issue #1.

Tales from the Magician’s Skull, Issue #1 is an 88 pages PDF file.
The cover is excellent, and the magazine is fully illustrated throughout with ink sketches.
Past the index, very reminiscent of old pulps in its layout, we get an editorial from editor in chief Howard Andrew Jones, and then a full listing of all the places around the world where you can get yourself a paper copy of the magazine. I am pleased … well, OK, “pleased” to notice that Italy once again stands out for its absence.
A page is dedicated to the supporters that Kickstarted the mag.
Then we get to the stories.

What Lies in Ice, by Chris Willrich
A long story set in arctic waters, and featuring a large cast of characters, offers a nice overview of a whole world through the different histories and personalities of the “heroes”. Presented as “A Gaunt and Bone” adventure, it promises more stories featuring the two adventurers. Echoes of Fritz Leiber and Michael Moorcock, which for me is reason enough to enjoy the ride.

The Guild of Silent Men, by James Enge
A new Story of Morlock Ambrosius is always good news. In this case, we deal with a murder mystery of sorts, and the plot is ingeniously handled.
The compact length of the story is also a plus. Morlock is his usual dour self, and that’s how we like him.

Beneath the Bay of Black Waters, by Bill Ward
“A Tale of Shan Spirit-Slayer and the Banner General Bao”, that is, an oriental fantasy story, with a nice touch of almost-Lovecraftian horror. Good action and an exotic, Wuxia-like feel, and a couple of quite interesting characters. This is one of the two or three favorites of mine in this issue (you figure out what the others may be).

Beyond the Block, by Aeryn Rudel
This is a nasty (in a good way), gruesome piece told in first person, with a plot reminiscent of both the old Roger Corman Poe Movies and the classic EC Comics.
What more could we wish for?

Crypt of Stars, by Howard Andrew Jones
A tale of vengeance and freedom in a conquered empire, this one features strong characters and an intriguing setting, that feels at the same time familiar and exotic.

There Was an Old Fat Spider, by C. L. Werner
Featuring a giant bug in the accompanying illustration, this story of revenge and witchcraft has a vague flavor of Warhammer Fantasy in its German-sounding names and early Renaissance feel. Not a bad thing in itself.
Feels predictable, until it is not. Quite nice.

The Crystal Sickle’s Harvest, by John C. Hocking
Grave-robbing, intrigue and betrayal for this last story in the magazine, a nice conclusion to a very solid selection.

All the stories are from quite good to outstanding, and offer a mix of settings, characters and atmospheres that guarantee that every reader will find something to really really like.

The magazine is rounded up by a hefty appendix providing D&D stats for all the creatures and most of the spells seen in the stories, turning the Magician’s Skull into a game accessory if you feel so inclined.

Quite a good start, and one that really makes me curious to see what will come up in Issue #2.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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