The Chronicles of Underrealm Collection One: A Book of Underrealm, (ed.) Garrett Robinson

The Chronicles of Underrealm Collection One: A Book of Underrealm, (ed.) Garrett RobinsonRobinson gathers eleven short stories by several authors set across the history and geography of his fantasy realm, providing both an expanded perspective on it and a series of tales engaging in themselves.

  • “Tavern Crossings”, Garrett Robinson: Lauren, called The Nightblade, tracks a rogue wizard to a tavern. Ebon, black sheep of his merchant family and trainee wizard, ducks into a tavern to rest after a misadventure. A disgraced criminal realises this former associates enemy sits in a local tavern. Two assassins-turned-bodyguard follow their unwitting protectee to a local tavern. Combining leading protagonists from both the Nightblade and Academy series, gritty fantasy, and a large dose of farce, this story provides an engaging perspective on how little of events even the heroes see.

  • “Night of Two Kings”, Rhea Newton: When the High King decrees that wizards may no longer rule as monarchs, Wizard King Nayala of Feldemar rejects the call to abdicate and instead seeks vengeance against those she believes behind the new law. Newton balances the almost balladic power of social revolution with nuanced characters, both expanding on a defining moment of Underrealm’s history and showing that the right thing might benefit the wrong people.

  • “A Night on the Seat,” Eric Ugland: Horace Stubart dreams of serving the High King. A job as constable secured him a life in the King’s Seat, but a series of mysterious events one misty night reveal that he might need more than curiosity and the ability to disable them without killing them to advance further.

  • “The Man and the Satyr”, E.L. Drayton: Since time immemorial, satyrs have listened to the tales of the elders. Now a growing group of young satyrs gather to listen to tales of how the Lord will grant them great rewards. However, Tiglak is interested in neither, preferring to spy on a human bowyer as he tells tales to a young girl; a desire that might spell his doom if discovered. Drayton balances alien and human characteristics to portray a clearly inhuman yet still sympathetic and accessible other race.

  • “The Beast Within”, Garrett Robinson: Silvin, of the Order of Mystics, heads into the forest to scout an enemy camp prior to the arrival of others of her order. However, when misfortune threatens to reveal her presence to the enemy, she must choose whether to ignore her orders or risk the enemy fleeing with the child they have kidnapped before help arrives. Mixing a classic stealthy infiltration plot with distinctive fragments of his world, Robinson provides a fresh and engaging tale of a character caught between duty and desire.

  • “Chasing Moonlight”, Riley S. Keene: When Aurel discovers an injured assassin in the basement of his silversmith’s shop, he worries that his past has caught up with him. Hoping to avoid drawing further attention, he nevertheless opens his shop, allowing a more mundane problem altogether to come calling. Keene, appositely, crafts a delicate and complex character piece that shows skill can sometimes be as much an obstacle as a benefit.

  • “Blood on the Snow,” Rhea Newton: Tatiana arrives at a distant fort of the Mystic as a freshly trained recruit, unaware that her part in the events of an arranged wedding have brought two clans to open war. Switching between Tatiana’s first days at the fort and the events of the war, Newton mixes glimpses of the events surrounding the wedding with fast-paced fantasy action.

  • “The Hammer of the King”, Brenna Gawain: King Bodil returns to Dulmun after an expedition to discover her son is acting secretively and the newly appointed ambassador from the High King wishes to put the kingdom firmly in its place. Gawain weaves a tale of intrigues within intrigues where the most efficient solution to a short-term danger is also the very cause of the broader political issue the kingdom faces.

  • “The Tides of War”, Liandra Sy: When the emissary of the High King demands her parents speak for all the Clans of Wavemount, Prince Kara’s impatience brings the land to the brink of conflict. Fusing political scheming with action-adventure, Sy creates a tale showing both honesty and deceit as equally benefits and flaws.

  • “The Legend of Cabrus”, Antoine Bandele: Enu is one of many street urchins who work for Aunty. With her preference, and the comforts that brings, dependent on how much coin he brings in, pragmatism has replaced innocence. However, his friend’s tales of encountering a fire-breathing warrior prove intriguing enough to risk Aunty’s displeasure by sneaking out. Bandele makes skillful use of the difference between lost innocence and broad experience to show the horrors of the back streets through the eyes of a child.

  • “The Sunmane Pass”, Garrett Robinson: With Lauren, the Nightblade, hard on her heels, Damaris of the family Yerrin commands a skilled mercenary to lay an ambush. But does not count on the presence of another legendary warrior who has good reason to avoid Lauren but would not see her fall. Making full use of the claustrophobia of a mountain pass, Robinson provides an engaging tale of a single brilliant fighter facing opponents they could best easily in open combat but limited by the need for stealth.

While Robinson provides the majority of stories involving major characters from his series, the other authors display a solid grasp of the characters, world, and tone. As such, although each author brings a distinct voice, the collection has a strong sense of cohesion.

For the most part, this shared understanding of the world results in an organic sense of how each story exists within a greater world that provides readers familiar with the world a new perspective without burying new readers in exposition. Unfortunately, this choice to avoid extensive context does deny readers unfamiliar with the world the depth of motivation behind certain characters’ actions, potentially making those stories that are a short episode in the life of a major character seem like coming into a play for only part of the second act.

Thus, although this collection does offer an entry point into the world for new readers, it is likely to offer less than it would to returning readers.

As with Robinson’s solo works, the stories are determinedly gender- and sexuality-accepting: none of the titles and roles require someone be of a particular sex or orientation, the singular they is a common pronoun, and none of the characters display any hint of finding this unusual. It is this lack of even a token objection to utter equality of gender and sexuality that makes it most feel a part of a real society rather than an attempt to bolt virtue on.

However, as the neutrality lacks the same overt explanation as other aspects of society, readers who aren’t familiar with the world might find the initial usage of words with a long history of gender, such a King, for those they do not traditional fit as momentarily jarring.

Overall, I enjoyed this collection. I recommend it to readers seeking nuanced fantasy fiction that can equally be read either in bursts or longer sessions.

I received a free copy from the publisher with a request for a fair review.

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