Thieves’ World was originally an anthology of short stories created by Robert Lynn Asprin in 1978. The concept was that a setting was provided and rules were established, and then writers given the privilege to establish their own characters and stories within this shared world.
Lynn Abbey, one of the co-editors of the original anthologies, revived the series in 2002 with her novel Sanctuary. For a full list of all entries into the series, I recommend the Wikipedia page, as the list is enormous.
Thieves’ World is a Dark Fantasy novel – a saga of sword and sorcery in the tradition of Conan The Barbarian, or Druss the Legend. The world is full of wizards, demons, dark-magics, gods, barbarians, prostitutes and thieves – It is as colourful as it is bloodthirsty and with a huge wealth of backstory to draw on.
This book is my introduction to the series, and to be honest, the first chapters felt like I had walked into the middle of a conversation – I didn’t know who or what was going on, though I soon got the gist of it.
I felt the first quarter of the book suffered from too much exposition – the author seemed obligated to acknowledge all source material by dropping as many names and ideas in as possible. This did help me to visualise a rich and complex world, but at the same time it was distracting and I often got lost. Most of this info dumping was irrelevant, and many things were not brought up again.
However, once the exposition was out of the way and the plot could take over, the author found her voice more clearly. Janet Morris writes eloquently and once you become accustomed to the small quirks of her writing style, it becomes almost lyrical; the world becomes less distracting and more interactive, the story gains depth and the characters become easier to invest in.
Our main character is Tempus – he is an immortal Demi-God leader of a band of mercenaries who trek out from the city of Sanctuary to battle against demons and wizards and Gods. I forget exactly why they do this, or what their motivations were. The groundworks of this book were laid in the confusing and somewhat rushed first quarter.
However, on a genre as stylistically defined as Dark Fantasy, many of the characters were too similar in archetype, and I often found myself back-reading to find out just whom I was reading about. But, I repeat, once the chaos of city life is left behind, the story flows like a deep river, and you are swept away and carried with it.
If you are not familiar with Dark Fantasy, consider it thus: In Beyond Sanctuary the main characters are savage barbarians who are just as blood-thirsty and rapacious as their enemies; the demons they fight are just as vile and self-serving as the Gods that they worship; the world they inhabit is filled with wastelands and storms and magical realms populated by flesh-tearing beasts and witches and all manner of hell-spawn.
Half the outer wall was crumbled; debris and bodies were everywhere. Tempus’ eyes were smarting from the sulphurous fumes and the stench of rot that set in once these ancient foes met death. His sword glowed pink and dripped with acid blood and wherever he stepped ichor, in grainy puddles, ate into the paving stones.
I enjoyed Beyond Sanctuary and look forward to reading more in this series. Good dark fantasy is hard to come across, and this series has the benefit of dozens of authors over many many decades fleshing it out and developing the world and the characters.
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