Since the UK seems to be being drawn into Ravenloft mists, I thought I'd write about fantasy fiction... specifically Games Workshop stuff that was originally published in the 80s. Their publishing seems to have been split to a division called the Black Library and to have gone through a phase in the last few years of reprinting classic titles in bargain anthologies — three or four books bound together for under a tenner.
I have a fondness for genre fiction that offers more than a formula for teens to practise their reading skills on. I don't dislike all formula, it can be done well, and sometimes letting the words of writers such as Elaine Cunningham and Ed Greenwood wash over you is immensely comforting, but what I really like is quirky stuff. With that in mind...
The Inquisition War
First up is the compendium I most want to snag, as I found the first two books in a library years ago and have yet to read the concluding part — indeed I didn't know that it was projected as a trilogy at the time of reading, always assuming (before getting online and finding out about reprints) that the series had been cancelled in midflow. Put out in 2004, this edition is already out of print — at £9.99 for 768 pages by a popular author I can see why — and now advertises at insane prices of about seventy quid and up on Amazon marketplace. I hope there'll be another anthology reprint. (Or if anyone knows where I can get a cheap copy... I doubt any have ever sold at those prices second-hand. I'd pay about twice the RRP, but more than that's unreasonable.)
Adding to my initial confusion about how many books there were, Draco was originally published as 'Inquisitor'. It's widely regarded as the strongest entry of the three, introducing us to the byzantine politics of the Imperium as seen through the eyes of inquisitor Jaq Draco, forced on the run from a sinister order of space-armoured monks after being declared a dangerous renegade. The Warhammer 40K universe is one in which mankind barely holds in check hordes of monsters and chaos gods beyond mortal ken; you know the sort of thing. What's impressive is how much atmosphere Watson creates — he's said his aim was "to be lurid and brooding and hyperbolic and generally crazy, although in an elegant, ornate way".
Reviewers disagree as to what extent this intended bizarreness fights with loss of focus in the following two books, but it's often said to remain the best 40K fiction fifteen years on. And I want to read it again, get the last bit and find out for myself, dammit.
Update: It's been reprinted as of February 2009! Though apparently it's not on Amazon yet. Go to http://www.blacklibrary.com/product.asp?prod=60100181100&type=Book
The Vampire Genevieve
Four books here, two of which I've read and probably still have copies of somewhere. Beasts in Velvet is a whodunnit and I thought lacked re-read value after knowing the reveal, but I found Drachenfels engaging when I found it again it a few years ago. The two other books on offer (Genevieve Undead and Silver Nails) also feature the pragmatic and rather likeable Genevieve... besides which the pagecount makes the collection a bargain and — even though it doesn't have quite the same lure as the Ian Watson epic — I should probably snag a copy whilst they're still around.
Jack Yeovil is apparently a prolific genre writer — as well as being a psuedonym for Kim Newman, which I didn't know — and was writing vampirism in down-to-earth style in the Warhammer fantasy setting before it got reduced to Hammer in the form of the Von Carsteins. Genevieve apparently reappears in his unconnected alternate history/fantasy series Anno Dracula, which also pilfers characters from other sources.
But anyway... Drachenfels is worth a look as a classic quest with some twists.
Update: the reprint doesn't include the classic illustrations for Drachenfels, but the rest of the Genevieve short stories are definitely worth dipping into. Surprisingly considering the Warhammer setting, the volume even has a sentimental and feel-good ending.
Bonus non-GW blast from the past: Black Madonna
Long before Dan Brown, Carl Sargent and Marc Gascoigne were weaving a tale of Vatican conspiracies and secret cults. Except this is also a tie-in to a paper cyberpunk RPG by FASA... despite not really having anything to do with the Shadowrun game, save the basic fact of being set in a close but technological future that's heavy on Neuromancer homages — where fantasy races (elves, orks, etc) and magic are mixed in with human society and history for flavour. Unusually for such novels the protagonists are more than a match for any threat thrown at them, and there's little sense of danger despite the stakes being set ludicrously high — premise being that a technical genius using the callsign of Leonardo da Vinci walks through the network defences of every major corporate power as if they weren't there, then holds them to ransom. You're more likely to find yourself reading for the lively and flippant dialogue, sympathetic characters and fun of it.
Unless you're highly religious and Catholic, in which case buy a sling for your nose first. By the way, the Amazon listing — including the synopsis at the top — contains some major spoilers for the story... transfer your attention to the 35p/50p average price of a second-hand copy, meaning you're only really paying for the postage. Give it a shot.