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text SPOILER ALERT! 2018-10-30 16:42
Bloodsong Trilogy by Asa Drake (aka C. Dean Andersson)

I’ve always been an avid reader; a quiet moment to me means a chance to get a chapter or two in.  Back in the 80s while I was in the Marine Corps we had lots of down time on weekends, and thankfully a lot of Marines were into AD&D, so there was that.  Heck- once we even brought our books with us on a week-long field deployment so we could finish a module featuring a vampire named Strahd von Zarovich.  Good times.

 

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I always wonder how much this one would be worth without all my notes marking it up...[/caption]

 

One slow Saturday I went to the PX to find something to read.  I’m a longtime fantasy fan (who isn’t these days, but I’m old so I can stake my claim!) who loves a good hack-n-slash featuring a female protagonist.  Back in the 80s that type of novel was in woefully short supply.  That day I came across two titles that seemed to fit the bill: The Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon (also a former Marine- Semper Fi!) & Werebeasts of Hel by Asa Drake (aka C. Dean Andersson- a former Airman, but I won’t hold that against him).

 

Now, as much as I tried to like Moon’s book, I couldn’t.  The titular character was female practically in name only- she was asexual to the point of almost becoming her defining trait and the story plodded along like a broke down mule in knee deep mud.  Even back then I understood the issues with female leads in SF/F and making her a fully-fleshed person with loves, hates, needs & desires would’ve been tricky at best, but it didn’t even seem like there was an effort made there.

 

Then I read Werebeasts of Hel.  

 

Even though it was the third book of the trilogy, there was enough backstory involved so it wasn’t hard to follow.  Most importantly, I was now dying to read the first two.

Built from Norse mythology & history and billed as the “Heavy Metal of Fantasy” by Publisher’s Weekly, all three books even featured cover art by Boris Vallejo!  In the 80s that was pretty much the Seal of Approval!

 

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Starting with Warrior Witch of Hel, the story arc centers upon a woman named Freyadis whose village was raided by the evil sorcerer, King Nidhug, who served Hel, Goddess of Death.   With her husband and infant son killed & her daughter Guthrun taken captive, Freyadis was subjected to various abuses, bound to a tree and left to die, her infant son’s corpse tied to her breast.  Never passing up an opportunity, Hel offered Freyadis a chance to return as an undead Hel warrior if she would pray to her as she died. 

 

Nidhug, of course, has betrayed Hel by stealing a relic of her power called the War Skull for his own ends.  After enduring even more of Nidhug’s depravities- including in gladiatorial combat- and finding her daughter in Helheim, Freyadis- now known as Bloodsong from her arena fights- is tasked by Hel to recover the War Skull and bring Nidhug down in exchange for freedom.  Must’ve been a Tuesday.

 

Along the way Bloodsong finds allies like Huld- an elf-blooded witch in service to Freya, Jalna- a slave unfortunate enough to catch Nidhug’s attention & Tyrulf- the warrior in Nidhug’s army who’s attracted to Jalna.  Bloodsong also has a very nasty surprise waiting for her when she reaches Nidhug’s fortress.

 

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The second book, Death Riders of Hel, picks up a few years later: Guthrun is discovered to be a witch and studies with Huld while Bloodsong and her friends have forged a life in the aftermath.  A new threat arises from Thokk- a Hel-witch determined to both finish what Nidhug started and convert Guthrun to the dark side.  Thanks to her mistress, Thokk has a way of striking at Bloodsong where it’ll hurt her the most.  Bloodsong forms an alliance with a tribe of shapeshifting berserkers and is willing to pay any price to save Guthrun from becoming a Hel-witch.  But will the lure of darkness be too great for Gudrun to overcome, especially when being lured by a familiar presence?

 

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Werebeasts of Hel takes place years later, but unfolds much the same way.  Years of peace after defeating Hel, life goes on, friends & lovers… then, BOOM!  Third time’s the charm, eh?  An old adversary returns to lead Hel's armies- one who knows Bloodsong's weaknesses and she's hard pressed to stand against him alone.  This time Odin himself provides a little divine assistance and Bloodsong has to forge an alliance with an altogether new breed of creatures to help stop Hel from conquering them all.

 

The best thing about these books is they are what they are.  Nothing fancy or elaborate- it's all straightforward, fast-paced, in-your-face adventure: here's the situation, now let's do something about it!  It’s a gloriously grim & gory Nordic hack-n-slash with good doses of horror and a few splashes of romance tossed in for variety.  This is a bleak, icy world teetering on the edge of apocalypse.  Death lurks around every turn, defeat is all but certain, friends are lost, sacrifices appear pointless and at times it takes all the heroes have just to keep putting one foot in front of the other. 

 

It’s fucking great!!!  My copies of these are lovingly well-worn for good reason.  I’m glad I found ebook copies to help save them even more wear and tear.

 

Now I’ll admit the omnibus edition doesn’t thrill me at all.  Though the alterations fleshed a lot of things out it was also watered down and a lot of things were added that just flat out confused me.  But it’ll probably do for you if you haven’t read the originals.  If you can find the originals or individual ebooks, get ‘em!  You won’t be sorry!

 

4.5/5 stars

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review 2010-03-16 00:00
Vampire of the Mists (Ravenloft Books)
Vampire of the Mists (Ravenloft Books) - Christie Golden This one pretty much fit in my mood to read a decent vampire tale, and I mean real vampires, not the b.s. sparkling variety. This is as "old school" as it gets: the garlic, the vampire has to be invited to walk into a house, so on. You know, the way vampires are supposed to be. I had read this book a years ago, and I had forgotten about it. It was kind of neat getting to reread it now. Jander Sunstar is a gold elf; he also happens to be a 500 year old vampire who finds himself in the horror realm of Ravenloft. He ends up the unwilling guest of the local lord, Count Strahd, who is also a vampire. Jander fell in love with a mad woman, and he eventually discovers there is a link between her and Strahd. Personally, the elf as a vampire angle was one that I found interesting, since it is rare to have vampires in literature who are not humans. I noticed some reviewers here complain that time passes, or that Jander needs a lot of time (about 50 years) to figure out the link to Strahd, but they are vampires. As the author writes at the end, what is time to a vampire? I found that made the novel seem a bit more "authentic." Decades are nothing to a vampire. Strahd and Jander are different vampires; Strahd embraces his evil nature while Jander is tormented by it. The story is a bit lengthy, but this is the first book in the Ravenloft series. So you are getting a lot of the background of the realm as well. The good news for readers is that the novels stand on their own. You can pick them up in any order. Overall, this is a light escapist novel. It is gothic horror, which means it is not heavy on the gore. The story moves along pretty well, and it is overall an entertaining read. Some readers may complain of cliches, for example, the gypsies, but that is part of what makes a novel like this fun to read. And it may make you want to go back and read a classic like Dracula. It certainly is better than a lot of the dreck that passes for vampire and horror fiction these days.
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review 2008-02-04 00:00
Tales of Ravenloft
Tales of Ravenloft - Elaine Cunningham,Chet Williamson,Jeff Grubb,J. Robert King,James M. Ward,Kate Novak,Roger E. Moore,P.N. Elrod,Elaine Bergstrom,Gene DeWeese,Juanita Coulson,David Wise,William W. Connors,Brian Thomsen,James Lowder,Mark Anthony,Nick Pollotta,D.J. Heinrich, I had read a couple of the Ravenloft series books, so this seemed like a good one to pick up. The fact that it was short stories was appealing, as it makes it an easy book to pick and put down as need be. I got it used at Half Price books. We'll see how it turns out. * * * After a few months, I finally got it done. The nice thing about short fiction for me is that I can pick it up and drop it, then come back to it. That is what I did with this one. I had a couple of library books I needed to read sooner, so I put this to the side for a while. Overall, I will say this was a pretty good collection. The stories later in the book get better. There is one where Strahd Von Zarovich, the lord of Ravenloft appears, and another featuring the Knight of the Black Rose. These are regular characters of the series. While it is not necessary to have read other novels in the Ravenloft series, readers who have will probably appreciate the stories a bit more. I particularly liked the twist at the end on the Black Knight's tale. Actually, twists were a common feature in this anthology. If I recall, only one or two stories towards the beginning were a bit slow, but past that, the selections were good, some a bit scarier than others. Overall, if you are looking for some light entertainment with a horror element, this may be the book for you.
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review 2006-08-20 00:00
Death of a Darklord - Laurell K. Hamilton Death of a Darklord by Hamilton is nothing like Anita or Merry. So if you start to read this book thinking like that, you won’t enjoy it. Once I got over that it was nothing compared to Anita or Merry, I started to really get into it. If you like DnD/Dragonlance/Ravenloft novels, than you should enjoy this one as well.To read my full review, click here.
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