New Edge Sword & Sorcery #1

New Edge Sword & Sorcery Issue 1 is out and proud.

Caterina Gerbasi gives us a trans man barbarian for our cover hero — with a cheeky tip of the hat to Frazetta’s ‘Against the Gods’.

Thrilled to have my name on the cover alongside Margaret Killjoy and … Michael Moorcock? How did that happen?

Starburst Magazine says:
‘New Edge Sword and Sorcery is a fantastic success’

The mags are going to ship real soon. Until then, you can preorder issues 1 & 2 here:
And keep up with news at the New Edge Sword & Sorcery site:

The new Secret History


First impressions of the newly-out translation of The Secret History of the Mongols by Christopher P. Atwood for Penguin Classics.


Poetry. See my post on Mongol slang. From that you can gather that Atwood’s stated goal to render the poetic techniques of the original – a lack in previous translations – is one of the things that most excited me. It’s so important to convey the use of language, the imagery, and the imaginative world that is constructed from figures of speech, idioms, and the lines of verse Mongols used for emphasis or in emotion. I was highly anticipating this aspect of the translation, while uncertain how the aesthetics might go, Atwood being a Mongolist with no avowed poetry in his CV.

Well, that’s about where I end up after reading it.

It’s great to have the original’s verse features signposted. Atwood gives us lines that work well: ‘choke on the cheese and gag on the grease’ for a figure of speech around milk foods and meat foods (Mongol imagery is very bodily). Other picks are less happy: ‘chubby-cheeked/Lovely ladies’ for the convention of rounded faces in a moon-like beauty. Still, at least it tells you the alliteration is there.

General comments: First and foremost, I expect great things now that we have the Secret History of the Mongols in a Penguin Classics edition. Accessible. Acknowledged. Widely available, at a cheap price. None of the previous translations have been affordable and easy to acquire. Let it become as well-known in English as an Icelandic saga! (to which Atwood compares it in his introduction).

I am relieved that this supersedes both the scholarly Igor de Rachewiltz, whose reductive, negative view of Mongols is inserted too freely into his translation, and the popular Paul Kahn, who smooths out ambiguities and makes everything familiar. Because of his concern to imitate stylistic features, Atwood has often chosen between the literal and alliteration: he goes with the latter. People who fall in love with the text still want to consult the obscurantist, old-fashioned dignity of Cleaves, and the cultural specificity of Urgunge Onon. These two read more strangely than does the new Atwood, but the thirteenth century ought to feel strange to us.

Let’s look at a passage in side-by-side translations. Here’s young Temujin’s poem to his holy mountain, where he hid from an enemy.

In Francis W. Cleaves:

When Temüĵin, descending from on [Mount] Burqan, striking his breast, spake, saying, “Mother Qo’aƴčin,

Because she heareth
Like a weasel,
Because she seeth
Like an ermine,
Escaping as to mine own body,
With a horse hobbled by [means of] the tether,
Walking in the paths of the deer,
Making an abode of a tent of elm twigs,
I went up to [Mount] Burqan.

By [Mount] Burqan Qaldun,
As to my life [which is only] so much as a louse,
I escaped.
Mine only life,
With an only horse,
Walking in the paths of the elk,
Making an abode of a tent of willow switches,
I went up on [Mount] Qaldun.
By [Mount] Qaldun Burqan,
As to my life [which is only] so much as a grasshopper,
I was shielded.

I was caused to be sore afraid. Every morning I shall sacrifice unto [Mount] Burqan.

In Urgunge Onon:

Temüjin then came down from Burqan and said, beating his breast, ‘Because mother Qo’aqchin

hears like a weasel
and sees like an ermine,
she saved my life.
On the dotted tracks,
[I] followed the deer trails.
I made a yurt of willow.
I climbed Burqan.

On Burqan-qaldun,
my life was like that of a louse.
I managed to flee.
My only life was spared.
With only one horse
I followed the elk trails.
I made a yurt of twigs.
I climbed Qaldun.
On Qaldun-burqan,
my life was like that of a swallow.
I was protected.’

‘I was greatly afraid. Every morning I shall sacrifice to Burqan-qaldun, and every day I will pray to it.’

In Atwood:

Temujin descended from the heights of Burġan and, beating his chest, said, ‘Because Mother Qo’aqcin,

Like a weasel kept her watch,
Like an ermine cocked her ear,
Hastily fleeing hale and whole,
A hobbled horse I led on trails of hinds;

Dwelling in a den of dense-tied willow laths,
I hiked the heights of high Burġan
And hid my life, like a little louse, in Burġan-Qaldun.
Saving as much as my poor self,
One mere mount I led on moose’s trails;
Watching from a home of plaited willow wands,
I made my way on wide Qaldun,
And kept my life, like a cricket’s chirp, in Qaldun-Burġan.

I was very frightened. I will do anointing every morning, I will do remembrance every day to Burġan-Qaldun.

The Secret History and me

And this is how I included Temujin’s poem in Amgalant:

On the heights Temujin, oriented to the sun, humbly knelt nine times and gave his humble verses, in a murmur, as though straight into the spirit’s ear. His thanksgiving verses had a childish quality; they had odds and ends of children’s safety spells.

Through great fear have I lived;
Through great grace I have my life.
I walked where the wild creatures walk,
I slept with twig and tree for tent,
Where I had fled onto Holy Old Haldun.

On Haldun the Old and Holy,
Such as I am, I was saved.
Sorely afraid, my life as frail as flea’s,
I lay in the wild creatures’ lairs,
I wove a roof of willow.
In the skirts of Haldun, Holy and Old,
The sparrow, spared by heaven, escaped the hawk.

Upon his ninth knee he finished, and flung himself out on the earth.

In a while he rose and spoke, shyly now he wasn’t couched in verse. “I vow you food from my food every day of my life.”

My Amgalant series is an engagement with this text. Indeed I go so far as to talk about the Secret History, its strategies, its meanings, within my first novel, Against Walls. An unusual way to write today, but I adopted it from TH White’s occasional commentary in The Once and Future King on his beloved source, Malory’s Morte d’Arthur; also I’d read too much 18th century fiction, when authorial asides were the fashion, and so personable. In the second novel, Imaginary Kings, which dives deeply into Temujin’s or Jamuqa’s point-of-view (half and half), I still weave my prose out of translation from the Secret History, but I don’t pull back to discuss it. The reader has learnt enough about the Secret History in One, and doesn’t need that inside glimpse into what I’m doing with the text; so I let each book accrue its own stylistic features, as arose from the material. On the other hand, Imaginary Kings has the heart and the guts of the Secret History’s story around Temujin and Jamuqa and Toghrul (To’oril) Khan, that political-personal plot told as intimate epic in the original, and in mine. Everybody, in the vast cast of Mongols and others, speaks the speeches they give in the Secret History; only, as a wise reviewer said, I amplify my original to make a novelist’s sense of its cryptic utterances. In the above review John Caviglia lights on the phrase ‘novelized exegesis’ and that’s exactly how I thought of the process.


Now with sword & sorcery

I’ve made a new tag: sword & sorcery.

As reported in this post, I’ve plunged into the contemporary sword & sorcery scene lately. We have a couple of Discord servers with a nice — and lively — sense of community; if you want to have a look around them, hit me up for an invite (email bryn at amgalant dot com; also find me on the new socials,;

Today I have a story out in A Book of Blades Volume II from Rogues in the House Podcast. It’s a Goatskin story, like my two in New Edge Sword & Sorcery Magazine Issue 0 (free in epub/pdf) and Issue 1, due around October. ‘Goat Against the City God’ in A Book of Blades is the first S&S I wrote, and kind of an origin story for my Goatskin — in which she picks up a sword. Goatskin is a goatherd nomad living in a fantasy-Tangut on the eve of the thirteenth century, and her tales are grounded in my Amgalant research.

There are thirteen other contemporary sword & sorcery authors in the ToC, including Oliver Brackenbury, editor at New Edge Sword & Sorcery (that’s NESS for short).









Buy A Book of Blades II on Amazon
Paperbacks available now, and ebooks … any moment now?

Love and Conquest at the Gates of Samarkand

Written for Jules, posted here for L——. You know who you are.

I have this story up alongside my old fanfiction on Ao3. But one or two people have been missing Temujin and Jamuqa — as I was myself when I wrote this story in 2020. It’s a snatch of them post-Amgalant. It’s fanfiction, by which I permissioned myself to be a bit more indulgent than in the novels.

The story has a retrospective on Temujin and Jamuqa. If you hate spoilers, perhaps beware.


Love and Conquest at the Gates of Samarkand

by Bryn


‘I’ve aged.’ Temujin fingered the skin of his face and thought how coarse he must look, to a love who did not change.

‘Gives you character. I like my men the way I like my leather: rumply, hardworn.’

This wasn’t true at all, in Temujin’s memory. ‘Since when?’

Gently he admitted, ‘Since you aged.’

They first met when both were eight years old. Jamuqa had lived to thirty-nine. Now Temujin was fifty-three, and Jamuqa a spirit. At this answer the mortal one of them felt a warmth of comfort, as from a fire and boiled food.

Fast march across the winter Kizil Kum – Red Sand – ought to seem like home to a Mongol, even though local guides told them nobody travelled through the desert. It wasn’t meant to be a feat to get to Samarkand, not for a Mongol army, but the khan’s old limbs disgraced them.

‘We’re at the gates of the enemy capital,’ said Jamuqa, ‘unexpected, by a road they don’t bother to put on the maps. We beat the wet, which would have bogged our horses to the elbows. Can you be less hard on yourself?’

‘We did this, Jamuqa. You and I.’

‘That’s more like it. The rest of Mongols, they came along for the ride.’

‘No. But when we made Mongol unity our cause, at twenty, did you envision we’d be here? Three thousand miles from where we started, and no lost battles to our name.’

‘I knew we’d never run out of enemies. But what feats the felt-tent people find possible, united? I had no idea.’

On his army’s urgent march Temujin, their Tchingis Khan, had not claimed the privacy of his own felt skirts about him. Tonight, while they waited outside the Samarkand gates for daylight, he set up his little travel-tent. Although he heard Jamuqa’s voice in the busiest day – in battle – still it was a luxury to concentrate on him and shape his presence.

He had obligations, before he indulged himself: spirits require gratitude, Jamuqa Spirit no exception. ‘The Hwarazm shah’s coins call him “the Second Alexander”, for his conquests where Alexander the Great once conquered kingdoms. It is your tactics which have undone Hwarazm.’

‘Not yet.’

‘We are at his capital and the shah is nowhere to be seen. He has run away from us and left his cities to defend themselves. Thirty years ago Mongols knew an obscure Mongol on the steppe to be the most intelligent tactician of the age. Now they know you preside in spirit over our victories. It is you who outface this legendary Alexander.’

‘Watch out about Hwarazm shah’s ridiculous titles, Temujin. Defeat him, you inherit them.’

This was a tease, since Temujin didn’t like the flattery of titles beyond Tchingis, his kingly name from God. When a challenger for kingship Jamuqa had gone in for extravagant titles – “universal khan” – in a game. Because, as he confessed at the last, he had secretly favoured his childhood friend, his blood brother – never truly his rival.

Titles weren’t safe ground perhaps, to dispute between them. Besides, Temujin was in a mood for more intimate subjects. ‘Yesterday in the desert Bo’orchu told me a tale of Alexander. West of here near a city Hamadan can be seen the Shir-e-gamgin, the Melancholy Lion. It is a lion in stone Alexander commissioned upon the death of his friend Hephaestion. The king of beasts, stooped to the ground with his head low: this was Alexander, in the midst of great conquests but sunken on his knees with grief.’

‘Bo’orchu told you?’

‘Yes. In apology, if you like, for his old suspicions of our friendship. I answered, that was me in the year up until you joined me as a spirit. He remembered me then, and agreed.’

‘The year of my absence. Before my death, instead of afterwards.’

‘Yes. It was that period we equated with description of the statue. Newly khan of the whole steppe, but without you. Distance I was used to, different sides in conflict. But you withdrew from us entirely, and you were ill.’

‘I tried, Temujin. I tried to leave you gently. I left you my tuq, which a man doesn’t part from alive. You were my other self, and I gave you this symbol of my soul. I declared myself dead to public life and went into the mountains, to live at peace for the time my illness let me. I’d warned you I wouldn’t live to forty.’

‘It was hard to think of you in that condition. When I was meant to feel triumphant. I hope you won’t say I was weak. Alexander survived his dead friend by eight months, and only thought of monuments to him and not of conquests.’

‘Well, I didn’t know what state you were in. Don’t imagine I did what I did for your sake only, Temujin. By my tuq in your hands I thought to have a piece of me in the great work you had ahead of you. A piece of me wasn’t enough. So I came back and asked for my execution.’

Temujin shivered, still, at mention of it. That event had been his most hair-raising hours on earth, never mind the wars he had participated in since.

He quoted to himself Jamuqa’s argument in persuasion of him to the act:

We have drunk our blood with lightning ash and holy Onon water: that drink shall never be dissolved. That drink is in my veins, your blood and mine, the alcohol of us, our selves and the charisma that in each of us has cast a spell upon the other. Then let us use the old techniques, techniques to tie one dead to one alive.

A rival, killed with preservation of the blood by the one who vanquished him, becomes his slave in the spirit world. Jamuqa, in his eagerness to live through and with his blood brother, turned himself into that tethered tutelary spirit.

‘And so I have a fortune Alexander did not have,’ smiled Temujin. ‘Certainly I wouldn’t have proved a great, but continued a poor figure like that lion. Few of my friends, I admit, understood our friendship while you lived. But they saw how our union in spirit salvaged me.’

Outside the door of the tent, with his horse and weapons ready to go, stood Jamuqa’s tuq of black yak hair, the Mongols’ banner when at war. Temujin’s own white-haired standard was kept for days of peace, and had only flown at short intervals since Tchingis Khan owned both.

Jamuqa fell silent for a while. Temujin lay down to ease his back, on comfy skins that had come off animals in Altai Mountains (where Jamuqa’s bones were sealed inside a tree). Through the smokehole overhead the stars shone over Samarkand city, which kept a strange quiet for its concentrated population – an unimaginable mass to Temujin, despite that he had seen cities. The Mongol army, of course, made its nightly noises and no more: no unseemly excitement, no faults of discipline.

Jamuqa’s face bent over him, the image cutting in on his half-closed eyes. He saw Jamuqa with his eyes either shut or open. ‘Do you know what?’

‘No.’ Temujin shook his head awake again, but stayed on his back with Jamuqa in the familiar one-legged squat beside him.

‘Never mind Alexander, who wasn’t such a big thing where I lived. Do you remember Sultan Sanjar, a hero of mine when I was young?’

‘I do. Your heroes were rare.’

‘These were his grounds eighty years ago. The last Great Seljuq, and the only one of them arguably great in a personal capacity. Your hero, Ile Dashi of Black Qatat, defeated him.’

‘Let’s not argue heroes. That was the Battle of Qatwan, and I respect both sides.’

‘It didn’t stop Sanjar, who waged war until he was seventy. I heard about him as if he were my uncle, but you know what nobody told me? When I was in love with you and young.’ Jamuqa’s triangular face, as he said this, changed the way a cloud changes, into his face at twenty. ‘When I tried on you what was illegal and we argued.’

Temujin didn’t want to interrupt him, although he itched to expand on that too-brief account: how they discovered they were both in love, and spent a legendary night together – before the famous argument, which was about integrity as much as illegality.

At the age he was he knew to simply listen and let Jamuqa talk.

‘There I was, a young Mongol who liked cock as much as he liked ayrag, or ever so slightly more. Now Bo’orchu suggests acceptance with his Alexander story, but when I was alive I was the bad influence on you.’

Temujin shut up at this juncture too.

‘Nobody told me Sultan Sanjar had a love life. His was a mess. In no way exemplary for a young Mongol to follow. But it was mamluks.’

‘Mamluk soldiers? It’s the first I’ve heard myself.’

‘See? I had to get the gossip as a spirit. If I’d known that fact about him at eighteen, I might have had the nerve to say, I’m the other kind, like Sultan Sanjar.’

‘Tell me about his messes.’

‘Several of them. He’d fall infatuated with a soldier and grant him offices above what he was fit for. Then, when his piece proved corrupt or crashingly incompetent, there’d be a public bust-up. Public, since both held public offices. You and I, Temujin, decided we were public figures – both in the running to be khan, and in those circumstances we couldn’t contravene the law.’

‘To be fair that was me, when young and stupid, and you took the side of love. Was there scandal for the sultan?’

‘Complaint, as his aides and peers mopped up the damage. Lampoons sung in the streets. Despite it, he remained the greatest of the Seljuks, talked about in the fashion I heard when I was young.’

‘Private lives are often swept away for public figures. Sanjar’s government was otherwise a fine one. I hear of him in anecdotes about his sense of justice. Because he stood high in general estimation, mischievous speech didn’t take hold of his reputation like a weed. I understand it, as a matter of fact. I am wrapped up in respect, such that I feel stifled in sable furs.’

‘No Mongol wants to taint you, Tchingis, with gossip of that sort. Even if they have to exculpate me.’ Jamuqa knocked a hand on his upright knee. ‘I wish I’d had the courage to announce myself explicitly. Before I involved you in risk of exposure, before our night together. But after I’d been given generalship over the Mongols’ first war in ages, and we won. Twenty years old, at the peak of my reputation. I could have told the assembled chiefs: you can cut my head off, or you can ask me to direct your wars, it’s up to you. But I’m a man who lies with men.’

To have to live dishonestly hurt Jamuqa, Temujin knew. Mongols valued honesty, and Jamuqa was Mongol. He said, in hopes to help, ‘I have urged them towards an honest memory of my life and acts. I have encouraged them to gather different people’s accounts, and I have related mine, whether I am proud or ashamed. Oddly, this leaves me confident that history has a circumstantial knowledge of how I killed my half-brother for theft of food from the family, when we were nearly starved, in my childhood. But how I loved? I have not given the collectors a precise report of you.’

‘You won’t, either. I won’t let you. It’s too late for gestures of that sort.’

‘Alexander has a great love story attributed to him. He seems to me exceptional. I think I won’t, although I had two great loves: my first wife Borte; my anda Jamuqa, and great matters hung on the course of those loves – the khanship, our work for the unity of Mongols. They should not believe the private side of life less important to record.’

‘I am no Hephaestion,’ said Jamuqa, ‘and might have spoiled your chances there. Loyal lieutenant to the great one. Whereas your history and mine: it’s complicated. After our argument I fought against you, and later I pretended I did, in order to send you information on your enemies. Out of this I have the name of untrustworthy. No mate for you, in story.’

‘That’s not fair.’ Temujin thought of his own words on the night he agreed to Jamuqa’s execution. Across the arena where men slay and are slain, our stomachs were hollow for each other. ‘You sacrificed for love more than any man whose story I have heard. First your reputation, to cede to me the glory. In the end your life, to be with me.’

‘I did tear up my reputation in your service, and I don’t regret that now. It isn’t acknowledgement I ask for. I find a pity, I concede, that one of your virtues goes unacknowledged, Temujin. Your constancy. It wasn’t easy to love the two of us, your queen and me, amidst the demands of public life. You did extraordinarily well.’

The compliment only made Temujin feel guilty. ‘In the past, perhaps,’ he said, to deflect it.

Jamuqa smiled knowingly, and didn’t insist.

By Temujin’s early ideals, sex meant a union of persons. He experienced that with one, and then, confusingly, with two. But where he did not love there was no soul exchange in the act, and he used to suffer from a sense of void. Used to, because Jamuqa was with him always now, which rescued him from that effect.

Jamuqa interpreted his face and offered, ‘It’s complicated.’

‘Did Sultan Sanjar have children? I forget.’

‘He had political wives, a couple, as a king of course, and out of one of them two daughters. And no end of nephews and cousins. That wasn’t why he was the last of the Seljuqs.’

Even Jamuqa had had a political wife, but no issue. Temujin’s child count stood at thirteen. After Borte, his other wives were matters of diplomacy, and he had learned to pay them the attention they were due, although Borte was the mother of nine.

‘I am not a poor husband any more,’ he said to Jamuqa, ‘and glad I am not. But you know I still prefer these nights when I commune with you alone.’ The queen he had brought on the western campaign, Ulun, had custody of the baggage wagons, which hadn’t crossed the  desert.

‘“Commune” is your word now? Do you remember the description you once gave me of the melting-together spirits do? Back when I didn’t believe in spirits, but to listen to your talk, I wanted to.’

‘Yes. I do.’ He picked up Jamuqa’s spirit-hand, admiringly. Jamuqa was put together like an antelope, and he like a bear. ‘More fantasy on my part than knowledge. Rather obviously, I was justifying that we wait.’

‘You were helping me to sublimate my passions.’

‘I was stupid,’ he said for the second time that night. ‘And I don’t know whether I believed myself. I told you we’d have forever in the afterlife…’

‘It’s lucky I believed you, at the end. And took the jump to join with you, when the horses trampled me. I’m forever, Temujin. It only gets better when you’re a spirit too.’

Temujin, at fifty-three, believed him absolutely. This voice in his head, this image in his eyes. His dead love, with whom he conjured up a bliss impossibly sublime, even in their single night together at nineteen.


In his most uncertain hours Temujin thought he had killed his friend, by a rite which Jamuqa never believed in but staged for Temujin’s sake, to let him go gently, to give him an idea to hold onto.

For Temujin did have dark hours in these conquest years. Wars off the steppe were on another level than struggles between tribes at home. Jamuqa had taught him war, Jamuqa had been the one armoured up inside against hard sights. Tchingis Khan performed what was expected of him, but when he couldn’t help but shut his eyes he pushed his tutor spirit into the driver’s seat and hid at the rear of the wagon, in a wicker hutch of the mind like the layer of felt around him now where he lay at one with Jamuqa.


Dawn struck the gates of Samarkand. Alexander once conquered here. More recently, the city’s self-titled king, the Second Alexander, Hwarazm shah, had massacred its inhabitants in a three days’ sack as punishment for revolt. Ten thousand lives paid for the same number of residents from Hwarazm whom Samarkandis had killed in the streets.

Hwarazm shah had only won Samarkand thirteen years ago, to add to his rapid empire, to call his new capital for the prestige its depth of history lent him.

Today it was Tchingis Khan with his fearsome reputation, and two options.

Samarkand’s inhabitants chose the one that wasn’t massacre again. They sent out their unconditional surrender.


The complete Amgalant is 50% off in our HistFic Outside the Box on BookFunnel 1-7 March:

HistFic Outside the Box

Why New Edge sword & sorcery?


Why am I involved in New Edge Sword & Sorcery Magazine? I have been a historical novelist for nigh on twenty years, but last year and this one – if our Kickstarter funds – have entangled me in a rush of enthusiasm for inclusive, and innovative, sword & sorcery. Let me explain myself.

There are a few key things I like about sword & sorcery. It is set apart from epic fantasy or high fantasy by its outsider heroes, its low or private stakes, and a weirdness that remains unexplained. At least, those three things are what I like. I’ll comment on them one by one.

Outsider heroes. Where do I start? By the time I ran into Colin Wilson’s cult classic The Outsider, I had already found for myself most of the books he features, and they had been important to me. It was like, yeah yeah, tell me something new. I had gone through my Seven Pillars of Wisdom craze, I had begun my continuing obsession with the works of Dostoyevsky, I had latched onto William Blake. This is not advice to read The Outsider, which is a grab-bag, probably, of popularisations and pop psychology. It is just to say what I gravitated to.

And why? Discussions on ‘what makes sword & sorcery’ have got into focus for me why. Of course, I’m a queer woman whose growing-up was bedevilled by gender expectations and your old heteronormativity. These were my serial foe, my Moriarty or my kryptonite, my danger. I do not know the person I’d have grown to be without them. I have a deadname, like an alien inside me to this day. Society excluded me from its basic institutions such as marriage. So, is S&S for queer people? You bet. The hero is an outsider, and stays that way: the hero doesn’t win a kingdom, isn’t reconciled into the majority, doesn’t join the forces of law and order in the end.

Which leads me to low stakes. Private adventures, serial adventures feel more true to my experience. Small gains – often lost again; survival; motivations that seem to the privileged to be selfish: these feel real to me.

And a weirdness that remains unexplained. I am not greatly into horror (one arm of S&S reaches into horror) but neither am I into magic in my fantasy. The weird is where I like it, and when I am writing weird, I am going to incline towards the monsters. Because I’ve been on the side of the monsters since I was a kid. Now, this isn’t necessarily the main thread of S&S, but it’s a strand. When the evil of your story lies in privilege, in civilization – when sword & sorcery, famously, from its Conan beginnings, takes a ‘barbarian’ perspective – then sympathy for monsters is just around the corner. My version of Beowulf (explicated in this poem) was always a monster himself, and rather than slay them for the safety of society, perhaps he should have joined them.

Here’s a photo representative of the sword & sorcery I grew up on. In genre, I grew up much more on science fiction and fantasy than on historical fiction, and there’s a lot to be said about that – or for that – which ought to be a post. I liked plenty of SFF flavours, and among them (particularly when they gave me an adventurous woman of her hands), S&S.

Special shout-outs to Charles R. Saunders’ Dossouye stories in the Amazons anthologies (also in the first few of Sword and Sorceress), who wrote a fighting woman with astonishing ease where others floundered and embarrassed themselves [1]; to M. John Harrison’s Pastel City, whose atmospheric prose and moody story were my Platonic Ideal as a young writer; and to Delany, for his wresting inside-out of sword & sorcery that engaged the intellect’s sense of adventure as well.

I won’t here go into sword & sorcery antecedents which have figured hugely in my history – from Beowulf and Gilgamesh to chivalric romances: if you know me you know these been my bread and butter, but they belong to another post.

In the S&S present, two that most excite me published in the last couple of years are Sometime Lofty Towers by David C. Smith, for its psychology and its postcolonial plot, and The Red Man and Others by Angeline B. Adams and Remco van Straten, for its realism, its relatableness, and for being a crafted artefact (get the paperback). And of course, New Edge Sword & Sorcery Magazine – its test Issue 0, its line-up for 1-2, and its potential.

We have a Kickstarter running until March 5 to fund issues 1 and 2. I beg the gods, not only to fund, but to reach the first stretch goal, which means not one but two illustrations to each story and nonfiction piece. Because you’ve got to preview the art, which you can do on the Kickstarter page with our nineteen artists’ samples. And look at the author names! Margaret Killjoy … an old bloke called Michael Moorcock …

Do I want to be in one of these issue’s ToCs, with one and maybe two illustrations to my story? You bet. More than I want much of anything right now, so – if you can help fund us, if you want these gorgeous magazines, puhleese have a look at our Kickstarter.

Have a look, too, at Issue 0, FREE in epub/pdf, available at-cost in paperback and hardcover.



1. The same can be said for Robert E. Howard’s Dark Agnes, but I discovered her only recently. I’d agree with and possibly push even further the argument in Nicole Emmelhainz’s ‘Gender Performativity in Howard’s “Sword Woman”’, in New Edge Sword & Sorcery Issue 0.

Beowulf poem

I had this up at Green Splotches journal for speculative poetry, but they seem to be down. So I’ll post here. One day I’ll blog about what Beowulf has meant to me, but … this poem says most of it.


A Monster to Fight Monsters


The dragon lies quenched in the sea, I lie in state on my pyre
and the people sing.

Of the world’s kings, Beowulf had been
The tenderest-hearted, the gentlest in spirit,
Truest of loyalty, thirstiest for glory.

A funny thing to say about a king
in elegy, but that’s my story:
Lof-geornost was I, yearningest for love,
most eager to earn it – gentle monster.
I was a monster on the humans’ side.

They say he has the strength of thirty in his fist’s grip.

The words they used for monsters fit me too:
giant, freak, and wonder.
Yet the tale is of our two-way love affair.

Nor only at home. When I went to the Spear Danes
I spoke my beot before Hrothgar
in Heorot hall, where humans sat to feast by day,
an ogre in the night.

The chief of Scyld’s children sat downcast
As his strong heart strove under his heavy grief.

– Not after me.
I presented my boast, as requisite:
how I had swum with water-snakes and harpy fishes,
dragged to where they banquet at the bottom of the sea;
I throttled them and threw them on the shore.
(I am an innocent monster, on your side. I can help.)
Happy were the stranger Danes to believe in me,
in my advent against Grendel’s visitation.
All celebrated me,
his goblin arm nailed to the gables, torn by mine.

Heorot rose up, arched gables
Like a hart’s gilt horns – not yet, not for years, but to be
Burnt in the blaze ignited from the ashes
Of old hate, old shames among the oath-sworn.

Heorot since has blazed away, and by no dragon’s fire.
I have slain you, dragon, and you me,
because that is what we monsters can.
Then there is what we can’t.
Grendel’s terror campaign was simple, though atrocious;
the unfightable isn’t from the outside but within.
I watched them try to peace-weave, spider’s webbing on a wound;
plug grievances the way they stanched a beer keg,
but the harp has a line about feud:

Chests lost grip on the uproar of hearts.

Give me ogres, give me dragons,
let me not participate in human argument.
One time I performed a stunt in battle –
staved in Dayraven with my naked embrace
(as if I were wrestling monsters)
but my fame wasn’t won in ranks of war.

In spite of that, my people thrust me on the Geatish throne
for faithful service to the royal family, self-wiped-out;
and because I had no human strings to snarl the knot of feud.
Never a wife, nor children, and no knowledge.

Not even a fine king saved his house.
I drove ogres from Heorot and left it to its own.
Now feuds wind home to the Geats.
Mismanaged foreign marriages, cut reconciliations.

So the societies of humans
makes themselves extinct through their self-contradictions,
as they have before. We, too, walked in ruins
of an architecture we ascribed to giants.

I did what I am expert in.
The Weather Geats only had Beowulf to send,
old to the bone, against the ancient drake.
For firefighters such as Beowulf and Siegfried
arrive, rare birds, out of nowhere, nobody knows why.
A few of us go wild.
But I remained tame until my end:
ogre-big, obediently sitting at the feast;
as if they strapped a dragon to make a flying milk-cart;
and they idolised me in proportion to my size
because I might have been a Grendel, and was not.
You were outraged, dragon – you and the others I killed
felt cheated, when you felt me: this isn’t a man!

You and Grendel both, of course,
infatuated with their things, as much as I with them:
you on your hoard of wrought utensils,
he fascinated by the music.

As the War Swedes sweep over the Weather Geats
bury my bones not far from human voices,
even if unknown. Like Grendel once,
I want to hear them sing.

Down from the Spear-Danes’ early days,
That grandest age under the clans’ kings,
We hear of heroes, the tales of how they triumphed.
In his heyday Scyld Scefing sailed
To seize fortresses and free the sea.
The panic of war bands he became, who had been
Once a baby abandoned to the weather.
He found ease from those times, his fortunes rose,
His honour climbed up under the clouds of the sky
Until throughout the whales’ streets, in a wheel about him,
Cities submitted and sent him tribute. He was a true king.

by Bryn Hammond


What’s up with Amgalant?

Last year I hit ten years since I published Amgalant One and Two in 2012.

A lot has happened, to me and to the world, in ten years. A lot of bad stuff, frankly. I am not the same person, and Amgalant – can’t be the same book.

I dread turning out one of those delayed series finishers or sequels that either don’t fit, or prove to be unreadable. It’s common and a distinct possiblity. Too, I am afraid that I have deteriorated and do not own the brain space (cognitive issues, though perhaps now solved, have interfered in those ten years). Sales remain low to nonexistent for weeks at a time, and I have been tempted away into writing short fiction that people actually read.

Ten years is time to draw a line. I’m drawing a line under Amgalant – which, true to its title, now stands as the story of the unification of the steppe. This is how I have framed the series description:

Amgalant series

‘Amgalant’ means unity.

This story is about the unification of the steppe under Tchingis Khan (Chinggis, Genghis). From the shattered condition of the Mongol tribes before him, up to 1206 when Tchingis is acknowledged khan over the different peoples of the steppe.

Amgalant likewise follows Temujin, the boy who becomes Tchingis Khan,
from an outcast life of poverty to the achievement of his dreams.

The forty years from 1166 to 1206 saw great drama on the steppe, although settled societies off the steppe scarcely noticed. That remains true to this day.
Temujin’s rise to instatement as Tchingis Khan is the heart and guts of the Secret History of the Mongols, more important to its Mongol creators and audience than
the off-steppe conquests afterwards.

The Secret History of the Mongols is a gorgeous source for a novelist,
rich in human interest and incident. Amgalant follows this source
with humble fidelity to the history and faith in the art of the original.

The series does not end abruptly. I never believed in publishing unfinished story, and on principle, each book finishes its business. Yes, Tchingis is still alive at the end. His eyes are on the horizon. It ends upbeat (oh, I notice both the books do — hell, so do those of the four-set), and I like that.

Whatever comes next won’t be Amgalant. It’ll be post-Amgalant. That half-million words of raw material and draft I have for the projected third (see last January’s report)? Presently I am extracting strands and gobbets to shape into a novella or short novel. Another novella has suggested itself beyond that. I’ll tell the story. But in different ways. Not locked into a trilogy, I am free to reconfigure that material, even in radical ways, that suddenly seem doable to me. Whatever else, it’ll be short works. My thinking has become short-term.

I want to go on writing other short fiction too, whereas Amgalant (2003-2012) was a drown-out-everything-else commitment (moreover, when I deliberately didn’t have a life and didn’t do social media). Those days are gone, whether or not my writing self can turn out work to the standards of Amgalant. I’m not even pessimistic on that point, as I am excited and enthusiastic about the novella I have in hand.

(Its working title is ‘The Khan’s Orchestra’, and I tend to let off steam about it on my Twitter).

You can buy the Amgalant series direct from me here at my Payhip storefront.

Fantasy Tangut story

I have another story out, this one quite Amgalant-adjacent: ‘The Grief-Note of Vultures’ in New Edge Sword & Sorcery Magazine.

It’s set in a fantasy version of Tangut (the ‘Great State White and High’) in the late 12th or early 13th century. This is where I’m at in writing Amgalant Three, Scavenger City: off-steppe, the fringes of the steppe, contested frontiers between steppe and settled. That’s where my head is, and so this story.

My fantasy-Tangut is a bit of a dystopia, at least for nomads. Those steppe frontiers have a history—and an urgent present, at the turn of the 12th-13th century—of forced settlement, of anti-nomad policies. As well, Tangut was a place of steep inequality, as disclosed to me in The Economy of Western Xia: A Study of 11th to 13th Century Tangut Records by Shi Jinbo—an invaluable close-up on Tangut in open access.

The story plot began with a tidbit I glimpsed years ago: a hell scene that seemed to be a semi-realist picture of torture, state-comissioned shortly after the conquest of the area. A caption speculated that the atrocities of conquest were re-interpreted in this religious art, in validation or even in an obscure contrition. Well, that has gone into my draft for Scavenger City, and I pulled it out to serve as the nub of this short story. For Tangut and its art, visit the site of the International Dunhuang Project

What else is historical in the story?

On spirits, my human-animal amalgam-spirits and spirit behaviour in general, as always, my first source is Shamans And Elders: Experience, Knowledge And Power Among The Daur Mongols by Caroline Humphrey with Urgunge Onon. I cannot say too much about this book, but said a bit in my Goodreads review.

I have a woman ‘king’ of bandits. She is inspired by Yang Miaozhen, who led a force of ten thousand bandits in the chaos of North China under Mongol invasion, and when she went over to the Mongols, was appointed to a governorship by them. I feel that this commoner woman’s career, as bandit leader and as governor, was only possible in the chaotic situation, and so I link my bandit with chaos. On Yang Miaozhen, the necessary article is ‘Yang Miaozhen: A Woman Warrior in Thirteenth-Century China’ by Pei-Yi Wu in the journal NAN NÜ: Men, Women and Gender in China (2002).

Angaj-Duzmut and friends have other stories in progress. I have cast them in pre-Chinggis Tangut, with the thought that in future I can have them live through a fantasy Mongol invasion. On Chinggis Khan and Tangut, see my rather long post.

There is a second steppe-related story in the magazine. ‘The Curse of the Horsetail Banner’ by Dariel R. A. Quiogue riffs, fantasy-style, on Chinggis history. Seen here with art by Hardeep Aujla.





New Edge Sword & Sorcery Magazine’s Issue 0 is free in epub and pdf, and available at-cost in paperback and hardcover. Go here:

A Truce with Evil

I have a novelette in a new anthology, Queer Weird West Tales edited by Julie Bozza.

The call went, ‘If it’s weird, if it’s queer, if it’s on a frontier…’
My story, ‘A Truce with Evil’, is set in a fantasy version of the Russian-Siberian frontier of the 16th century.

I talk about the story, its inspirations and background, in this interview on Julie Bozza’s blog:

QUEER WEIRD WEST TALES: author Bryn Hammond

‘Steppe nomads are how I got to this frontier in the first place. My historical fiction series Amgalant is set in the 13th century, when the taiga is a frontier for Tchingis Khan as well. In ‘A Truce with Evil’ I have Bilbil, a spirit who lived in the 13th century, hark back to the Mongol intrusion.’

This is rich and diverse anthology, with settings of the American Old West and beyond from an ancient Roman wall to outer space. I loved its range of story, style, and of queer representation.


Writing for Effect with Marian L Thorpe

Writing for Effect: A dialogue with Bryn Hammond

Today I am a guest on Marian L Thorpe’s blog for the first in her series Writing for Effect.

Marian says, ‘This is the first in a blog series, the purpose of which is not only to spotlight an author’s work, but, in a dialogue between myself and the author, to illustrate the variety of ways the techniques of writing can be used, and how styles differ… Bryn has chosen to discuss how she used poetic speech, homely metaphor, and lively conversation in her work.’

I call this photo ‘My shrine, with offerings’: The Secret History of the Mongols in several translations, with the version that is my novels.