Category Archives: orcs

More Orcs From Tom Doolan

“The Orc Way”
Tom Doolan
Kindle ebook $0.99

Tom Doolan returns with another short story about Orcs.  (His previous work is reviewed here, here, and here.)  This story is a sequel to “Pekra”.  It’s a worthy addition to the series.

The setup is basically simple, although the resolution turns out not to be.  Gortek, Pekra’s mate, is part of a group of Orcs dispatched to kidnap a Dwarf.  The problem is that Kagan is in charge rather than Gortek, and Kagan is just stupid enough to be dangerous.  And that can get them killed. 

Things don’t go according to plan.  This is both bad and good and sets up a number of potential storylines for future installments in the series.  This is a short story, so I don’t want to give too many details away.

One of the things I liked best about this tale is that Doolan didn’t confine himself to a single viewpoint.  Instead we see things from multiple viewpoints, including some of the Dwarves.  This added a layer of depth to the story because it gave us a glimpse of Dwarven society.  There are some intriguing thins going on there.

As I’ve come to expect from one of Doolan’s stories, there is plenty of well choreographed action, the pacing is good, and the characters are more than cardboard cutouts.  With this installment, Doolan appears to be laying the groundwork for a strong and interesting series.  Check it out.

Long Looks at Short Fiction: "Amarante" by Scott Oden

Scott Oden
ebook $0.99 Kindle Nook

Scott Oden is an outstanding writer of historical adventure fiction and fantasy.  I’ll be looking at his novels over the coming months. For now, though, I want to take a look at this short piece, a tale of orcs.  I’ve reviewed several stories about orcs in the last few months, one by Charles Gramlich and three different stories by Tom Doolan

This latest is probably the darkest of the lot, which is by no means a bad thing.  It concerns a punitive raid on a temple.  The leader of the orcs is Kraibag, Captain of the 10th Zhrokari Brigade.  They’ve finished destroying the temple for spreading sedition.  Kraibag is about to kill the surviving priestess when he’s stopped by Muzgaash, a Witch Hound.  Witch Hounds can sense magic, and he warns Kraibag of sorcery. 

He’s right.  It’s only minutes later that everything erupts as the priestess uses herself as a blood sacrifice.  What ensues is an attempt by the surviving orcs (Kraibag and Muzgaash) to track down the priestess responsible for setting up the spell enabling the first priestess to sacrifice herself and to prevent a prophesied child messiah from arising to destroy them.

There’s plenty of action and excitement in this one, and the sorcery is good and creepy.  Oden writes conflict well, and the pacing carried me along.  This is more than just a story of good guys versus bad guys. It’s more like bad guys versus bad guys.  It’s hard to say who is more vile here, the orcs or the priestess Amarante.  One of the things that impressed me about this story was how Oden took traditional villains, the orcs, and without changing them or making them nice in any way, made them sympathetic.  Initially my sympathies were with the humans, but as I saw the lengths they were willing to which they were willing to go to defeat the orcs, that changed.  The end does not always justify the means.

Another thing I liked was that this story didn’t take place in a vacuum.  There’s a history that informs all the events.  Oden refrains from infodumping it all on you.  Instead, he lets you have enough information when you need it to understand the contexts of the things the characters say and do.  I especially liked Kraibag’s reaction to the ghosts when he passes through an old battleground.  This approach made me want to read more stories set in this world.

Scott Oden has had a tough year.  I’ll not go into any details because it’s not my place to do so.  If this sounds like a story you’d enjoy, show him your support by buying and reading “Aramante” and then telling a friend about it.  I’m hoping he’ll post something else soon.  Like maybe that historical piece featuring Richelieu he was working on last year.

Long Looks at Short Fiction: Pekra by Tom Doolan

Tom Doolan
Kindle format, 0.99

If I didn’t already know that he was, I would guess by reading this that Tom Doolan is the father of a teenage girl.  He seems to capture the viewpoint quite well.  At least I think he does, never having been a teenage girl myself.

“Pekra” is Tom’s latest piece of short fiction.  Like the previous”Blackskull’s Captive“, reviewed here, this is an orc story, only this time it’s not set in space.  It’s also significantly shorter, making it the perfect thing to read while taking a quick lunch break.

This is also a little different than most orc stories.  It’s a love story of sorts.  Pekra is a young orc whose parents are on her case because her sister has found a mate and is with child.  Why can’t she do the same?  So she does, or at least tries to.  In orc society the females choose the mates.  If two females fight over a male, the male is stuck with the winner, like it or not.  As you might expect, Pekra is challenged when she tries to choose her mate (chosen in part because her choice will annoy her parents).  The result is a cat fight, orc style. 

This was a short tale, but thoroughly enjoyable.  Both Pekra and her choice of mate are well characterized, and the fight scene is a blast.  (Not literally, the two orcs don’t have any explosives.)  As Tom said in his announcement on his blog, this one would have been hard to market.  I’m glad he published it himself.  It focused on an aspect of orc society that isn’t usually shown, the mating ritual.  I wouldn’t mind seeing more of these characters in a longer tale.  Check it out. 

Long Looks at Short Fiction: Blackskull’s Captive by Tom Doolan

Blackskull’s Captive
Tom Doolan
Kindle ebook format, 0.99

If this short story, the first publication by Tom Doolan, is any indication of what we can expect from him, then he’s someone you will want to add to your list of must-read authors.

“Blackskull’s Captive” is a delightful and thoroughly entertaining blend of fantasy, space opera, and old fashioned pirate adventure.  Written in part as an homage to Treasure Island, it’s the story of Jack Munro, an orphan who is captured by Orcs and forced into being the cabin boy of the dreaded Captain Blackskull. 

Now Orcs in space (or Orccss innn Spaaacce! – sorry, I couldn’t resist) may sound at first glance like it won’t work, but I assure you it does.  Part of the reason is the voice.  The story has the tone of a novel or journal from the 1700s or 1800s.  The only difference is that this one is readable, quite readable.  I’m sure being a history major helped as far as the style is concerned, but Doolan has crafted a character who is both courageous and resourceful, yet not without flaws, which makes him all the more engaging.  Young Jack Munro learns from his mistakes and grows, turning from frightened victim to hero.  Doolan manages to stuff more character development into a few pages than some epic fantasies do in five times the number of pages.

The thing I found intriguing, and my geek is showing here, is that the universe is a blend of the 17th century and the 21st.  The costuming, for lack of a better word, is out of Treasure Island, while the science (with the exception of one mention of the aether) is out of Stephen Hawking.  Artificial gravity and plasma guns alongside cutlasses and sailing ships in outer space.  I want to know more about how this universe works.  Aether and super science?  Definitely cool.

Fortunately I’ll get the chance.  Doolan said on his blog when he announced the story that he’s completed one sequel and is working on a second.  I had a blast reading this story.  Doolan’s prose pulled me into the story, and the unique setting and well realized characters made me want to stay.

As is my custom when reviewing indie published works, a few words on the production values.  The cover art is a perfect fit for the story.  There were no typos or formatting problems.  This was what an ebook should be like.  Why can’t New York figure that out?

This little ebook is a great buy.  Check it out.

Long Looks at Short Fiction: Harvest of War by Charles Allen Gramlich

“Harvest of War”
Charles Allen Gramlich
Razored Zen Press, 0.99

In the afterward to this story, the author mentions that it was written for an anthology about orcs Scott Oden was putting together which unfortunately didn’t work out.   That’s a shame, because if the other stories were as good as this one, we’ve missed out on some fine reading.

The point of the anthology was to present orcs as more three dimensional than what we see in Tolkien.  Gramlich succeeds.  This is a moving and intelligent tale.  Because it’s a short story, I’m not going to discuss the plot much, but I will tell you why I liked it. 

Khales is the sole survivor of a battle between orcs and humans.  Wounded and taken captive, he’s imprisoned in a cage.  It’s been said that there are only a small number of plots but an infinite number of ways to execute them.  Parts of what happens after Khales is taken captive are not hard to guess.  It’s how Gramlich handles the events that propel the story.  That, and the ecological role the orcs play.  This was something I’ve not seen other writers deal with, and as I read the story, I wondered why someone hadn’t thought of this before.  It was what made the story for me and lifted it above being just another fantasy story.

The character development was believable, and much of it arose naturally from the situation.  Nothing felt forced, either in the plot or the characters.  The action was well balanced with the character development.  The story is told in present tense, which added to the sense of urgency in the battle scenes.

The production values are professional.  There were no typos.  The cover art fit the piece well.  Overall, a quality product that was professionally done.

I’ve decided to try something new.  With the price of gas continuing to rise, I’m not going to be going home or out for lunch.  Instead I’m going to brown-bag it, and read some short fiction while I eat.  I’ll blog about what I read either during lunch or when I need a break for a couple of minutes.  This way the blog won’t be so dormant while I’m reading long novels.  My goal is to have at least one post a week result from this practice.  “Harvest of War” was the first of these posts.  The ones that follow will have a high standard to meet.